Profile: Deborah Blum

I’m a Pulitzer-prize winning science writer and a professor of journalism at the University of Wisconsin. I’ve written five books – most recently The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York. My earlier books concern supernatural research, the science of love and affection, the biology of sex differences, and ethical issues in primate research. Deborah can be found on Twitter as@deborahblum.

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NoteStreams By Deborah Blum

The Science of Mysteries: An Overdose of Strychnine

One day on Twitter, some science bloggers who began life on the dark side, in the humanities, happily discovered a shared taste for classic mystery writers. We thought we might write a series of posts, all on the same day, about the science in mystery books and so we did exactly that in December. And it was so much fun we decided to do it again.
As for me, this time around, I found a combination of Agatha Christie and the terrifying toxicity of strychnine to be an irresistible combination…..
There is altogether too much strychnine about this case – The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Agatha Christie, 1920.

Category: Science

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Pb: An Ancient Poison

The chemical symbol for lead is Pb, from the Latin word “plumbum” which referred to a malleable metal. We are surrounded by references to what is arguably the most important poison in human history - from ancient Rome to Japan, even today this toxin poisons our lives. Learn what you need to know to protect yourself.

Category: Science

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Agatha Christie: An Overdose of Strychnine

One day on Twitter, some science bloggers who began life on the dark side, in the humanities, happily discovered a shared taste for classic mystery writers. We thought we might write a series of posts, all on the same day, about the science in mystery books and so we did exactly that in December. And it was so much fun we decided to do it again.

Category: Science

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About Pepper Spray: What You Need to Know

One hundred years ago, an American pharmacist named Wilbur Scoville developed a scale to measure the intensity of a pepper’s burn. I checked the Scoville Scale for something else yesterday. I was looking for a way to measure the intensity of pepper spray, the kind that police have been using. Commercial grade pepper spray leaves even the most painful of natural peppers (the Himalayan ghost pepper) far behind. It’s listed at between 2 million and 5.3 million Scoville units. The lower number refers to the kind of pepper spray that you and I might be able to purchase for self-protective uses. And the higher number? It’s the kind of spray that police use, the super-high dose given in the orange-colored spray used by Police.
Sounds dangerous - and it is.

Category: Health

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A Tale of Halloween Poison

I grew up on a dead-end street in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where remnants of swampy forest surrounded the old wood-frame homes. It was, in fact, the perfect setting for a haunted Halloween night. And there was this one house, you know, where the yard was so dense with bush and tree that it could barely be seen through its thicket of shadow. To trick-or-treat, you walked up the dark sidewalk toward a faint glow on the front porch, just the one lit window.
The psychopath at the door is an urban myth. Most of the poisonous Halloween stories turn out to be mistakes or far more personal tragedies. The biggest poison outbreak – linked to Halloween of 1950 – was simply caused by orange food coloring used by candy manufacturers. Could it happen again?

Category: Health

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