Scott and Scurvy - Why did 19th century explorers forget the simple cure for scurvy?

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AnalyticalEngine
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Scott and Scurvy - Why did 19th century explorers forget the simple cure for scurvy?

Post by AnalyticalEngine » Tue Jul 23, 2019 4:05 pm

Here's an interesting article on how the cure for scurvy was discovered in the 18th century but later subsequently forgotten: https://idlewords.com/2010/03/scott_and_scurvy.htm

I found the ending quote particularly pertinent:
But the villain here is just good old human ignorance, that master of disguise. We tend to think that knowledge, once acquired, is something permanent. Instead, even holding on to it requires constant, careful effort.
How much of what we know today could be forgotten in a similar way?

Mister Imperceptible
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Re: Scott and Scurvy - Why did 19th century explorers forget the simple cure for scurvy?

Post by Mister Imperceptible » Tue Jul 23, 2019 9:34 pm

By entrusting the internet as a storehouse for knowledge instead of books and our brains.

cimorene12
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Re: Scott and Scurvy - Why did 19th century explorers forget the simple cure for scurvy?

Post by cimorene12 » Tue Jul 23, 2019 10:27 pm

https://slate.com/technology/2015/11/sc ... ated.html
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study suggests this is a serious, underappreciated problem. Researchers collected vitamin C levels from 2003 and 2004 and found that 6 to 8 percent of the general population had scurvy-level deficiencies, with men on the higher end.

Deficiency rates were greater for low-income people (10–17 percent), and highest among male smokers (18 percent), likely because smoking affects how the body absorbs vitamin C.
A lot of knowledge gets lost over time. It's just the nature of things. At least we understand how to treat scurvy now.

7Wannabe5
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Re: Scott and Scurvy - Why did 19th century explorers forget the simple cure for scurvy?

Post by 7Wannabe5 » Wed Jul 24, 2019 6:10 am

There is always the risk of loss of knowledge with change in means of storage or communication. For instance, cultural traditions associated with cuisines often contained a good deal of accumulated wisdom that has likely not yet been reconfigured into the ingredients list on a Soylent package.

Campitor
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Re: Scott and Scurvy - Why did 19th century explorers forget the simple cure for scurvy?

Post by Campitor » Wed Jul 24, 2019 8:22 am

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pellagra

The mexicans were cooking corn in a manner that made its niacin available. Other cultures didn't know this and when corn became their staple food, they started to develop pellagra.

7Wannabe5
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Re: Scott and Scurvy - Why did 19th century explorers forget the simple cure for scurvy?

Post by 7Wannabe5 » Wed Jul 24, 2019 8:45 am

@Campitor:

There are also still more human bred varietals of corn located in Guatemala than the rest of the world combined. A very large percentage of the food crops represented in modern grocery stores were first rendered edible by the female farmers of ancient South America.

Campitor
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Re: Scott and Scurvy - Why did 19th century explorers forget the simple cure for scurvy?

Post by Campitor » Wed Jul 24, 2019 9:04 am

The Indigenous people's cooking methods were developed after much trial and error - the hard way I image. But thank god they showed us the way. Beans can ruin your day if not cooked correctly. My mother and grandmother always soaked their beans and boiled them for an hour until they were very soft. My wife is also a Latina but didn't know about the soaking/boiling requirements - her family always used beans from a can but my family always cooked dried beans. Getting improperly cooked beans will ruin your day. Another vegetable to look at is tomatoes - certain cultures will remove the seeds and skin before cooking tomatoes. And some meat eating cultures typically eat a lot of fat and organ meat because the muscle proteins are deficient in vitamins and minerals that are plentiful in the fat, skin, tongue, liver, and heart.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phaseolus_vulgaris:

The toxic compound phytohaemagglutinin, a lectin, is present in many common bean varieties, but is especially concentrated in red kidney beans. White kidney beans contain about a third as much toxin as the red variety; broad beans (Vicia faba) contain 5 to 10% as much as red kidney beans.[24]

Phytohaemagglutinin can be deactivated by cooking beans for ten minutes at boiling point (100 °C, 212 °F). Insufficient cooking, such as in a slow cooker at 80 °C/ 176 °F, however, is not sufficient to deactivate all toxin to safely cook the beans, the U.S Food and Drug Administration recommends boiling for 30 minutes to ensure they reach a sufficient temperature for long enough to completely destroy the toxin. For dry beans, the FDA also recommends an initial soak of at least 5 hours in water which should then be discarded.Outbreaks of poisoning have been associated with cooking kidney beans in slow cookers.

jacob
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Re: Scott and Scurvy - Why did 19th century explorers forget the simple cure for scurvy?

Post by jacob » Wed Jul 24, 2019 9:09 am

7Wannabe5 wrote:
Wed Jul 24, 2019 6:10 am
For instance, cultural traditions associated with cuisines often contained a good deal of accumulated wisdom that has likely not yet been reconfigured into the ingredients list on a Soylent package.
This also holds for scientific knowledge in general. What's published is scientists communicating to other scientists. A person not of that [scientific] culture would be missing unwritten "ingredients"(*). A good example is how computational physics (or at least computational astrophysics) tend not to publish their source codes. Once lost, anyone will have to rebuild the codes from scratch with the only edge being knowing what the result is.

(*) For example, scientists rarely publish "what didn't work".

Consider high finance. Most of the research being developed that beats the market is never published. People make their money and then they leave abandoning the techniques or codes that made it work never sharing them with others. Other fields have more of a balance. Academic science puts more in writing including textbooks that at least in principle would allow someone with a blank slate to bootstrap pretty far. But suppose all scientists were wiped out in an instant. Could a highly intelligent person or team of persons self-educate and replicate the lost knowledge by walking into a library. I think not.

Google "lost technologies" and you'll find a lot of examples. Roman concrete is probably the most famous example. Modern concrete tends to wither on a timescale of 100 years. Roman concrete is apparently near forever and also holds underwater. Of course modern civilization only has about 200 years worth of engineering experience. The Romans had hundreds of years.

Perhaps of more contemporary relevance, most of the Gemini and Apollo space tech has been lost to time despite some of the rockets/vehicles still being around. Blueprints have been lost or techniques simply weren't written down in the worst place. For example, there might be a certain piece of plastic. We can see it and measure it. We just can't replicate it---perhaps we can't make it as hard or light as they could in the 1950s or 60s. Many engineers and scientists working on those programs are either retired or dead, so there's no one to ask either.

Gilberto de Piento
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Re: Scott and Scurvy - Why did 19th century explorers forget the simple cure for scurvy?

Post by Gilberto de Piento » Wed Jul 24, 2019 9:36 am

"The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Our World from Scratch" is an interesting book on this topic.

7Wannabe5
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Re: Scott and Scurvy - Why did 19th century explorers forget the simple cure for scurvy?

Post by 7Wannabe5 » Wed Jul 24, 2019 10:01 am

@jacob:

Very true. In my career as a rare book dealer, I learned that there is a good deal of contingency involved in what will be preserved. Another important note would be that even if a blue-print or document or bit of doggerel survives intact, it's meaning may be lost to the ages absent context. For instance, "Lucy Locket lost her pocket;Kitty Fisher found it; Not a penny left within it: Only ribbon round it." makes much more sense if it is common knowledge that a pocket is a pouch attached to a ribbon which you tie around your waist under your second petticoat. Still, we moderns are left to wonder whether it was meant as mild admonishment for children towards securing of belongings or some sort of bawdy era double-entendre?

@Campitor:

Since nitrogen is generally the most scarce critical resource, most living things, including legumes, will fight hardest to not give it up. The plants that are attempting to lure us in with ripe fruit or lure pollinators in with sweet nectar are for the most part only offering up carbohydrates while protecting the nitrogen needed for encoding of genetic information and structural integrity for next generation. Generally, the relatively mild-tasting and less toxic varieties that we have domesticated would perish in the wild without our support. However, there are some notable exceptions to this rule among the species often described as invasive, which are like unto feral pit bulls or the descendants of alley cats found fishing in the swamps of Louisiana.

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