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Doctor’s Baffled by Toddler’s Illness

March 2, 2011 Leave a comment

Here’s an interesting medical story that could benefit from a longer-form article:

Doctors at Medical City Dallas say a bone marrow transplant may be the life-saving cure for a disease they’ve never seen.

Sixteen-month-old Winslet Seoighe was born six weeks premature with a host of health problems.

“Her vital organs were enlarged and shutting down,” said her mother,Tracey Seoighe.

Doctors told her that if she had not delivered Winslet that day, the baby would not have survived.

Winslet was sent home after seven weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit. But it was soon clear there was another problem; Winslet could not make her own blood.

She was referred to Texas Oncology at Medical City Dallas, where doctors discovered she had a disease they’d never seen before. They are now calling it Winslet’s disease.

Not to make light of the situation, but I want to point out that  you want something named after you for being the first discoverer of it, not the first victim of it. Poor thing, I hope this works.

Dr. Stan Goldmansent Winslet’s blood work to physicians around the world, who were all baffled.

“We think it’s probably a defect in the actual coding of the membrane of the red cell, because her bone marrow has plenty of nice, baby red blood cells in there. They just don’t get out into the blood stream,” he said.

I’m going to chalk this up to legitimately baffling. So…good use of the term.

Dallas Doctors Baffled by Baby’s Disease

Further Reading:
Children’s Organ Transplant Association (not so much reading as donating, please consider helping out this family)

A 10! Really, its a new disease state that stymies experts.


A flash and the baffling smell of grammybacon

March 2, 2011 Leave a comment

How could I pass up a story that leads with “Spontaneous human combustion has baffled man for centuries” where the local Fox affiliate in Dallas/Ft. Worth brings us a baffling 50 year-old tale of a smoldering corpse.

But first, a reading from chapter XXXII of Charles Dickens’ Bleak House:

Here is a small burnt patch of flooring; here is the tinder from a
little bundle of burnt paper, but not so light as usual, seeming to
be steeped in something; and here is–is it the cinder of a small
charred and broken log of wood sprinkled with white ashes, or is it
coal? Oh, horror, he IS here! And this from which we run away,
striking out the light and overturning one another into the street,
is all that represents him.

Help, help, help! Come into this house for heaven’s sake! Plenty
will come in, but none can help. The Lord Chancellor of that
court, true to his title in his last act, has died the death of all
lord chancellors in all courts and of all authorities in all places
under all names soever, where false pretences are made, and where
injustice is done. Call the death by any name your Highness will,
attribute it to whom you will, or say it might have been prevented
how you will, it is the same death eternally–inborn, inbred,
engendered in the corrupted humours of the vicious body itself, and
that only–spontaneous combustion, and none other of all the deaths
that can be died.

Yes, indeed, Dickens killed off a wicked character named Krook (subtle, Chuck, subtle) by spontaneous human combustion, a phenomena that strained scientific credulity even in the 19th century. (I admit, the news article linked above beat me to the Dickens reference, but it is a classic anecdote of the genre.) To put it in terms modern readers may better grasp, its like when they killed James off-screen on Good Times, but Bleak House was written before car crashes, so I guess Dickens wins this round (*shakes fist*).

Spontaneous human combustion, or SHC, as the hip kids say, is thought to occur as the human body catches fire from some internal chemical processes. The story often reads the same: Checking in on Grammy, you find her remains on and around her favorite easy chair. While the chair–and even her bedclothes–may remain intact, all that’s left of Grammy are charred bones, her lower limbs, and that locket with your baby picture in it.  You should have called more.

What could have done it? Did she, like Krook, succumb to a mixture of heavy drinking and the overwhelming power of her own innate evil? Did the devil finally come a-calling? Did her pacemaker short circuit? Did she divide by zero while drinking her evening tea?Was she ignited by that smoldering fireplace nearby? Oh, heavens no, any mortician will tell you that to get Grammy to ashes, you need a good solid fire of about 1,500 to 2000 degrees Fahrenheit. And, by the way, you can get a good discount if you want to finish the job on the legs.

But you see, who is to say that Grammy went up all at once? I know, most folks on fire tend to make a fuss, but Grammy hits the sauce pretty hard, and she was taking all of those pills for that whole litany of ailments that you tuned out each (rare) visit. There’s a thing called the wick effect, described in this BBC article with a lovely composite image of a burning codger for effect. Grammy, who wasn’t one of those light grannies you see on TV, was of the heftier sort. A slow burn, as her body fat melted into that greasy, waxy substance you found beneath her chair, could have taken hours.

Ah, you say. How can you dismiss the great body of evidence — hundreds of stories collected over the last two or three centuries! — on SHC? That’s a toughie, I’d admit gentle fictional questioner, but its hard to assess anecdotal evidence–even good, carefully catalogued descriptions of incidents from 100 years ago. More  recent stories have a lot of similarities, usually involving infirmed smokers with a tendency to sleep soundly or with limited mobility. “The weight of evidence” here is built on the accumulation of different cases, most exaggerated or selective in how the present the evidence. In  some cases we’ll never know the exact causes, but in others it will be quite obvious…but still very much bizarre. Life is like that.

Take a look at the links below for more reading.

The obvious lesson is call your mom from time to time that one need not invoke the paranormal or cite fringe science for things that cannot be explained.

The Tex Files: Spontaneous Human Combustion

Further Reading:
The Skeptic’s Dictionary (always a good starting place)
Not-So-Spontaneous Human Combustion (more skeptical reading)
Bleak House (Ugh. It didn’t age well)
A description of SHC at a place called, which offers up some “alternative” theories of SHC and the bizarre claim that “No satisfactory explanation of Spontaneous Human Combustion has ever been given.”

Baffleometer Reading:

A solid two, because sometimes you just don’t have an explanation.




Baffled Alaska

February 25, 2011 Leave a comment

In an almost information-free article, the Voice of Russia suggests unnamed Alaskan archaeologists are baffled upon finding the remains of 4-year-old from about 11,500 years ago. Unless they are Young Earth Creationists, I’m not entirely sure why they would be baffled by this finding. I think it is something of a consensus that early Americans began crossing the Bering Strait about 12-15,000 or so years ago, give or take. Finding the remains of a child 11,500 wouldn’t so much “baffle” an archaeologist as “add interesting evidence to a growing body of knowledge,” but “baffled” makes for better headline fodder.

In fact, there is a lot of debate about the exact timing of American migration. Its a big, complicated story, but we can’t bother to tell people that, so we call it “baffling” and write a 200-word story.

Maybe at lunchtime today I’ll look for the press release that spawned this alleged story. And I mean, alleged, as in, allegedly people of some institution found something. Really, there’s nothing here:

American archaeologists digging in the delta of the Tanana River in central  Alaska have unearthed the remains of a 4-year-old child who lived 11, 500 years ago.

The find is the oldest of Homo sapiens remains ever found in North America’s  Arctic region.

Until now, the most ancient Homo sapiens settlements of the North were discovered in Russia’s Far Eastern Kamchatka Peninsula.

And so this is why I’m starting the Baffled Nation blog. I think that the vast, vast majority of times you see a headline where scientists of some type are “mystified” or “baffled” by a discovery it really there are only two sets of people baffled by these sorts of things: headline writers who rely on the “X-people Baffled by Y Discovery” and the people who don’t know enough to critically question whether something really is baffling. Namely, us.

The “baffled” (or “mystified” or “shocked”) headline must make for good click-bait though.

Archaeologists baffled by Tanana delta find
Further Reading:

Settlement of the Americas (wikipedia)

Mystery of the First Americans (NOVA)

You can find a good video clip from the NOVA special here on Teacher’s Domain, which is nice because it encapsulates the notion that there probably wasn’t just ONE migration, but a series of migrations.

Baffleometer Reading:
We’re still calibrating the Baffleometer now, but on the scale of 1 to 10–with 10 being the most truly baffling–this is a 3, only because of the lack of detail at this point.

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