Scientific Scribbles

The voice of UniMelb Science Communication students

Cupping Therapy Helped Michael Phelps Won Rio Olympic Games!

Michael Phelps won his first gold of the Rio Olympics with circular bruises from Cupping on his back and shoulders.

Michael Phelps was not the only swimmer with cupping marks. Several athletes had found cupping therapy provides relief from the muscle soreness, aids recovery and reduces pain.

What is Cupping?

Cupping, stemmed from China, has over 5000 years history. Manz and Hedwig have stated that “Cupping refers to any natural treatment method in which suction cups are used in therapy.” It is one of the traditional treatment without using medicinal substances. People believe that cupping can help accelerating blood circulation, relief of pain and cramping, inhibiting inflammation (a painful redness of your body result from injury or illness).

Dry Cupping and Wet Cupping

Cupping therapy has two types: dry cupping and wet cupping.

Dry cupping is using alcohol flame to heat the air inside suction cup and then placing the suction cup on the treatment spot. When the air cools down, the suction cup sucks the skin into the cup. After few minutes, some bloody fluid would leak out and present in the skin seeing as circular bruises.

Wet cupping is puncturing the skin and placing the suction cup on the skin afterwards, then sucking the blood from the puncturing site.

The Myth of Cupping Therapy

Actually, there are no studies indicating that cupping therapy can enhance athletic performance. However, Researchers have found cupping is effective in the treatment of herpes zoster, acne, and facial paralysis and anterior knee pain. Another study involving 70 patients who suffered from migraine headache and chronic tension were treated with wet cupping treatments, found that 66% of headache severity have been decreased after 3 moths following treatments. These patients experienced fewer days of headache per month.

A Korean study in 2008 had tested on the effectiveness of cupping therapy in managing pain conditions. But, they concluded that “the results of our systematic review provide some suggestive evidence for the effectiveness of cupping in the management of pain conditions. However, the total number of randomized clinical trials included in the analysis and the methodological quality were too low to draw firm conclusions.”

Another research was conducted by Beijing University of Chinese Medicine in 2014. With 921 participants assessed, this review concluded that cupping therapy has potential positive short-term effect on reducing pain.

Although uncertainties still remain in cupping therapy, it seems that cupping therapy can help athletes ease themselves more than reducing pain in the competition. Would you like to have a try?

Terroir – Pronounced ‘terr-wah’

Terroir. Perhaps the most beautiful word, you’ve never heard. Or arguably the most snobbish. For avid wine enthusiasts, terroir is everything.

Defining the word terroir is no easy task. Terroir encompasses all the conditions which influence the biology of a wine-producing grapevine. The climate, the sun, the rain and the trees, the soil, the hills, the bugs and the bees. It is the way a region imparts its trademark on a wine. Most importantly, it cannot be recreated as only that particular region can produce the terroir to produce wine with very specific qualities. It’s how those patronising wine enthusiasts can tell exactly where a wine is from by simply taste and smell.

I know what you’re thinking – lies. ALL WINE TASTES THE SAME. And maybe it is a conspiracy of agreed-upon lies, devised by rich pricks to provide themselves a false sense of accomplishment. But with a few examples that demonstrate the science of terroir, maybe we can find some truth to the matter.


Chablis, France. It’s famous for Chardonnay. Except that the Chardonnay here is so exclusive that it’s known as simply, Chablis. I know how pretentious. So why is a Chablis so special compared to your Yarra Valley Chardonnay? Terroir is why.

The vineyards of Chablis, France. (Image taken by Peter Curbishley - Flickr)
The vineyards of Chablis, France. (Image taken by Peter Curbishley – Flickr)

When you taste a Chablis, you taste acidity. It’s not too fruity. But perhaps trademark Chablis is a taste of minerality. I know what your thinking… what the heck does minerality mean? Well think of it as an almost chalk texture that minces off your palette like a disintegrating sugar cube. Plus a whisk of salt – the type that tickles your tongue as a light breeze passes you on a pleasant day at a beach in Southern France.

This unique minerality is because the wine here grows atop what is known as Kimmeridge Clay soil. A composition of a chalky blanket of limestone akin to the White Hills of Dover, absorbed by the wine to give it’s texture. Accompanied by fossilised seashells, derived from the region’s distant marine past to give the wine a salty lick. The icing on the cake – the cool climate of Chablis, which piercingly brings out such characteristics due to slow ripening. Alas, we have the terroir of Chablis which cannot be replicated elsewhere.

Jordan’s recommendation: Simmonet-Febvre Chablis, 2014; Damage: $29.99 (it’s not easy to find a cheap Chablis, but this is good value for money)


Mornington Peninsula, Australia. A little closer to home. And perhaps the only place for worthwhile Pinot Noir’s in Australia. Why? It’s in the name – peninsula.

Pinot Noir is a notoriously hard grape to perfect. She’s a brat and she plays hard to get. Her skin is thin, exposing her to the conditions of the natural environment, far more than her thick-skinned cousin, Cabernet Sauvignon. If the conditions aren’t perfect for her, she won’t produce good wine. And she HATES temperature fluctuations. A constant 12-18 degrees would be just right for her. A winemaker’s nightmare.

Cue the Mornington Peninsula, the saviour of the Pinot Noir. And it’s because of one special feature here – the peninsula effect. A constant cool breeze, brought in by the adjacent Tasman Sea keeping temperatures cool by day, cool by night, with no extreme winters nor summers. And this is why good Pinot Noir is restricted to terroir’s similar to the Mornington Peninsula.

Jordan’s recommendation: Red Hill Estate Pinot Noir 2014; Damage: $16.99


Tokai, Hungary. A region in the north east of the country that has become famous worldwide for a wine type called Aszú. And it’s all because of a bold little critter in the soil – the parasitic fungus, Botrytis cineria.

Botrytis-infected grapevines. (Image taken by Ah Zut - Flickr)
Botrytis-infected grapevines. (Image taken by Ah Zut – Flickr)

Botrytis in most countries is a nuisance. More often than not, it causes the formation of grey mould on fruit including the grapevine. But in conditions of wet weather (Botrytis infects in the wet) followed by a dry period, which is common in Tokai, Botrytis does something special. The term for it is noble rot. Botrytis infection followed by a dry period causes the water in the grape juice to evaporate. As a result, the sugars of the grape become much more concentrated. This is akin to creating a raisin from a grape. The increased concentration of sugar gives rise to a sensuous, honey-graced dessert wine.

Botrytis has now taken been taken over the world to re-create the dessert wine that is Aszú. But it was in the terroir of Tokai that the native Botrytis was first conceived. Records of noble rot’s use in the wine’s of Tokai date as far back as the 16th century.

Jordan’s recommendation: St. Stephan’s Crown 5 Puttonyos Tokaji Aszu, 2005; Damage: $49.99 (unfortunately a true Aszú from Hungary will break the bank)

And so there you have it. The grand and mysterious enigma that is terroir. As you can tell, it can arise from weird and wonderful places. I hope you enjoyed reading and perhaps realised that wine science can be quite fascinating. Have a good day.

For More Information:


An Amateur’s Field Guide to Corpses – Chapter 1: Is it fresh? [A fabricated extract]

You look at the body sprawled out on your lawn. You don’t know who they are and they aren’t going to tell you. They’re dead.

Huh. When did that happen?

via user: Glóa

Source: User: Glóa

You could ask your neighbour, but you doubt that they even know the difference between sunrise and sunset, so eyewitness testimony is out. Luckily, forensic science has you back with a number of ways to narrow down the time.

I’m gonna poke it with a stick!

The body’s flesh is pretty cold. It rocks kind of stiffly if you give it a firm push, but the limbs flop a bit. Since it’s lying face down, you roll it over. The face is a purplish-red except for the part of the cheek that had been flat on the grass. This is all good information, but what does it mean?

Algor mortis

My Green Eye by Elliot Bennett

Source: User: Elliot Bennett

Algor mortis is the cooling of the body after death, which will happen until it matches the ambient temperature. Algor mortis is useful for around the first 24 hours, and since the body wasn’t here yesterday, it might work for us.

Cooling happens at a pretty standard rate so, if you know what is typical for the type of body you have and the way it was kept, you can calculate the time of death pretty accurately. For up to 13 hours after death, you can estimate the time of death to within half an hour (if you’re measuring in the eye).

So, how and where do we measure the temperature? The typical location is the rectum, but the fluids in the eye ball work too.

Hmm, seems … invasive. How about another method? After all, there are so many variables that can affect algor mortis. The clothes, how much body fat the person had, and the climate can all change the rate of cooling.
In fact, if it’s hot enough, the body will become hotter due the rapid decomposition. A lot of microbes working hard to eat a body can produce a lot of heat, and microbes work best when it’s hot.

Rigor mortis

by Gordon Wrigley

Source: User: Gordon Wrigley

Rigor mortis is when the body goes stiff. It’s not immediate and it doesn’t happen all at once.

For at least two hours, you will have a floppy corpse. All the muscles are relaxed. This stage is called ‘Primary Muscular Flaccidity’. After 2-4 hours, the stiffening begins.

It starts in the eyelids, jaw, and neck. The muscles have contracted and require energy, which they are no longer making, to relax. By 6-12 hours, rigor mortis has claimed the whole body. The joints are stiff and working with the body is tough. This is not the best time to figure out how the person died as the internal muscles are affected too.

Don’t worry though, as within 36-72 hours the corpse is floppy once more. This is ‘Secondary Muscular Flaccidity’, and it’s caused by the proteins in the muscles breaking down. The muscles have to break down just to relax.

By this information, our body may have been here for 4-6 hours, if things like the temperature, muscle mass, infections, and age haven’t changed that. Even the amount of physical activity before death can have an effect.
Maybe we can narrow it down more?

Livor mortis

by Aaron Hall

Source: User: Aaron Hall

Livor mortis (also known as lividity) occurs when the blood settles in the lower parts of the body due to gravity. When the heart stops, livor mortis starts. It can be seen on the skin as a purplish-red discolouration. Patches of skin that were pressed against the ground will not have this colouring as the capillaries (really small blood vessels) are squashed shut. The red blood cells can’t get into that area.

It only takes 30-60 minutes for blood in a dead body to become unable to clot. By that time (20-30 minutes in), red patches have already begun to appear.

It takes 10-12 hours for blood cells to get stuck, and moving a body after this time can result in more than one livor mortis pattern. The older one will fade, but not disappear, and a new one can be made even 24 hours after death.

So, how does that relate to our corpse? The red on its face is fading, so death occurring 4-6 hours ago is plausible.

Is there anything else we can do?

Well, putrefaction doesn’t show for at least 36-72 hours, so that’s off the table. Supravital reactions involve running a current through muscles in the corpse and measuring the resulting movements of the muscle. These can indicate the time since death, but you don’t have the equipment with you. The same problem occurs when using biochemistry to determine time of death. It’s probably better to wait for someone more experienced to do the dirty work.

by Scott Davidson

Source: User: Scott Davidson

Ah, just in time! The cops are here. I’m sure they’ll help you out.

More information: Stages of Decomposition (using a pig)


060612-A-5679R-008 Andarh, Afghanistan (June 5, 2006) - U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Michele Reed, assigned to the 405th Civil Affairs Battalion, gives a young Afghan boy a deworming solution during a village medical outreach in Andarh. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Andre' Reynolds (RELEASED)

The Telegraph relates the story of the discovery of the placebo effect:

“The power of the placebo first came to light during the Second World War. Morphine was in short supply in military field hospitals and an American anaesthetist called Henry Beecher, who was preparing to treat a soldier with terrible injuries, feared that without the drug the operation could induce a fatal heart attack. In desperation, one of the nurses injected the man with a harmless solution of saline. To Beecher’s surprise the patient settled down as if he had been given morphine and felt little pain during the operation.”

In 1978 scientists discovered naloxone, a drug used for opioid (e.g. opium, morphine, heroin) overdoses. It was found that naloxone blocks the pain relief that is observed when placebos are administered to patients. This gave researchers reason to believe that the same brain pathways linked to opioids are related to the placebo response. Makes sense?

Scientists have discovered naloxone may reduce pain sensitivity. That is, it could be used to desensitize animals to pain. Whereas morphine offers immediate pain relief with the risk of greater sensitivity to pain over the long term, naloxone could immediately ramp up pain, before offering long term relief from pain. Tantalizing.

The value different people give to mental states affects value judgements. GiveWell, the leading charity evaluator recommends people donate to 4 charities. They’re evaluations look different to someone that prioritises psychological distress over physical health states when choosing who to donate to:


1 and 2 – the Schistosomiasis Control Initiative and Evidence Action:

Two of GiveWell’s four standout charities are deworming programs. However, GiveWell concedes that there is a disconnect between the evidence for their recommended deworming charities program and improvements in the quality of life of those in the dewormed communities.


2 – the Against Malaria Foundation (AMA):

AMA distributed bed nets to fend off mosquitoes. In lieu of published research, one scientist estimates that the effect of AMA´s intervention on quality of life is ´quite small’.


3 – GiveDirectly:

GiveDirectly hands out money to poor folk.

”GiveDirectly households reported a … increase … on an index measuring psychological well-being. This improvement was largely driven by increases in happiness and life satisfaction, and reductions in stress and depression.”

– Innovations for Poverty Action


Charitable individuals biased towards evidence-based donation opportunities may prefer GiveDirectly over the others given the direct evidence for impact on the well-being of others.

Remember AMA? More radical alternative philanthropic opportunities exist at the peripheries of insect control with no known donation opportunities. Mosquito-targeting genetic technologies are hot topic but a lesser known vector may also be important. Why is food security still a huge issue in Africa? Progress is slow  and throwing money at the problem isn’t working . One answer is the tsetse fly which holds back a ‘green revolutions’ seen in Asia for reasons that are already explained well via the hyperlinks I have given . One expert estimates we could solve this problem for as little as 10´s of millions of U.S Dollars. Compared to the amounts funnelled into making Africa more food secure of the years, this is small!

Spending on others’ welfare is a matter close to home, too. 91% of Australians think ‘improving hospitals and the health system’ should be the Australian Government’s no. 1 priority. However, health and medical research is only the 9th priority, and preventative healthcare the 10th priorities. Intuitively, increased health-care expenditure is the answer. Though, there is appears to be no relationship between health outcomes and total health system spending for developed countries.

What would your health care worker tell you if you asked them if greater health care spending is in the public interest? I won’t answer this directly, but you may answer something much more fundamental for yourself.

Read this multi-post series from the beginning here. Or continue to the final post in this series on the mind of a fox here.

Author: Arun Bharautla

Arun Bharatula on Facebook

@ArunBharatula on Twitter

Photo credit: Creative Commons – Michele Reed



You may recall from my first post that researchers suggest regular folk should rely on an expert’s ability to make accurate predictions to verify expertise. Who wants to individually ask fort and evaluate predictions for purported experts? If you are so inclined you are welcome to take a leaf out of this expert elicitation tool user manual. For those with less time on their hands, there are shortcuts for identifying quality experts:

In 2005, 20 years of research on hundreds of political experts revealed that the best predictor of an expert’s ability is not age, gender and nationality, but a certain style of thinking. ‘Style of thinking’, also referred to as ‘cognitive style’, seems to come down to personality.

To expert judgement researchers, there are 2 kinds of expert personalities: ‘hedgehogs’ and ‘foxes’. ‘Hedgehogs’ specialise in one thing and find the simplest explanations that fit with that theory. In contrast, foxes are all about numerous tidbits. Perhaps counterintuitively, ideology, optimism, and even experience aren’t all that important. Fox experts are systematically more accurate than hedgehogs, and those experts that fall in between those two personalities are proportionally more or less accurate in their predictions.

What does the hedgehog make of this blog series? A narrative about expert judgement, happiness or humility? Perhaps there is a personal significance that you attribute to it based on your individual journey through life? Meanwhile, the fox bounces between the concepts, accepting the somewhat disjointed facts embedded in each post for what they are. Not the narrative we desire to hear, to confirm our expectations about the world. In fact, the paradoxes, ironies and dissonance invoked over these posts hopefully nudged each of you, readers, into a foxier understanding of the world.

Skeptical? Share one or more of the posts in this blog series with a friend. Compare how they think about things and degree of foxiness depending on how many of these posts they read. 


Author: Arun Bharautla

Arun Bharatula on Facebook

@ArunBharatula on Twitter

Photo credit – Creativity Commons – Shiretoko-Shari Tourist Association

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