A very special Best of PubMed (#27)

Often it’s mainly the titles of these pieces that are funny, or strange, but in a lot of cases it pays to read the whole article. Today’s entry in the Best of PubMed series dips a bit deeper into two of the articles. The first concerns the effects of laughing gas. In the second, scientists produce a sound from a mummy – apparently in an attempt to bring an ancient Egyptian back to life! I’ve included quotes from the articles and some commentary…

A Strange Freak
Am J Dent Sci. 1876 Jan; 9(9): 427. 
PMCID: PMC6106456

“The New York Herald states that Miss Sarah Ward, aged 28, daughter of Judge Ward, who resides at Tompkinsville, Staten Island, visited a New York dentist on Monday to have some teeth extracted, and took laughing gas. She remained under the influence of the gas for a considerable time, and when she finally recovered the idea seemed to have struck her that it would be a good joke to frighten her folks at home by telegraphing to the Rev. A. N. Stanley, rector of St. Paul’s, that she was dead. She accordingly sent a dispatch to the rector, who was preaching at the time in observance of St. Andrew’s day, that she died from the effects of inhaling laughing gas. The startling announcement caused great consternation among the congregation, the young lady being well known to them all. The services were at once concluded, and word was sent to her father, who hastened to the dentist’s place of business, where he was surprised as well as overjoyed to learn that his daughter had but a short time previously left for home in excellent health. When asked by her parents what induced her to send such a dispatch, she said that she did it for fun.”

Synthesis of a Vocal Sound from the 3,000 year old Mummy, Nesyamun ‘True of Voice’
D. M. Howard, J. Schofield, J. Fletcher, K. Baxter, G. R. Iball, S. A. Buckley
Sci Rep. 2020; 10: 45000.  Published online 2020 Jan 23. doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-56316
PMCID: PMC6978302

Abstract
“The sound of a 3,000 year old mummified individual has been accurately reproduced as a vowel-like sound based on measurements of the precise dimensions of his extant vocal tract following Computed Tomography (CT) scanning, enabling the creation of a 3-D printed vocal tract. By using the Vocal Tract Organ, which provides a user-controllable artificial larynx sound source, a vowel sound is synthesised which compares favourably with vowels of modern individuals.

In other words, they performed CT scans to establish the positions of the vocal chords, larynx, throat and mouth of a mummy. After that, the article states:

“Following the scans, a 3-D printed tract was created for Nesyamun and designed to be used with the Vocal Tract Organ17 which provides an appropriate acoustic larynx source as a time domain waveform synthesis of the Liljencrants-Fant (LF) larynx source which is commonly employed in speech synthesis18. The fundamental frequency, loudness and vibrato rate and depth can be individually controlled. The tract incorporates a coupler at its larynx end that is designed to fit snugly over the output end of an Adastra model 952-210 (16 ohm, 60 Watt) loudspeaker drive unit.”

I don’t understand all this, but somehow they got the thing to make a sound. The result: a vowel that lies somewhere between what you hear in the words “bed” and “bad.”

Why would someone do all this? Apparently they were trying to bring the mummy back to life. (I am only partly kidding.) Here’s what the authors write:

“…Within ancient Egyptian culture… the name was regarded as essential to an individual as their physical (mummified) body and their soul (ka) and spirit (ba). It was also a fundamental belief that ‘to speak the name of the dead is to make them live again’ (alternatively translated: ‘a man is revived when his name is pronounced’), both by living relatives and by the deceased themselves when appearing before the gods of judgement. Only those able to verbally confirm that they had led a virtuous life were granted entry into eternity and awarded the epithet ‘maat kheru’, ‘true of voice’, as applied to Nesyamun himself throughout his coffin inscriptions. In these texts, Nesyamun asks that his soul receives eternal sustenance, is able to move around freely and to see and address the gods as he had in his working life. Therefore his documented wish to be able to speak after his death, combined with the excellent state of his mummified body, made Nesyamun the ideal subject for the ‘Voices from the Past’ project.

In conclusion, the authors write,

This innovative interdisciplinary collaboration has produced the unique opportunity to hear the vocal tract output of someone long dead by virtue of their soft tissue preservation and new developments in technology, digital scanning and 3-D printing.”

Effect of a tight necktie on intraocular pressure
C Teng, R Gurses-Ozden, J M Liebmann, C Tello, R Ritch
Br J Ophthalmol. 2003 Aug; 87(8): 946–948.  doi: 10.1136/bjo.87.8.946
PMCID: PMC1771792

Personality and socks
C H Shaw
Br Med J (Clin Res Ed) 1983 Mar 26; 286(6370): 1056. 
PMCID: PMC1547565

Choosing socks
Colin Douglas
BMJ. 2000 Jun 3; 320(7248): 1549. 
PMCID: PMC1118134

Effects of feet warming using bed socks on sleep quality and thermoregulatory responses in a cool environment
Yelin Ko, Joo-Young Lee
J Physiol Anthropol. 2018; 37: 13.  Published online 2018 Apr 24. doi: 10.1186/s40101-018-0172
PMCID: PMC5921564

Psychosis following stab brain injury by a billiard stick
I Turkalj, S Stojanovic, K Petrovic, V Njagulj, I Mikov, M Spanovic
Hippokratia. 2012 Jul-Sep; 16(3): 275–277. 
PMCID: PMC3738738

Is it better to be smart or stupid?
Kamran Abbasi
BMJ. 2004 Sep 25; 329(7468): 0. 
PMCID: PMC518879

Snappy answers to stupid questions: an evidence-based framework for responding to peer-review feedback
Daniel Rosenfield, Steven J. Hoffman
CMAJ. 2009 Dec 8; 181(12): E301–E305.  doi: 10.1503/cmaj.091164
PMCID: PMC2789163

Artificial Intelligence Is Stupid and Causal Reasoning Will Not Fix It
J. Mark Bishop
Front Psychol. 2020; 11: 513474.  Published online 2021 Jan 5. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.513474
PMCID: PMC7874145

A giant cutaneous horn on the eyebrow
Pan Xu, Lixiong Gu, Xiaodong Yao, Xiaoyan Wu, Xiaodong Chen
JAAD Case Rep. 2015 Sep; 1(5): 295–297.  Published online 2015 Jul 31. doi: 10.1016/j.jdcr.2015.05.011
PMCID: PMC4809224

Characterizing the lateral slope of the aging female eyebrow
Tanya L DeLyzer, Arjang Yazdani
Can J Plast Surg. 2013 Autumn; 21(3): 173–177.  doi: 10.1177/229255031302100302
PMCID: PMC3805639

Techniques of Eyebrow Lifting: A Narrative Review
Nasser Karimi, Mohsen Bahmani Kashkouli, Hamed Sianati, Behzad Khademi
J Ophthalmic Vis Res. 2020 Apr-Jun; 15(2): 218–235.  Published online 2020 Apr
6. doi: 10.18502/jovr.v15i2.6740
PMCID: PMC7151508

Genome-wide association studies and CRISPR/Cas9-mediated gene editing identify regulatory variants influencing eyebrow thickness in humans
Sijie Wu et al.
PLoS Genet. 2018 Sep; 14(9): e1007640.  Published online 2018 Sep 24. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1007640
PMCID: PMC6171961

Eyebrow Height Changes with Aging: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis
Malke Asaad, Ahmad Beshr Kelarji, Cham Shaban Jawhar, Joseph Banuelos, Editt Taslakian, Waseem Wahood, Krishna S. Vyas, Basel Sharaf
Plast Reconstr Surg Glob Open. 2019 Sep; 7(9): e2433.  Published online 2019 Sep 30. doi: 10.1097/GOX.0000000000002433
PMCID: PMC6908395

The case of the haunted scrotum.
J R Harding
J R Soc Med. 1996 Oct; 89(10): 600. 
PMCID: PMC1295986

Plastic Bag With Holes as an Alternative to Face Shield: Our Experiences
Subramanian Senthilkumaran, S.V. Arathisenthil, Ramachandran Meenakshisundaram, Ponniah Thirumalaikolundusubramanian, V.P. Chandrasekaran
J Emerg Med. 2020 Sep; 59(3): 444–445.  Published online 2020 Aug 16. doi: 10.1016/j.jemermed.2020.06.046
PMCID: PMC7429074

Injuries caused by handcuffs.
P. W. Richmond, L. J. Fligelstone, E. Lewis
BMJ. 1988 Jul 9; 297(6641): 111–112.  doi: 10.1136/bmj.297.6641.111
PMCID: PMC1833797

Is a tattoo the answer?
Clare Polack
BMJ. 2001 Nov 3; 323(7320): 1063. 
PMCID: PMC1121553

(If it is, you have to wonder: what’s the Question?)

Counting angels
Andrew M Mason
Emerg Med J. 2007 Apr; 24(4): 311.  doi: 10.1136/emj.2007.046540
PMCID: PMC2658254

How Many Angels Can Dance on the Head of a Patch Pipette?
Carl E. Stafstrom
Epilepsy Curr. 2020 Sep-Oct; 20(5): 309–311.  Published online 2020 Sep 10. doi: 10.1177/1535759720948440
PMCID: PMC7653648

Searching for Strangely Shaped Cookies – Is Taking a Bite Out of a Cookie Similar to Occluding Part of It?

Eli Brenner, Sergio Sánchez Hurtado, Elena Alvarez Arias, Jeroen B. J. Smeets, Roland W. Fleming
Perception. 2021 Feb; 50(2): 140–153.  Published online 2020 Dec 30. doi: 10.1177/0301006620983729
PMCID: PMC7879225

Published by

russhodge

I am a science writer at the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in Berlin, author of fiction and popular science books, an artist, and a professional musician who performs on the viola da gamba and Medieval and Renaissance stringed instruments. I edit manuscripts of all types and teach the full range of scientific communication skills. I am doing theoretical work in this subject - see for example https://goodsciencewriting.wordpress.com/2018/03/11/ghosts-models-and-meaning-in-science/

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