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Arthur Eichengrün, Inventor of Aspirin

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Thinkstock (main); gelsenzentrum.de (inset)

In 1896, chemist Arthur Eichengrün brought forth a miracle—a pure acetylsalicylic acid with medical applications. This was a few years before Lizzie Magie invented the board game Monopoly, and if only the two knew each other, they might have had a lot to talk about. Just as Parker Brothers stole Monopoly from Magie and whitewashed her from history, so to did Bayer make Eichengrün an unperson and cash in on his invention: the aspirin.

Six years after earning his doctorate from what is today Rheinisch-Westfälische Technische Hochschule Aachen University (which is kind of the MIT of Germany), Eichengrün scored a job at Bayer, a German pharmaceutical company. He did some pretty great work there, which included the development of Protargol, a treatment for gonorrhea. This was an especially big deal because antibiotics and penicillin were still decades away. Most careers would peak with beating the Clap, but Eichengrün was just getting started. 

The beneficial properties of salicylic acid were well known when Eichengrün started his research. In 460 BC, Hippocrates himself was grinding up willow tree bark to help treat headaches. Salicylic acid is the active ingredient in such extracts, though it didn’t always go down well, unless you consider “well” to include a bleeding stomach, diarrhea, and, sometimes, death. When Arthur Eichengrün synthesized his pure acetylsalicylic acid, the potential was pretty obvious. He tested the medicine first on himself, and when he didn’t die, began trials through local physicians. According to The Discovery of Aspirin: A Reappraisal, the results were highly encouraging. The medicine seemed to help patients who were suffering from pain, without inducing the generally terrible side effects:

“But there was more—a dentist had given the drug to a patient with a raised temperature as well as toothache. Hardly was he out of the chair before he exclaimed, ‘My toothache's gone!’ Such a rapid onset of analgesia was unique. After a similar response was confirmed in other patients, [Felix Goldmann, an associate of Eichengrün] sent a report to the Bayer management. According to Eichengrün, when [Bayer’s head of the experimental pharmacology, Heinrich] Dreser was asked to comment, he scribbled on it, ‘This is the usual loud-mouthing of Berlin—the product has no value.’”

(So anyway, the potential of aspirin was obvious to almost everyone.)

A few years later, Eichengrün left Bayer and started his own lab. He developed a type of plastic called Cellon, which found a huge demand during World War I for pilots’ goggles and soldiers’ gas masks. The lab also created a cellulose acetate coating for the fabric used on aircraft, making their wings water resistant. Eventually Eichengrün opened his own manufacturing plant, Cellon-Werke, and advanced the science of injection molding, which is still used today in plastics.

In 1933, the Nazis forced Eichengrün to sell his company to “Aryan” Germans. Ten years later, he was imprisoned, and in 1944, was sent to Theresienstadt concentration camp. (Thirty-three thousand Jews died at Theresienstadt, with tens of thousands more loaded onto trains and sent to Treblinka and Auschwitz.) While at Theresienstadt, Eichengrün sent a letter to Bayer asking for help. In the letter, he listed his many contributions to the company, including the invention of aspirin. Help from Bayer never came. He and his fellow captives were freed on May 8, 1945, when Soviet troops liberated the camp. Eichengrün died in Bavaria the following year.

We don’t know why Bayer gave credit to Felix Hoffman, an underling of Eichengrün, for the invention of aspirin (alongside Heinrich Dreser, inexplicably). And it was hard for Eichengrün to prove that he was the scientist responsible for aspirin, seeing as how the Nazis banned Jews from pretty much everything that wasn’t horrible. Maybe Bayer was scared of angering Hitler, and Felix Hoffman was just a safer name to go with. I don’t know. But I do have to wonder why, today, when Hitler is definitely dead, Bayer continues to deny Eichengrün’s rightful claim to have invented aspirin. It’s a great big mystery.

As for aspirin itself, because 70,000 metric tons of it are consumed a year, everyone knows a bit about what it can do. Headaches and fevers are the obvious ones. Studies also suggest that it can reduce the risk of death from heart attacks and help treat Kawasaki disease. It can help prevent colorectal cancer. It can sometimes help prevent strokes. It can even remove sweat stains from your t-shirts. No research has yet found a connection between Arthur Eichengrün’s invention and spontaneous unicorn-and-rainbow generation, but you have to figure it’s not far off.

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James Cameron is Making a Documentary to Reassess the Accuracy of Titanic
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20th Century Fox

While making the 1997 blockbuster Titanic, James Cameron was a stickler for the details. The writer-director wanted his homage to the tragic ocean liner to be as historically accurate as possible, so he organized dives to the site, solicited experts to analyze his script, and modeled the set off photographs and plans from the Titanic's builders. He even recreated the ocean liner’s original furnishings, right down to the light fixtures. Now, 20 years after the film’s release, E! News reports that Cameron will scrutinize the film’s authenticity in an upcoming National Geographic documentary.

Titanic: 20th Anniversary is slated to air in December 2017. It will feature Cameron and a team of experts who, together, will evaluate the film's accuracy using new historical and scientific insights about the ship's fateful sinking on April 15, 1912.

"When I wrote the film, and when I set out to direct it, I wanted every detail to be as accurate as I could make it, and every harrowing moment of the ship's final hours accounted for," Cameron said in a statement. "I was creating a living history; I had to get it right out of respect for the many who died and for their legacy. But did I really get it right? Now, with National Geographic and with the latest research, science, and technology, I'm going to reassess."

It's not the first time Cameron has revisited his Oscar-winning epic; in 2012, the director made some tweaks to the film for its 3-D re-release after receiving some criticism from renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.

“Neil deGrasse Tyson sent me quite a snarky email saying that, at that time of year, in that position in the Atlantic in 1912, when Rose is lying on the piece of driftwood and staring up at the stars, that is not the star field she would have seen," Cameron explained. “And with my reputation as a perfectionist, I should have known that and I should have put the right star field in." So he changed it.

In the case of Titanic: 20th Anniversary, Cameron and his team will give viewers an updated interpretation of the Titanic’s sinking, and reexamine the wreck using new underwater footage, computer-generated simulation, and research. They’ll also scrutinize some of the film’s most famous scenes, and provide biographical context about the filming process.

We’re sure fans, historians, and, of course, Kate and Leo, will approve.

[h/t Mashable]

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6 Eponyms Named After the Wrong Person
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Salmonella species growing on agar.

Having something named after you is the ultimate accomplishment for any inventor, mathematician, scientist, or researcher. Unfortunately, the credit for an invention or discovery does not always go to the correct person—senior colleagues sometimes snatch the glory, fakers pull the wool over people's eyes, or the fickle general public just latches onto the wrong name.

1. SALMONELLA (OR SMITHELLA?)

In 1885, while investigating common livestock diseases at the Bureau of Animal Industry in Washington, D.C., pathologist Theobald Smith first isolated the salmonella bacteria in pigs suffering from hog cholera. Smith’s research finally identified the bacteria responsible for one of the most common causes of food poisoning in humans. Unfortunately, Smith’s limelight-grabbing supervisor, Daniel E. Salmon, insisted on taking sole credit for the discovery. As a result, the bacteria was named after him. Don’t feel too sorry for Theobald Smith, though: He soon emerged from Salmon’s shadow, going on to make the important discovery that ticks could be a vector in the spread of disease, among other achievements.

2. AMERICA (OR COLUMBIANA?)

An etching of Amerigo Vespucci
Henry Guttmann/Getty Images

Florentine explorer Amerigo Vespucci (1451–1512) claimed to have made numerous voyages to the New World, the first in 1497, before Columbus. Textual evidence suggests Vespucci did take part in a number of expeditions across the Atlantic, but generally does not support the idea that he set eyes on the New World before Columbus. Nevertheless, Vespucci’s accounts of his voyages—which today read as far-fetched—were hugely popular and translated into many languages. As a result, when German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller was drawing his map of the Novus Mundi (or New World) in 1507 he marked it with the name "America" in Vespucci’s honor. He later regretted the choice, omitting the name from future maps, but it was too late, and the name stuck.

3. BLOOMERS (OR MILLERS?)

A black and white image of young women wearing bloomers
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Dress reform became a big issue in mid-19th century America, when women were restricted by long, heavy skirts that dragged in the mud and made any sort of physical activity difficult. Women’s rights activist Elizabeth Smith Miller was inspired by traditional Turkish dress to begin wearing loose trousers gathered at the ankle underneath a shorter skirt. Miller’s new outfit immediately caused a splash, with some decrying it as scandalous and others inspired to adopt the garb.

Amelia Jenks Bloomer was editor of the women’s temperance journal The Lily, and she took to copying Miller’s style of dress. She was so impressed with the new freedom it gave her that she began promoting the “reform dress” in her magazine, printing patterns so others might make their own. Bloomer sported the dress when she spoke at events and soon the press began to associate the outfit with her, dubbing it “Bloomer’s costume.” The name stuck.

4. GUILLOTINE (OR LOUISETTE?)

Execution machines had been known prior to the French Revolution, but they were refined after Paris physician and politician Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin suggested they might be a more humane form of execution than the usual methods (hanging, burning alive, etc.). The first guillotine was actually designed by Dr. Antoine Louis, Secretary of the Academy of Surgery, and was known as a louisette. The quick and efficient machine was quickly adopted as the main method of execution in revolutionary France, and as the bodies piled up the public began to refer to it as la guillotine, for the man who first suggested its use. Guillotin was very distressed at the association, and when he died in 1814 his family asked the French government to change the name of the hated machine. The government refused and so the family changed their name instead to escape the dreadful association.

5. BECHDEL TEST (OR WALLACE TEST?)

Alison Bechdel
Alison Bechdel
Steve Jennings/Getty Images

The Bechdel Test is a tool to highlight gender inequality in film, television, and fiction. The idea is that in order to pass the test, the movie, show, or book in question must include at least one scene in which two women have a conversation that isn’t about a man. The test was popularized by the cartoonist Alison Bechdel in 1985 in her comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For,” and has since become known by her name. However, Bechdel asserts that the idea originated with her friend Lisa Wallace (and was also inspired by the writer Virginia Woolf), and she would prefer for it to be known as the Bechdel-Wallace test.

6. STIGLER’S LAW OF EPONYMY (OR MERTON’S LAW?)

Influential sociologist Robert K. Merton suggested the idea of the “Matthew Effect” in a 1968 paper noting that senior colleagues who are already famous tend to get the credit for their junior colleagues’ discoveries. (Merton named his phenomenon [PDF] after the parable of talents in the Gospel of Matthew, in which wise servants invest money their master has given them.)

Merton was a well-respected academic, and when he was due to retire in 1979, a book of essays celebrating his work was proposed. One person who contributed an essay was University of Chicago professor of statistics Stephen Stigler, who had corresponded with Merton about his ideas. Stigler decided to pen an essay that celebrated and proved Merton’s theory. As a result, he took Merton’s idea and created Stigler’s Law of Eponymy, which states that “No scientific discovery is named after its original discoverer”—the joke being that Stigler himself was taking Merton’s own theory and naming it after himself. To further prove the rule, the “new” law has been adopted by the academic community, and a number of papers and articles have since been written on "Stigler’s Law."

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