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Bizzare & Odd

Death Categorization Drives Healthcare Decisions

By World Mercury Project Guest Contributor Joy M. Fritz, posted here with permission.

I work with doctors, coroners and the local county registrars every day to create death records. It’s what I do for a living and I wanted to share my thoughts on the mortality rates being thrown around on mainstream and social media regarding the influenza epidemic. Please note: This information I am sharing is not limited to influenza reporting, but rather, serves as a case study of how the mortality rate recording system (mal)functions at large.

I am sorry to say that death rates are NOT as simple or as valid as every news broadcaster with perfectly-trained vocal delivery makes them sound, and they are absolutely not the infallible pillar of medical history that the CDC purports.

This failed mechanism in the mortality rate ‘generator’, if you will, is the same for the hotly debated adverse vaccine reactions. This is the reason you see horrible adverse vaccine reactions and deaths being claimed by parents on social media, but no line item for them in national statistics.

An Imperfect System

Our current system for capturing mortality rates can and does provide a mostly uninvestigated and inaccurate picture of what causes a death. The process for creating and registering causes of death for public records is a complicated, convoluted, and politicized one. It is completely open to both ignorance and the manipulations of personal, professional, and governmental interests.

I have come to realize how greatly this reality becomes a public health issue during this current flu season when every major media outlet is providing us with live updates on the accruing death toll. Seeing these reports caused me concern for my family. My husband and I discussed what preventive treatment we might consider. I started reading the FDA package inserts for different flu immunization options to get informed on which might be safest for our infant and six-year-old. What I ultimately wanted to investigate was the risk of death. My kids getting sick is just part of life; other people getting sick is just part of life; lowering the risk of death to my family and the people around me is what I cared about when it came specifically to the seasonal flu.

The process for creating and registering causes of death . . . is completely open to both ignorance and the manipulations of personal, professional, and governmental interests.

I started researching mortality rates to find the line item in the CDC reports for “deaths due to influenza” vs. “adverse reaction to influenza medications and immunizations”. I found influenza rates, no problem. Flu medications and shots? No deaths reported. Awesome. What a simple decision to make! But, being in the mortuary industry and curious about how they get these reports, I looked at the last full report for 2014, dug deeper, and eventually found that they simply code and reorganize the data that they receive from death records—the very death records that I am typing up and registering every day.

So my head started to explode. And I felt, and still feel, sick. I realized that without being aware of it, I knew exactly how influenza deaths are recorded, and why there was no line item in the CDC’s mortality rates for adverse reactions to common medical treatments.

Before I continue, please know that I will not be explaining all the ins and outs of my job, nor the incredibly rare reality that medication complications and adverse reactions do get captured (usually in box 112 of the death record, not as the primary underlying cause). Those exceptions are made possible by exceptional, and likely, very principled people, choosing individually to go above and beyond the call of protocol, whether that be the family that is aware of the impact of the legal documentation that occurs after death and stays level-headed and involved mere hours after the death of their loved one, or an insanely humble and honest doctor, in conjunction with the coroner medical-legal officer who trusts and cooperates with the honest doctor and vigilant family to think outside the box of their standard procedures. Almost five years and nearly 5,000 death certificates later, I can say with confidence that that kind of post-death communication concoction is at a statistical percentage point that even the CDC would consider insignificant.

What most people don’t know is that doctors are not allowed to attest to anything that is not a strictly NATURAL cause of death.

Core Considerations

So, in the spirit of very uncomfortable truthfulness, I will share a snapshot of the core issues embedded in the daily procedures of creating the death statistics that we so desperately need to make prudent health decisions for ourselves and our families. I will also include some examples of how these core issues would manifest into faulty statistical analysis at the level of our public health and lead to the miscalculation of the benefits and risks surrounding our individual medical choices.

Core Issue A: Doctors who provide causes have not all been trained the same way, and therefore do not provide standardized responses. This may at first glance seem minor, as it always has to me, but this directly affects the cause that the doctor lists on the death certificate. Some doctors prefer listing the underlying cause of death as the recent complications that occurred in the last days or weeks before death, such as pneumonia or influenza, while leaving out the more chronic illnesses that had led to the decline in health. Other doctors decide they will provide the more long-standing health conditions as the cause of death (for instance, diabetes, asthma or congenital abnormality) while leaving out the more immediate illnesses. Some doctors include both the short-term and long-term diagnoses.

Many factors play a role in which approach doctors choose. These include in what capacity the doctor saw the patient (hospital vs. hospice care for example) or the immediate availability of the complete medical record within the time frame being impressed by the mortuary due to upcoming funeral or cremation services, or simply the way the doctor personally prioritizes information. Furthermore, doctors feel limited as to what they can provide for a cause by the professional context in which they saw the patient, as determined by their specialty. For example, a primary care physician might provide a cause of death as “coronary artery disease” since that was what he/she was prescribing medication to the patient for, whereas the patient could simultaneously be being treated for stage four chronic kidney disease and be on dialysis. In this case, rather than the objectively more serious health condition being listed on the death certificate, the health condition that the doctor is most comfortable attesting to is listed. Again, way too many factors to go into in this piece, but the basic issue of the lack of standardization in cause of death diagnosis and reporting remains.

In the case of a patient who dies after contracting influenza, this patient could have all of the above-mentioned conditions on his/her medical record simultaneously, from influenza to asthma, pneumonia, congenital abnormality, coronary artery disease and chronic kidney disease. Any ONE of those conditions listed is correct and valid, and could be entered as a stand-alone cause which would then be registered by me and the local and state registrar’s offices without a query. It’s the doctor’s preference and his medical opinion—yet the national attention given, medical research dollars, and yearly health choices we all make are swayed by whichever cause this particular doctor, with his/her own particular training and personality, decides to jot down on the worksheet and send back to me to enter into the official record.

CORE ISSUE B) What most people don’t know is that doctors are not allowed to attest to anything that is not a strictly NATURAL cause of death. Falls, medication complications or overdoses, causes with the word “injury” in it, anything that is considered an unnatural or external cause is outside the realm of their jurisdiction as far as the death record is concerned. The coroner would need to be contacted and agree to certify or co-certify a death record that has an unnatural or external cause listed. This is a whole other, very complicated reporting issue that I will not get into in this post. I will say, however, from the perspective of a mortuary representative, that everyone involved (doctor, coroner, registrar and myself) understands that the delay caused by any coroner involvement is highly dreaded and avoided if at all possible due to the amplified grief it can cause the family if they do not want an autopsy or investigation done or have to suffer a delay in services and/or an upset in their own personal closure process.

However, the majority of doctors are aware of their own limitation to certify only natural causes of death. And usually in the interest of serving the grieving family, they will provide the simplest natural cause that they know will quickly pass the approval of the local registrar’s office, fulfill their duty as a signing physician, and enable the grieving family to move forward with their scheduled burial or cremation services. It should be noted here that doctors are under an additional pressure since they have a limited time set out by their State Health and Safety Codes to provide causes of death to a funeral home. In California, it is within 15 hours of death, although that is rarely achieved. Delays of more than a few days after death would risk them getting their license reported to the state medical board for lack of compliance.

What Works About This System?

The system is created in such a way that naturally occurring infectious disease (such as influenza) can be and is being reported and recorded in national mortality rates. However, the lack of standardization in the way doctors report it creates an unreliable number to set as the threshold for what constitutes an epidemic.

What Does NOT Work About This system?

It does not report on the true consequential timeline of the patient’s medical treatment, including unnatural and external complications and errors in their medical care and is therefore woefully inadequate as the basis for ANY medical claims or recommendations.

The first example to illustrate the impact of this issue is as follows:

I read a post from a nurse the other day that shared her story of being hospitalized due to complications of the flu. Even though she had gotten the flu shot every year, she had only gotten influenza this year. Five days after experiencing flu symptoms, she went to her medical provider and was prescribed Tamiflu. She went through her course of medication. Her flu symptoms eased but she started getting a tightness in the chest, which further worsened until she needed to be hospitalized for pneumonia and a close call with sepsis. The conclusion of her post—and her medical opinion as a nurse—was that this year’s flu was very dangerous and anyone less healthy than she could have easily died with her symptoms, so she urged everyone to please get the flu shot to prevent the flu from spreading.

The saddest part about reading her story was discovering that she must not have read the Tamiflu manufacturer’s insert, which states that “No influenza vaccine interaction study has been conducted” and “Efficacy of TAMIFLU in patients who begin treatment after 40 hours of symptoms has not been established” and furthermore, “Events reported more frequently in subjects receiving TAMIFLU compared to subjects receiving placebo in prophylaxis studies, and more commonly than in treatment studies, were aches and pains, rhinorrhea, dyspepsia and upper respiratory tract infections.” (emphasis added)

This would lead to an alternate, very feasible medical conclusion that her hospitalization and pneumonia was the result of using a medication that has not been tested on a population of her vaccination status and symptoms duration, which also has the adverse reaction of a URTI.

…the likelihood of influenza causing the death is greater than the medication causing the death because of mortality rates—but they are the ones creating the mortality rates…

But what if someone less healthy than herself with her exact symptoms and medication course HAD died? Her medical opinion, and many other medical care providers’ opinions would have been that it was influenza that had caused the death, instead of the complications of the medication. In the medical provider’s mind, the likelihood of influenza causing the death is greater than the medication causing the death because of mortality rates—but they are the ones creating the mortality rates—so what is considered reasonable likelihood is being created in a closed loop, a regurgitating cycle.

So, whether the attending physician at the hospital was aware of this medical misstep by the other medical provider or not, in this case the hospital physician could simply put “Influenza” on the causes of death worksheet and send it back to me. Influenza would be entered in the death record and be reported in the state and then national database as such with no question from me or the government registrars.

A Public Health Reporting Conundrum

What this has created, then, is a serious public health reporting conundrum. Death due to complications of improperly prescribed medications are NOT being calculated into the national reporting agencies in a real-time setting. Neither would they be communicated in real-time to the public. Instead, people would simply hear of the rising influenza death toll and run for more medication (and likely not be reading the manufacturer’s insert either to verify if they truly are good candidates for that medication).

I have many friends and family in the medical industry and it is easily admitted that legal and personal liability is a factor in the considerations of proper reporting.

In this medication example, as you can imagine, even IF the recorders realize that the medication was prescribed erroneously, it would not be in the professional best interest of the medical provider or medical facility to report this prescription error and its possibly fatal complications to the family or public health officials. I have many friends and family in the medical industry and it is easily admitted that legal and personal liability is a factor in the considerations of proper reporting. However, if and when this possibly fatal prescription misstep was ever reported, it would be in some very passive EMR analysis many months or years later, with no urgency or real-time public health warning. The ability for government to cross-check and minutely examine nearly three million decedent medical records of varying electronic availability—annually—is just not there.

This failed mechanism in the mortality rate “generator”, if you will, is the same for the hotly debated adverse vaccine reactions. This is the reason you see horrible adverse vaccine reactions and deaths being claimed by parents on social media, but no line item for them in national statistics. It is not because they don’t exist or don’t happen. The real-time data reporting system of death recording is not set up to calculate these deaths. The families that become aware of the adverse reactions in time to request investigation (<24 hours after death), and are able to request any relevant pathological specimens to be procured before the burial or cremation of their loved one, would then need to have the time and resources to go through the lengthy reporting and court procedures through the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) and the National Vacine Injury Compensation Program (NVICP). A very few families do, and if they can establish enough scientific evidence (like pathology reports) and find and produce enough experts and professional support, they MIGHT eventually get the causes of death amended and compensation for their loss paid out by the allotted government fund. And after five, 10, 15 or 20 years, this passive data capture system might accrue enough statistical information to be reported back to the medical community so that they adjust their recommendations. However, with the HHS claim that only around 1% of vaccine injuries are reported to VAERS, even this may not be realistic.

So, just like in the medication example, any death due to an adverse reaction to the flu shot or for ANY regularly scheduled wellness immunization, would similarly not be captured in the standard process of death recording. As before, the doctor can still provide either influenza or any other natural-occurring immune response as the only cause of death. He would send it to me and I would enter it in, get the state to approve it, and “Voila!”—a thoroughly inaccurate mortality rate reporting. 

Impacting Informed Consent

One of the most difficult realities for me to recognize in examining the mortality rate reporting system that I am a part of, is that the medical community itself is suffering from the ignorance that this kind of circular mortality rate generating system creates. Doctors and coroners are limited by the already existing mortality rates to gauge the likelihood of what caused death. That kind of system can only regurgitate the same causes of death over and over again by forcing its reporters to use the same types of “acceptable” death diagnoses that already exist.

And these are the statistics the medical community uses to educate themselves and provide informed consent to the patient on what the most prudent option is for medical care to safeguard health and prevent death.

And, yes, I will take the opportunity here to say that we can logically apply this critical analysis of the lack of proper data capture to those reluctant to vaccinate or use medications. There is no current national data capture system that records the morbidity or mortality rates of those who choose less medical intervention or choose to not vaccinate themselves or their kids. We don’t know what their life expectancy, quality of life or mortality rate is in our modern day, with the advancements in hygiene, technology and post-disease-diagnosis medical care availability being considered. It could absolutely be worse, statistically, but we wouldn’t know.

For nationally reported statistics, we are left then with bad data on one side, and no control group data on the other. Hardly the recipe for safe or settled scientifically guided medical care.

Now where does that leave you and me? Our highly subjective—yet somehow infallible—weaponry of mortality rates, whether from national statistics or the social media horror stories, has us and all our friends and family swinging the manic flag of “People are dying!”

This flu season, for example, some of our friends are saying, “People are dying from flu! Get vaccinated! Take medication!” while other friends are saying, “People are dying from adverse reactions to medications and shots! Don’t get vaccinated! Drink elderberry!” And we are all running for the nearest remedies that we are sure will help us because of statistics—OR because we don’t see statistics reflecting our lived reality, so we do the best we can to discern our health without statistics.

But I’m the one creating these statistics and I offer you this: If you take one thing away from this, take away a healthier skepticism about even the most accepted mainstream, nationally reported, CDC or other “scientific” statistics. Humans who had no concept of their widespread impact made them. The numbers are not hard—they are very, very fluid. And conversely, have a healthier skepticism about all the alternative remedies we welcome as hopeful scientific-ish options. There is no unbiased, century-long, data capture system set up for these choices either.

As a parent, the most painful part of taking a step back and looking at all this, is having to humbly admit—I don’t know what the right thing to do is.

I don’t have the unbiased data I need to make the safest decision for my children.

I don’t know what the right thing to do is for myself, or for my husband.

I don’t know what side of the fence to stand on in the vaccination and mainstream medicine battlefield, and I don’t want to stand on a side: I just want the unbiased, uncorrupted and standardized data needed to accurately assess the benefits vs. the ultimate risks for my family’s health.

For nationally reported statistics, we are left then with bad data on one side, and no control group data on the other. Hardly the recipe for safe or settled scientifically guided medical care.

A Self-Reporting System

In the face of this fallible data capture system, my own resolution that I am willing to publicly recommend—no matter what medical choices you decide are best—would be:

  • Become self-reporters. Keep a health journal for each family member complete with dates and times and severity of symptoms of illness, and track dates and dosages of any medical treatment administered. Track degree of fevers, severity of migraines, frequency of ear infections, changes of behavior, hospitalizations, medication dosages and immunization combinations, etc.
  • Think critically and ask questions when you see inconsistencies in any health recommendations offered to you or your family. Request and encourage a satisfactory discussion of benefits and risks with your medical provider.
  • Download and thoroughly read the manufacturer’s insert provided on the FDA’s website for any medication or immunization you are considering, and verify that you are a good candidate for that medication. If you decide to use that medical treatment, record any minor reactions in the health journal, immediately report any somewhat severe reactions to your medical provider, and ask for that information to be added to your electronic medical record so that it might inform any future medical provider on your individual contraindications you may have in other medication courses. Remember that each of us is liable for our own health choices; you cannot expect a medical provider to be a perfect assessor of what’s best for you.
  • Follow up and make sure proper reporting was done on the medical provider’s part to the appropriate national databases, or report it yourself:  MedWatch reports for medications and VAERS reports for vaccines. This recommendation is less for you and more for others and for the sake of having the appropriate authorities informed so they can eventually take medical treatments off the market and create the demand for safer ones. Those kind of databases can only function well for the populations they serve if they are being used by everyone.

Yes, people are dying. Each and every day. I do their death records every flu season or surfing season. And try as hard as we do—and no matter how absolutely shredded inside I am, especially when I do an infant or child’s death certificate—we will never eradicate death. We CAN work to slowly eradicate and reform bad systems and misinformation. And even though there is no immediate gratification in it, we will probably save more lives when we work intelligently, truthfully and ethically towards a better future. That usually starts with a lot of humility and admitting that change is needed.

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Bizzare & Odd

Secrets Of Chernobyl Nuclear Incident You’ve Never Heard Of!

Chernobyl became the name associated with a disaster of a nuclear incident. This gained globally focus when reactor 4 exploded on Apr 26, 1986, in Soviet Ukraine.

It released more than one hundred ninety tons of radioactive materials into the air as well as contaminating surrounding areas.

All details outlined below were sourced from several survivor interviews as well as top secret Soviet files now declassified.

Almost all equipment utilized for cleanup is now missing

Soon after the incident, they brought equipment from all the parts of Soviet Union. Its purpose was to wash the reactor structures as well as surrounding places.

The cleanup lasted for several months. Later on, many devices used in the actual operation close to the reactor needed to be buried deep underground. Also, the fire motors that at first arrived to put out the fire.

Other relatively less infected devices were left behind in a variety of, especially noticeable graveyards. Simply because they were nevertheless highly irradiated.

Nuclear Incident3

Little by little local people and numerous criminal gangs were arriving and attempting to scavenge replacement parts for retailing in black-markets. It was noticeable from the degrading conditions from the machines saved there.

Forgotten here are a lot more than 1600 army helicopters, aquariums, military armoured private service providers, bulldozers and much more military gear.

The machines were in excellent operating condition. However, there wasn’t a practical way to decontaminate these devices.

Workers within doubt

Only a day prior to the explosion, the Chernobyl power plant workers were organizing the actual experiment. There were numerous people at the power plant that was uncertain if the test should go ahead.

They considered that the reactor had one defect. Also, it was shaky for a test that will need to disable numerous security features.

Regrettably, their employers didn’t think the same as them. They were adamant that the experiment is finished on the shaky reactor as scheduled.

Lack of details sharing

An identical reactor in Soviet Lithuania nearly had the disaster when it was working under lower power.

This particular reactor had the design problem that made it extremely unstable in low energy configuration.

Had this info end up being discussed with other operators of the identical reactor style, then the Chernobyl catastrophe might have been avoided.

Regrettably, the Chernobyl nuclear operators weren’t aware of this issue.

An accident waiting around to happen

Prior to the incident, there were 104 small accidents in the Chernobyl plant.

About thirty-five such occurrences were straight attributed in the direction of operator mistakes.

Nevertheless, most of the other mishaps were because of design imperfections combined with building defects. They afterwards got irritated because of flaunting of safety protocols and administration error.

Nuclear Incident2

Generally speaking, the plant was condemned from the beginning because of this lax mindset towards security procedures.

Normal routine

Following the incident, the actual residents from the city of Pripyat noticed individuals scrubbing the actual streets along with soap as well as water.

This didn’t increase any security bells one of the residents because was not the very first time they had observed such a view.

In earlier situations of minor mishaps, the same process was used within the city of Pripyat.

Human Resettlement

Few seniors who were removed from the area have made the decision to come back to the infected areas in spite of fierce argument from the local government councils.

All the individuals evacuated out of the infected areas were supplied with new houses.

Nonetheless, the pressure of leaving everything was hard for many.

Many people chose to suffer no longer as well as returned towards the houses that they had abandoned within the wake of crisis evacuations.

Individuals who never left

After the incident, the radiation distributed over European countries erratically. The resulting infected areas of land was spread throughout Europe.

Nuclear Incident1

The places surrounding instant accident site obtained the actual heaviest contaminants.

Because of the precise location of the reactor close to the Russian as well as the Belarussian border, regions of those countries additionally received weighty doses of radiation.

Today a lot more than 5 mil people still live in infected areas of Ukraine, Russia as well as Belarus. The actual authorities have never taken any kind of effort in order to relocate individuals from these kinds of areas.

An accident which never ceased

It might come as a shock for several that the rays contamination through Chernobyl fallout proceeds to pass on due to numerous factors.

Following the initial rays fallout within the soil, the actual radionuclides began to move much deeper into the ground over time.

In the beginning, the initial after effects were assimilated by timber and little plants which brought it over the surface area while they grew.

As time passed the rest of the radionuclides sunk deep enough to get assimilated by big tree roots that introduced them over a surface from the soil once more.

These radionuclides got inserted in the trees and shrubs and can be identified virtually in most component of the actual tree composition.

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Bizzare & Odd

Grieving For Robots And Dolls In Japan

You might recall in 2014, different news sources reported on funerals held for AIBO robot dogs in Japan. Since Sony stopped repairing and making spare parts for AIBOs, the puppies were gradually “dying out.” In reaction to this, Buddhist priests have been holding funeral services for them.

This might seem pretty odd to anyone outside Japan. Indeed, a great deal of people find it strange as well. Some can even find it quite upsetting that somehow, in treating an artificial human creation as a living thing, we’ve lost contact with reality and are forgetting what makes living things special.

But treating specific man-made creations with the identical regard as organic objects is not anything new in Japan. There is an entire article on funeral rites for inanimate items here. Objects that might be disposed of in a ritualistic style in Japan have included needles, chopsticks, combs and bladed items — generally, things that people use in a fairly personal, intimate manner. Other things which might be disposed of more attentively are dolls. Some Japanese are reluctant to throw out dolls as ordinary rubbish since they resemble people, and therefore it somehow seems unkind to deal with them as trash.

Japanese doll

There are various reasons for doing so. One is regarding the idea of”sympathetic magic” as clarified in The Golden Bough.  There are two types of sympathetic magic. Firstthere is “homeopathic magic,” in which an item could be attached to some other object by simply resembling it. This will explain the significance of disposing of dolls through ritual means — they look like people, therefore they have to be treated like people. Second, there’s “contagious magic,” where two otherwise unrelated items form a magic link by simply being in contact with each other. In the case of the personal items listed above, they’re viewed as”contaminated” with this individual’s spirit, providing them a supernatural relationship with that person. As this kind of relationship could be harmful, ritual disposal of these objects prevents any harm from coming to the prior owner.

Ultimately, the idea of treating things with respect in Japan very likely has a relation to the animistic character of Shinto.  In Shinto, kami can occupy both man-made and natural objects. In a similar manner, things which have been carefully handpicked, such as traditional inks and masks, are considered to possess, if not something so evasive as kami, a sort of soul or spirit which requires respect.  Disposing of such an item in a careless, disrespectful way can violate the spirit, which might become vengeful; this is the foundation for the belief in O-bake — ghosts which frequently take the form of old, disused items like umbrellas or lanterns.

Mask for Japanese Noh theatre. Hand-crafted noh masks are treated with great caution and respect — actors will talk and bow before putting them on.

Apart from the appeasement of spirits which may inhibit an item, an individual might want to dispose of things in ritual style for more symbolic purposes. By holding funeral rites for items, one is showing respect for this thing’s creator, acknowledging it is a piece of artwork that’s taken time and skill to make. Also, one is showing gratitude for the service which the item has contributed. It is a method of recognizing that without the object, your life could have been harder and you’re grateful for that thing’s presence. It shows you’ve created an attachment with this particular thing and therefore are reluctant to part with it.

By being thankful to each of the items we use, instead of thoughtlessly throwing them away when they have outlived their usefulness, we step from the”disposable world” mentality that’s so commonplace nowadays. Respecting man-made objects reminds us that these items initially came from nature, and are consequently a valuable resource that has to be used carefully and sustainably. This applies to some items created by man, be it an old needle or a robotic puppy.

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They Might Seem Useless, But These 8 Body Parts Actually Have Surprisingly Cool Functions

As the Ancient Greeks used to say, “Know Thyself.” It probably was meant a little more philosophically that we’re choosing to interpret it, but learning about how your body is put together and why is some seriously fun stuff.

We’ve all marvelled at our fingers and toes, wrinkling into prunes in the bath. We’ve all stared at that weird fleshy appendage hanging down in the back of our throats.

We’ve all known someone – or been that someone – with an emergency appendectomy. “It’s fine,” they say, “the appendix is completely useless anyway.”

But our bodies are amazing machines, and, while we may not need some of its features any more, there’s very little in our anatomies with no purpose whatsoever.

And about those things we don’t need any more? They’re evidence of where we’ve been – and that we continue to evolve even to this day.

Your appendix

Turns out the human appendix – that weird structure attached to the colon that seemed to have little purpose but to occasionally inflame – isn’t just an evolutionary vestige after all.

Recent research has found that it might play a key role in our immune systems by harbouring good bacteria that help fight infection. Good work, little buddy!

That extra ear hole

preauricularsinus(Smooth_O/Wikimedia Commons)

If you look carefully at your ears, you might notice you have a tiny additional hole just where the helix meets the side of your head.

This is called the preauricular sinus, and only a tiny percentage of people have them. It’s actually a rare birth defect first documented by Van Heusinger in 1864.

We don’t know why we have them – but evolutionary biologist Neil Shubin of the University of Chicago and the Field Museum of Natural History has hypothesised that they’re an evolutionary remnant of fish gills.

Wrinkly fingers

fingers(Brenderous/Flickr/CC-BY-2.0)

If you spend too long in the swimming pool, you’re going to notice that your fingers and toes start to look a little like raisins. This might not be pointless, according to a paper published in the journal Biology Letters in 2013.

They conducted experiments and found that underwater objects were manipulated much more adroitly by wrinkled fingers than unwrinkled fingers – suggesting that the feature exists to give us improved grip in both handling objects and walking when wet surfaces are involved.

Makes sense, doesn’t it?

Junk DNA

We have a lot of DNA in our body that, until recently, didn’t really seem to do anything.

It doesn’t create proteins, and it seems to make us more susceptible to damage and disease – but it makes up a significant part of our genome. If it wasn’t somehow beneficial, evolution would have at least started phasing out this so-called “junk DNA,” but that hasn’t happened.

Recently, researchers may have figured out what it’s for – it plays a critical role in holding out genome together by ensuring that chromosomes bundle correctly inside the nuclei if our cells. Without that function, cells die – so it seems like “junk” DNA is not so junky after all.

“Useless” immune cells

We have these immune cells in our bodies that nobody could figure out what they were for.

It was a real head-scratcher, because these “silenced” lymphocytes are present in our bodies in large numbers and only seemed to emerge to attack the body in autoimmune diseases. It looks like a liability, right?

But it ain’t. It turns out that the cells represent a new type of immunity that we didn’t know about before – they attack dangerous infections that otherwise evade the immune system by disguising themselves as part of the body. A pretty useful line of defence to have, wouldn’t you say?

Gut bacteria

There’s a reason that experts have recently suggested that we all start referring to ourselves using the royal “we”.

In recent years, research has found that the microbes that live inside of us, especially our intestines (our microbiome), are symbiotic – and they have far more of an effect on our lives than we realised.

They have been implicated in such illnesses as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, cancer and chronic fatigue syndrome, which means they may be pretty danged important. But they also seem to play a role in regulating other things, too – such as our appetites, and even our moods.

Interstitium

Turns out we may have an organ wrapped around our other organs, and it’s been hiding in plain sight for all this time. The newly classified organ is called the interstitium, and previously scientists had just thought it was relatively unremarkable, relatively solid tissue to fill the space between our organs.

It’s actually filled with fluid, supported by a collagen lattice, and it helps protect our organs from external shocks as we move around, much like air cushions in running shoes.

The pink bit in your eye

eye(Peter Clarke/Wikimedia Commons/CC-BY-SA-4.0)

If you look in the mirror, you’ll see a little pink bit of conjunctival tissue in the corner of your eye. This is called the plica semilunaris, and these days its primary function is to help with tear drainage and eyeball mobility.

But once upon a time it was a nictitating membrane – what we call a third eyelid, a translucent eyelid that can be drawn over the eye to keep it moist and protected while maintaining a measure of vision.

If you have a cat or a dog, you may have seen their third eyelid while they’re sleeping. Humans and most other primates don’t need this feature any more, so it evolved away a long time ago – but we still have that vestigial lump of tissue.

Last year, doctors reported the second known case of a nictitating membrane in a human. A nine-year-old girl had a persistent membrane across her left eye that could not be retracted. It was surgically excised, and her eye underneath was fine.

A version of this article was first published in June 2018.

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