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« Egalitarianism as a Contrapositive Peltzman Effect | Main | Some Kind of Milestone »


mike shupp

Stealing a bit from Wikipedia, the first microscope was devised about 1590. That little living things could be found in water wasn't reported until 1676 or so (Antoni van Leeuwenhoek). I don't know at what point it was observed that heating water to the boiling point would kill microorganisms, but it was probably around this time.

However, it wasn't until the 19th century that people really started to connect microorganisms with diseases (a process continuing into the 20th), and it wasn't until late in the 19th that Pasteur established that killing microoganisms and keeping the water or other medium free of subsequent contamination kept the medium "germ-free" -- prior to that time, orthodox belief was that life was spontaneously generated. By this time, the microscope was three centuries old.

The first demonstration that a disease (cholera) was spread by contaminated water was by Dr. John Snow, of London in 1855. This eventually led to municipal sewage systems and other efforts to keep water pure, but not to boiling water.

Perhaps the argument for boiling drinking water was more Darwinian than intellectual? It could be that coffee and tea drinkers simply lived longer beer and spirits drinkers and bred more children, who followed in their (soggy) footsteps. But there I speculate wildly.

Interesting points about Mormon and Utah teetotalism; I'll remember them.

Dave Tufte

My point was more vicarious.

People drank coffee and tea because they liked them, but they found two things rather than one: 1) improved mental capacity, and 2) no increase in disease.

As to the Mormons, I make that point because I live in Utah. But, it's actually something I heard first before I moved to Utah, and it regarded Moslem abstinence: historically, it was only strong in areas with clean water, and it's a fairly recent phenomenon for Moslems on the more humid geographic fringes of that faith to avoid alcohol.

Once I was tuned in to that argument, I found it in a second place. Protestants that advocated avoiding alcohol didn't thrive in urban centers until potable municipal water became available. Their teetotalling lifestyle choice actually decreased their viability if they stayed in an urban center. Broadly, they attributed that to the sinfulness of the urban center, but it may just have been the sin of poor sanitary habits.

Water Heaters Indiana

Studies show that we may be benefitting from more than just the energy-boosting caffeine in coffee -- we might also be reaping its cancer-preventing and depression-lowering effects, just to name a couple.

Dave Tufte


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