Thursday, February 5, 2009

"KKK" Robe, Light Skin Help Foil A-Bomb Heat

This is a sorry Black History Month moment. It's a little something I ran into doing research on mastitis. (Don't ask.) It's a story about a sorry German scientist and the sorry state of affairs in this country in the early 1950s. It is not supposed to be a story about race nor a story about sorry science. It is, believe it or not, a serious story in a serious scientific publication. You probably won't believe that so here is the full citation: The Science News-Letter, Vol. 60, No. 15 (Oct. 13, 1951), p. 231.

Here is the title of the article: "KKK" Robe, Light Skin Help Foil A-Bomb Heat.

The article begins with a news-you-can-use lede: "A LIGHT skin and a Ku-Klux-Klan:like robe will be a help in case an atomic bomb falls."

Whoa! That should get your attention. Here's the skinny: Dr. Konrad J. K. Buettner, a German scientist then working in post-war America, set out to study the effects of an atom bomb on people. He utilized -- I am not kidding -- cuts of pork from black and white pigs. He subjected them to heat from a powerful sun reflector. His conclusion: Black skin only reflects 10 percent of the heat while white skin reflects 40 percent.

If you think for just a moment about the way the atomic bombs we rained down on Japan melted buildings, those percentages are ridiculous.

But the sorriest part of his study is his solution. The best way to survive a nuclear blast, Dr. Buettner said, is to wear a suit shaped like a Klansman's robe covered with aluminum foil. Of course you won't believe that either, so here are the exact words:

"The answer, according to Dr. Buettner, is not to expose the skin. He has found that a hooded suit resembling a Klansman's robe and covered with aluminum foil is the best available shield against intense heat. The scientist wants civil defense authorities to develop such a garment on a glass-fabric base for use by civilians."

Try as you might, you can't summon even a chuckle for this. You don't have to be a nuclear scientists to figure out what was in the writer's mind, nor the good doctors'. I wish this was funny, but, you know, it isn't. It's just plain sorry.


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