Monday, January 27, 2020

4542 The New Normal

This is not going to be what you probably think.  It’s not about politics. It’s not about climate change.  It’s about this:

Your “normal” temperature, 98.6 degrees isn’t normal anymore. And no one can figure out why.  That 98.6 figure was established in about 1850 when a cabal of doctors and makers of mercury thermometers at a secret meeting in Leipzig, Germany declared it so after sampling 25,000 local residents.

Imagine the power of that small group of Leipzigers!  They helped make a decision that has affected billions of people for 170 years, give or take.

Average, normal body temperature is accepted as fact right along with 32 or 212 degrees at sea level are accepted as freezing or boiling.  It was not to be trifled with.  At least not until now.

The physician-Insurance company complex periodically admits that “average” doesn’t mean universal.  They do that the same way they admit the existence of pharmaceutical side-effects… in whispers and fine print.

There are people whose regular temperature varies by a degree or two either way. But scientists at Stanford have been working for a long time, sampling temperature records of people who were alive between the 1860s and 2017, using Civil War-era data collected before the school was established and then gathering its own. 

And what have they decided? Well, the statistics show that over time, the average male temp used to be about one and a half degrees higher than today. The average female temperature was about half a degree higher.  So 99.6 for men and 99.2 for women. They don’t report directly that men lost 1.06 degrees and women 0.57 degrees instantaneously on August 18, 1920, the day American women were first able to vote.

Now, you might argue that today’s thermometers are more precise and they are.  But the decline over time has been measured in round-ish figures.  So while the exact numbers may be off, the downward trend is not.

Is the decline because we’re all on Obamacare?  Nah. Is it because we’re just generally healthier? Nah. Is it because we’re evolving faster than we realized?  Who knows? But probably not.

The real reason is one of simple logic.  Follow this: If the starting premise is wrong, the logic can be perfect, and you still may get the wrong answer.  In this case, the starting premise was wrong. What premise? The so-called normal temperature = 98.6.

But that still doesn’t explain why average/normal declines about one half of one degree every ten years or so.  As reported by Vox and other sources, the way we heat our homes can be one factor. If the house is warm in winter, the body doesn’t have to work as hard to get to its optimum temperature.

But if that’s true, what about the people who live in extreme heat almost all year?  Air temperature in Phoenix, Arizona rarely gets below 65 degrees in the course of a year. But average body temp is falling at the same rate there as it is in Minneapolis where 32 degrees in December is considered a heatwave. 

And if that’s not mysterious enough for you, try this:  Your own personal normal can vary with your age, your weight and the time of day, just like your blood pressure.  That’s comforting in a way. It means various internal systems work similarly. Body functions in harmony with one another are, well, harmonious.

But in an era that’s obsessed with data, it’s also unnerving to have to adopt a sliding scale of “normal” as opposed to the rock-solidness of 98.6.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own and my “normal” body temperature is 97 and change and you’re welcome to either. 
Please address comments to this rock-solid datapoint:
© WJR 2020 (or maybe 2018-2028)

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