Hold on to your hat. Despite what your mother told you, normal body temperature is NOT 98.6. It’s more like 97.5 degrees. Fahrenheit, that is.
Also, about your hat. Don’t believe what your mother said about wearing it in the winter to keep body heat from escaping through your head. Turns out she was wrong about that, too.
I will now take your questions.
Q: What is going on? How can this be? A: Personally, I blame climate change.
Q: Wait. You don’t need to wear a winter hat to stay warm because of CLIMATE CHANGE? A: No, silly. Although, hmm. On second thought, that IS kind of true. But it’s not what I meant. I am thinking of the link between climate change and the drop in body temperature.
Q: What is the connection? A: Consider this: Our planet’s surface temperature has risen nearly two degrees in the past 150 years. Over the same period, body temperature has dropped about 1.1 degrees.
Q: Are you suggesting that the world is getting warmer because our bodies are getting cooler? Or that our bodies are getting cooler because the world is getting warmer? A: I’m saying this is why we need science.
Q: Let’s back up for a minute. How do we know what normal body temperature was 150 years ago? A: A German doctor said so.
Q: Go on. A: Back in 1869, Carl Reinhold August Wunderlich collected the temperatures of 25,000 patients in Leipzig, Germany. After doing the math, he concluded that normal body temperature is 98.6.
Q: Hold on. Is it possible for one doctor to have 25,000 patients? A: Maybe his doctor friends shared their records. Keep in mind, this was pre-HIPAA.
Q: And none had digital thermometers? A: True.
Q: Or electronic medical records? A: Also true.
Q: Or data analytics? A: Come on, it was 1869. They didn’t even have the Periodic Table.
Q: And yet, this doctor was able to track and calculate average human temperature down to one-tenth of a degree? A: Yes. Of course, his thermometers would have used the Celsius scale, not Fahrenheit.
Q: Which means? A: In Germany, average body temperature is only 37 degrees.
Q: He could do conversions without a calculator? A: They HAD slide rules.
Q: So THAT’S how normal body temperature was decided? Nobody questioned his findings? A: Today, yes. Dozens of studies have now disproved them. But back then? People took scientists at their word.
Q: So let me get this straight. For 150 years, we judged the gravity of our children’s illness based solely on one man’s assessment of people who once lived in Germany’s eighth largest city. A: Uh huh.
Q: You know what’s a real shame? A: That this doctor wasn’t studying climate change. The world might be a different place.