That golf ball-size swelling is an enlarged thyroid gland, and it's usually caused by consuming too little of the crucial micronutrient iodine. Humans traditionally get their iodine from seafood, so goiter boomed in populations that lived far from coastal areas. I'm guessing that goiter must have traditionally been blamed on lack of exposure to ghost pirates, because Western medicine didn't discover the link between goiter and iodine until the 19th century. And it wasn't until the 1920s that a doctor called David Murray Cowie heard about how landlocked Switzerland had vitalized their neck modeling industry by adding sodium iodide to the nation's table salt. Cowie convinced some of America's biggest salt manufacturers to follow the Swiss plan and dose America's salt right up.
At the time, iodine fans were focused on preventing deficiency and wiping out those nasty neck lumps. But then, in what was the exact opposite of every science fiction plot ever, this newfangled chemical in our food came with an unexpected side effect ... it made people smarter. In areas where iodine deficiency was formerly the norm, iodizing table salt increased people's IQ an average of 15 points.
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Science tried to meddle with nature. They tried to improve mankind. And ... it worked out pretty well, I guess.