Sunday, November 4, 2007

Pass me the ScienceMangle™

The Daily Mail's irony-meter must have been broken this week, as they published on their website (about half way down) a reasonable diatribe written by Prof. Karol Sikora, Medical Director of CancerPartners UK regarding the recent report, Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective.

The first inkling that something was up was that the DM webpage didn't mention the name of the report, referring to it only as "last week's health report". The thrust of the piece was that publishing a report which pretty much said that everything you eat will affect your cancer risk to some degree will make people switch off listening to the good healthy eating advice and lose the message.

What struck me as odd, is that the Daily Mail for as long as I can remember has been putting all inanimate objects in the known universe into the categories of either causing or curing cancer. With the help of a sturdy ScienceMangle™ they have been one of the most repetitive sources of cancer fear for the worried well. How could we forget those lethal grapefruit or the bowel-busting one-glass-of-wine? I'm certainly glad that I'm not a tall, 14-year-old, left-handed, brunette who is sexually active (from the Daily Mail's perspective, at any rate....)

EDIT: I said 'inanimate objects' above. Apparently, it is also animate objects - bring on the carcinogenic canine.


Luckily for us all, DM debunks its own stories every once in a while. Now listen up and read carefully. It's time for Spot The Difference or Compare & Contrast or however you like to refer to it. Have your ScienceMangle™ set to "Irony".

Let's start with the DM's "Unravelling the Cancer Myths".

MYTH: You can get cancer from barbecued food.

FACT: The blackened crust of barbecued food contains substances called heterocyclic aromatic amines (HAAs), which are carcinogenic.

But there has been no evidence produced which links barbecued food to cancer.

Perhaps this is because you would never eat enough charred food to cause the DNA damage that is central to cancer development.

And compare with the article "Cancer: Foods to Avoid"


A potential [cancer-causing] culprit is [sic] heterocyclic amines which are formed on the surface of meat when it's grilled, roasted, fried or barbecued - especially when burned or charred.

Risk factor: Although animal studies suggest that high intakes of heterocyclic amines can promote cancer, there is no direct evidence in humans. But it makes sense to minimise any risk.
Minimise any risk, you say? Hmmm... talk to me about deodorants:

"Why Women should avoid deodorants that could cause breast cancer" (if I was being pedantic, I would say the answer is in the title, but I digress). Two weeks later we get:

MYTH: Using anti-perspirant can cause cancer.

FACT: An e-mail made the rounds a couple of years ago falsely linking antiperspirant with an increased risk of breast cancer.

It said anti-perspirant stopped toxins being purged from the body in sweat instead being deposited in the lymph nodes, causing cell mutations.

Cancer Research UK and the American Cancer Society have rubbished the claim, saying it is simply not true. Firstly, sweat does not contain toxins. And there is no proven link between anti-perspirant chemicals and cancer.

Now, of course, everyone knows that mobile phones cause cancer - at least, we're told it does by the DM; eye cancer and brain tumours are your lot, even if you're only on the phone for ten minutes. But, phew, relief and everything's fine because the ScienceMangle™ has been momentarily switched off, so that we can be told

MYTH: Mobile phones give you brain cancer.

FACT: So far, most studies have found no link between mobile phone use and brain cancer. But the jury is still out on just how damaging mobiles are.

Of course they are - the jury consisting of the DM's shareholders and lots of middle class unintelligentsia. These stories will always sell papers to this demographic - all you need is a list of all the objects in the world, access to some medical journals and a good, well-maintained ScienceMangle™.


  1. Daily Mail a.k.a. the work of the Devil.

    Why people still buy this paper I don't know. Their main themes are:

    "Muslims will blow you up"
    "Black people will rob you/shoot you/marry your daughters"
    "Gay people will molest your sons"
    "Asian people will lower your property values"

    Nasty newspaper, with hideous, hateful opinions.

    But hey, I'm with them when it comes to grapefruit.

  2. The daily mail, soft strong and very long (With apologies to Andrex for smearing their rather cozy loo roll by association)

    Best quote I heard was from a rather posh lesbian whose wife I know.
    "My mother reads the Daily Mail! but since I came out she doesn't believe the bits about Lesbians gays and Bisexuals any more "

  3. I would like to point everyone to this (if they don't know it already) -

  4. Ha ha! Thanks for that Rachel that's excellent.

    I've linked to it on the following post as well, on the shamelessly self promoting title of Dr* T's First Theory