Saturday 3 May 2008


Clearly, less and less people pay attention to the epidemiological findings galore in the media. An increasing number of ordinary citizens and reporters are catching on to the reason we get so many studies competing for first prize on the ‘’silly silly science’’ parade.

It would all be very amusing if politicians weren’t pressured by a variety of means, into drafting policies based on these findings. It would be worth a laugh or two over a beer with friends, if only astroturfing was not so omnipresent in our everyday lives to control our behaviors for their funders’ financial interests.

Can we blame the funding parties? In a free market they are certainly entitled to attempt to increase sales with advertizing disguised as ‘’scientific research’’ unless they are stopped. Can we blame the epidemiologists? Only if they’re dishonest and ‘’cook the books’’ to obtain their funders’ desired and predetermined conclusions. They grab their funding from wherever they can get it. Can we blame the media? We most certainly think they should be more investigative and selective as to what they publish. Can we blame the politicians for kowtowing to the manipulative tactics of these interested parties? You bet we can! They are paid to know better and protect the citizenry against quackery. Can we blame the citizen for buying into the hype such research creates? Only if he refuses to use some critical thinking and conveniently buys into the propaganda whenever it suits his preferences.

There are food riots in Haiti and Bangladesh. In Kenya hunger has driven half the population to set fire to the other half. In Bolivia they are fighting over vegetables. And even in Italy people took to the streets to complain about the price of pasta.

So you might imagine that all of the world’s scientists are currently in their bunkers, desperately trying to figure out why the world is running out of food all of a sudden and, more importantly, what can be done. For sure, they had a stab a while back at genetically modifying wheat so that it would grow – with no water, sunlight or soil – into a prepacked, presliced loaf. Sadly, though, the whole thing had to be abandoned when some antiGM food activists turned up in white boiler suits and rolled all over the experiment.

And now, it seems, the world’s boffins have got more important things on their enormous minds.

Last week, for instance, as the fires in Haiti burnt, a group of eggheads at Yale University announced that after some exhaustive research, they’d proved women who eat chocolate five times a week are 40% less likely to get preeclampsia than those who indulge only once a week.
Meanwhile, in Britain, scientists at Manchester and Newcastle universities announced that if you eat two tomatoes a day you are less likely to get sunburnt when on holiday this year. And that you will have a lovely complexion well into old age.

What’s more, on the very same day that the Americans were making their announcement about chocolate and the Brits about tomatoes, leading scientists in Germany published a report that says if you have a dog in your house your children are less likely to develop hay fever. I promise I am not making any of this up.

And then we learnt that a popular osteoporosis drug will break your heart, that hair dye will give you cancer and that those pots of friendly bacteria, which look like jars of sperm, will stop your kids getting eczema.

Furthermore – and I’m still only giving you the scientific news from Tuesday – we heard that women who take HRT will have a stroke; that smokers get depressed more easily; that Range Rovers cause global warming; and that if you take pills for high blood pressure, you will become stick-thin and, I don’t know, fall through grates in the street or be taken away by a stork.

I thought we’d reached a new pit of scientific balderdash when they announced last month that anyone who eats one sausage a day, or three rashers of bacon, increases their chances of getting bowel cancer by a fifth. But no. Scientists in California decided to go one better and announced last Monday, wait for it, that if you send your children to a playgroup you cut their chances of catching leukaemia by 30%.

Honestly, if you believed everything these scientists say you’d never dare get up, go outside or dip your celery into even the smallest pinch of salt. You’d be terrified that a tomato might turn you into Joan Collins. You wouldn’t smoke or drink or go near a pylon in case you caught ebola.
In fact you’d spend your entire life in a playgroup classroom, fearful that at any minute the door would be broken down by a swarm of cancerous sausages.

Happily, of course, we pay not the slightest bit of attention because we think we know exactly what’s going on here. We reckon, for instance, that if a scientist says a playgroup will cure the common cold he’s being funded by a company that owns playgroups. And similarly we suspect that when a scientist stands up and says you have to eat tomatoes, his clothes, hairstyle and house may well have been paid for by someone with a greenhouse.

And then there’s the sausages business. Do they really expect us to believe that a scientist woke up one morning and thought, I know, I’m going to see if a pork chipolata does anything nasty to my bowels. All of which brings me on to a bunch of boffins in Australia who are warning people not to flush their tropical fish down the lavatory.

I know several people who keep such fish in England and none has ever felt the need to put his often very expensive collection in the khazi. Apparently, though, that’s what they do in Oz; and now one particular breed, called the platys, has made it to the ocean, where it’s causing havoc.

It was bred to live in an aquarium because it suffers from what I call Hammond syndrome – an inferiority complex resulting from the fact that it’s about 6ft short of being a shark. It is also tough and bright. Not only is it capable of dealing with the complexities of a U-bend, but it can also swim through several miles of Australian faeces just so it can get into the Pacific, where it is now decimating fish stocks, eating frogs and generally running around shouting: “You’re going home in a f****** ambulance.”

Are you bothered? Neither am I, really, but I am wondering. Why did a scientist get up one day, stretch and then say: “Hmm, I wonder if any aquarium fish have escaped into the wild today?” And if he didn’t, did anyone pay him to find out? And why? Who benefits from all the newspaper coverage?

Is it the Spanish, I wonder? Are they about to claim the world is running out of food because the sea is running out of fish? And that this has nothing to do with their giant aquatic vacuum cleaners that charge about the oceans, sucking everything smaller than a pea into their holds, and is entirely the fault of Bruce and Sheila who put their platys down the Armitage Shanks one morning.

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