Neutralise radiation and stay off milk: the truth about celebrity health claims

Artykuły


Artykuł pochodzi z pisma "Guardian"


A new leaflet aimed at famous people debunks unscientific comments

James Randerson, science correspondent
Wednesday January 3, 2007
The Guardian

From Madonna's efforts to find a way to "neutralise radiation" to Carol Caplin's advice on keeping "your lymph system unclogged" if you want to avoid breast cancer, celebrities are seldom shy about offering scientific-sounding health tips.
But with the season for promoting new year diets and health fads in full swing, a group of scientists are hoping to steer the rich and famous away from making pseudo-scientific gaffes.
The charity Sense About Science, which promotes the dissemination of good scientific information to the public, has assembled the wisdom of 16 leading researchers in a handy leaflet which it hopes will become a must-read for celebrities.
Tracey Brown, director of Sense About Science, said: "All year long people send us frustrating examples of celebrities promoting something that makes no sense. Once it's done, it's really difficult to undo. We know some people aren't interested in good science or evidence. We are equally sure some will be glad to talk through claims they are asked to front, because they take their public impact seriously, or just for their own self-preservation."
The leaflet, entitled Need to Speak to a Scientist? includes numerous examples of quackery and pseudo-scientific nonsense attributed to celebrities.
For example, Madonna was quoted by a Sunday paper in August as saying she had been working with scientists to find a way to "neutralise radiation". Nick Evans, an environmental radiochemist at Loughborough University, said: "Radioactivity cannot be neutralised, it can only be moved from one place to another until it decays away at its own rate. There are no magical solutions."
More serious perhaps are celebrity statements which may influence the public on health matters. The Sense About Science study cites the actor Juliette Stevenson, who gave her views about the MMR vaccine to a Sunday newspaper, as saying: "I was alarmed at the idea of three diseases being injected into her system in one go. I thought, bloody hell, that's an awful lot for this tiny thing."
Adam Finn, a paediatrician at the University of Bristol, said: "The worst fallacies are ones that sound as if they ought to be true - but sometimes common sense is nonsense. Even tiny babies' immune systems handle many new infections at once, no problem. The best advice is, avoid needless risk by protecting children with full, prompt immunisation."
The actor Joanna Lumley is quoted on a vegan website, making a link between cancer and diet, and saying: "We cannot go on force-feeding animals chemicals and growth stimulants the way we are. Why do you think cancer is roaring ahead at the moment?"
John Toy, medical director of Cancer Research UK, said: "Cancer is not 'roaring ahead'. It is more common mostly because people are living longer. It is essential that 'cancer causing' claims are based only on scientifically proven facts, not scaremongering."
The WWF campaign entitled I'm a celebrity ... get it out of me also came in for criticism. The conservation charity measured levels of various chemicals in the blood of celebrities to illustrate the supposed dangers of chemicals our bodies pick up each day. The comedian David Baddiel, the model Melinda Messenger and the swimmer Sharon Davies were all involved in the campaign.
"A whole host of unwanted chemicals find their way into our bodies all the time," said John Hoskins, a toxicologist. "Most leave quickly but some stay - asbestos and silica in our lungs, dioxins in our blood. Do they matter? No! The most important thing is dose. One aspirin cures a headache, a hundred kills."
Sense About Science has distributed the leaflet to VIP hangouts such as Premiership football clubs, exclusive restaurants, and clubs such as London's China White and Boujis, as well as the Virgin VIP lounges at Gatwick and Heathrow. The charity has even set up a telephone hotline for the great and good in need of scientific advice.
Simon Singh, the science author and trustee of Sense About Science, said celebrities could have a huge impact on public opinion and should seek advice before pronouncing on science. "Celebrities can have a huge influence on the public, but they need to make sure they are doing more good than harm, by checking their facts."
Francis Wheen, author of How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered The World, agreed that celebrity pronouncements could have a huge influence on the public. "Pointing out that these latter-day emperors have no clothes is not merely a pleasure, it's an urgent necessity," he said.
Heather Mills McCartney
Obesity
Claim: "Every day there's a new report warning that obesity levels in children are out of control ... the fact that those kids who drink the most milk gain the most weight should cause alarm bells to be ringing everywhere."
Verdict: Philip Coan, physiologist at Cambridge University: "It is not true ... a US study ... found no link between increases in child weight and increases in drink consumption."
Madonna
Nuclear waste
Claim: "I mean, one of the biggest problems that exists right now in the world is nuclear waste ... that's something I've been involved with for a while with a group of scientists - finding a way to neutralise radiation."
Verdict: Nick Evans, environmental radiochemist, at Loughborough University: "Radioactivity cannot be 'neutralised', it can only be moved from one place to another until it decays away at its own rate. It comes in many different types: some last for billions of years, others decay away in a few minutes. There are no magical solutions."
Gillian McKeith
Nutritional benefits of seeds
Claim: Gillian McKeith, television presenter and regular star of the Guardian's Bad Science column, said: "Each sprouting seed is packed with the nutritional energy needed to create a fullgrown healthy plant."
Verdict: Steve Rawsthorne, plant scientist at the John Innes Centre: "This is a nice idea, Gillian, but when we eat seeds we don't break down the stored products like a plant does ... A seed has stored proteins, starch and oil that are broken down when water is added to give it the energy and molecular building blocks to start the germination process ... To become a fully formed plant, the seedling then needs sunlight and more water."
Chris de Burgh
Pain relief
Claim: The singer, speaking about intervening over someone else's injury, said: "He was in serious pain just below the knee, and I felt the area above had been traumatised. I started feeling and I'd say within 20 minutes he was walking again. It took away the pain."
Verdict: Shaun Treweek, health services researcher at Dundee University: "Are you sure the pain relief was due to healing hands? We need a trial where the patients are randomly allocated to either the test therapy or a comparison therapy. Otherwise you can't be sure what happened wasn't due to chance."
Carole Caplin
Breast cancer
Claim: Cherie Blair's lifestyle guru said that women should be informed about avoiding breast cancer and that they should be "keeping the lymph system clear and unclogged".
Verdict: Michael Baum, emeritus professor of surgery at University College London: "Carol's idea ... has no meaning whatsoever. It is not based on knowledge of anatomy or physiology of the human body, let alone of breast cancer."

allocate- przydzielać
asbestos- azbest
attribute (sth to sb)- przypisywać coś komuś
common sense- zdrowy rozsądek
debunk- demaskować, ujawniać
decay away- rozpadać się, ulegać zniszczeniu
dissemination-rozpowszechnianie, szerzenie
fad- przejściowa moda
fallacy- błąd logiczny, błąd rozumowania; fałszywe przekonanie
germination- kiełkowanie
hangout- ulubione miejsce
in full swing- w pełni działania
latter-day- współczesny
lymph system- układ limfatyczny
MMR vaccine- szczepionka przeciwko odrze, śwince i różyczce
quackery- szarlataństwo, znachorstwo
rate- tempo
roar ahead- huczeć, ryczeć
scaremonger- panikarz; panikować
seedling- kiełek
silica- krzemionka; szkło kwarcowe
sprout- kiełkować
starch- skrobia
trustee- członek zarządu
unclogged- niezapchany, drożny



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