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August 29, 2007
Writing about web page http://lifeandhealth.guardian.co.uk/health/story/0,,2124324,00.html
“The Daily Mail does have an ongoing ontological programme to divide all inanimate objects into ones that will either cause or cure cancer.” Ben Goldacre, Guardian’s Bad Science Column, December 2006
I like the above quote. I like it because it really does appear to be true. One of the tabloid constants appears to be the weekly (bi-weekly in August when there’s no real news) announcement by scientists that red wine/blue cheese/mobile phone masts/Lonely Planet guide books/asylum seekers can either cause or cure cancer. In some cases it’s a flip flop effect, especially with red wine. I’m not completely up to date, so I may be wrong, but I believe that currently a glass of red wine a day will allow the drinker to live for up ninety years longer than a teetotaller, and up to three centuries longer than a binge drinker. But by next week this may well have been contradicted.
Some people will ignore all these ‘findings’ and just carry on regardless. Some will feel overwhelmed and lose faith in the processes which lead so many scientists to disagree. Some will use it as an excuse to guzzle red wine. I’ve always just ignored it, mostly because I don’t drink red wine.
I use red wine as a generalised analogy. There are often other things which can get picked up for these reports. And being as self absorbed as most people, it took something rather close to home to make me care about these reports. So welcome this month’s latest cancer/ageing/stuff medical announcement – moles = longer life.
Now, I am what most people would call “pale”. The technical term for this is “Irish”, but I prefer pale as it requires less explaining of such things as my English accent. But I am deceptively pale. I actually possess roughly the same amount of melanin as the average, slightly beige coloured, caucasian. I have just consolidated my colour into easy to use chunks all over my body, chunks which medical science has decided to call “moles”. Some of my moles are more impressive than others. Three large ones on my right arm form an nice equilateral triangle. There are a small number which are really really dark and are more likely to offend members of the BNP than the others.
Now this new mole report states that having more than one hundred of the little buggers “you will probably live six or seven years longer than someone with only 25 or so of the pesky things”. Now I’m not so bored I’ve counted my moles… ok, I tried but I can’t see the ones on my back, arse and the backs of my legs and neck. But there’s bound to be more than a hundred.
As much as I want to carp about my amazing telomeres (I don’t really understand that bit, but apparently they are important) it does feel rather weird. After all, the life of the pale is one of factor 30 minimum, and of obsessively watching your moles for any sign of them turning nasty. Really nasty. I heard not long ago that in parts of New Zealand there are weekly (weekly!) clinics for the pale to have their moles checked out and cut off in case the sunshine has got to them. It is only the lack of sunshine which prevents that happening here. That and the fact that the sheer pastiness of many Brits would mean the numbers involved overwhelming the NHS, and we don’t want that as the last thing to Irish immigrants here want is to be blamed for the collapse of the health service. We’ve only just got to the point of being the only immigrant group the tabloids don’t hate.
So the pale are left knowing that our potential cancer points are also a sign of some good quality DNA. It’s an odd thing to hear. It’s like sitting in a room full of nuclear bombs, knowing that they can power your kitchen but potentially cause a lot damage (and kitchens are expensive to replace). It’s all a bit strange. Every pale mole-y person who dies of skin cancer is the victim of a massive dose of some sort of irony.
I’m just wondering if chopping them off (which I do whenever they start to catch on my clothes and bleed) is reducing my longevity…