Monday, June 15, 2009

A breakthrough... maybe

Does anyone remember a few years back, when the Herald claimed on the front page that a New Zealander had found a cure for cancer? Was that the one that involved eating lots of mussels? I forget, because bogus medical science stories are so frustratingly commonplace in the paper. As I recall, the Herald got into a spot of bother over that claim (spoiler: it didn't really cure cancer), which might give some insight into the curiously qualified NZPA article, "Vitamin D connection could be key to MS", on page A3 today.

The latest research into genes suspected of playing a role in individual susceptibility to the devastating auto-immune disease multiple sclerosis (MS) may also provide new clues to some of its most puzzling aspects in New Zealand.

A co-ordinator of the transtasman study, Professor Trevor Kilpatrick, Melbourne University's director of neuroscience, said early today that the two newly discovered gene locations on chromosome 12 and 20 might reveal the "potential involvement" of vitamin D in the risk of developing MS and related auto-immune diseases.

Don't get me wrong. I certainly don't think the scientists are doing anything wrong in qualifying their 'findings' - that's their job. I guess I just worry that, when Joe Public reads the article, he's going to go and react in the same way that he did in 1999, when mussels were literally flying off the shelves as people sought to immunise themselves against the evil cancer. After all, I eat mussels (some vegetarian...) and I haven't got cancer yet. So, who knows how they will react this time? Eat herrings by the dozen? Spend too much time in the sun? I can see the headline now: "Melanoma victim tells all: 'At least I didn't get MS'".

Anyway, sometimes science coverage in the Herald isn't that great is all.

EDIT: Planning a trip to the west coast of the US? I wouldn't if I were you - "Alarm bells ring over volcano find":

A New Zealand geologist has triggered concerns about the possibility of another American "supervolcano" building under Mt St Helens.

[...] The discovery has revealed what may be an extraordinarily large zone of semi-molten rock, which would be capable of feeding a giant eruption.

Honestly, this blog could write itself. Hey, that gives me an idea...


  1. neatly summed up by this diagram:

  2. When you say that the mussels were "literally flying off the shelves"...

  3. There is some evidence that low levels of vitamin D are implicated in a number of health problems. This article is not the way to do so, however.