Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Santa Claus row - we warned you!

No sooner had we commented on the somewhat po-faced responses to the medical oddities in the annual Christmas edition of the British Medical Journal, than events took an even odder turn.

An unfortunate Australian doctor called Nathan Grills was forced to defend himself against the might of the world's media for criticising Santa Claus for being too fat. We understand that editorials were written in newspapers around the world ; some of the more savage picked on the Australians for not having a "proper Christmas" - as their Christmas is celebrated at the blazing height of summer.

Speaking to the Australian Associated Press Dr Grills rushed out an explanation.

"Most of my 'Santa - A public health pariah?' article was meant to be tongue-in-cheek... It's a Christmas spoof," he explained, using a word of one syllable.

He went on: "I hoped to spread a bit of Christmas cheer, but with a tinge of seriousness to provoke a bit of healthy Christmas dinner table conversation."

Finally he stated: "To clarify, I am not a Santa researcher. The article was written in my spare time for a bit of comic relief."

This was our original report on Dr Grill's comments. But, note, we also managed to find some experts in Sweden who shared Dr Grills' purported concerns about Santa's health; and not only does Sweden still have  a proper winter, it also  contains Lapland, which claims to be the home of Santa, so they should know what they are talking about.

May we wish all our readers a very merry, happy and joyful Christmas and a prosperous New Year.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Keeping up appearances...

It was only meant to be a bit of Christmas jollity. Instead everyone has gone very po-faced about some research suggesting you may well be as young as you look.

Here's our report: Appearances may be deceptive. This report makes it clear the article is in the Christmas issue of the British Medical Journal. While not exactly a spoof issue, it is notorious for publishing odd findings and curiosities. Not to be taken too seriously.

Apparently other media took the report seriously and missed the point. Most serious of all was this very detailed report in The Guardian headed Look Young, Live Longer.

This prompted a long ripost from the NHS Choices "health news unspun" pages here. NHS Choices almost gets round to the point that smoking, for instance, is notorious for ageing the skin. If you smoke, you look older and you reduce your life expectancy.

Frankly anybody should be able to read the basic details of this report and spot that it is very, very limited in what it says. All the researchers found is that identical twins aged 70 may show their biological age in their appearance. So it is purely about the environment and the lifestyle of people with identical genes.

In reality, we know we pass judgements on people's ages using all sorts of uncontrollable factors, which may well result from genes - for instance, hair loss, grey hair and even bone structure. The BMJ study says nothing about such things.

Sometimes the NHS Choices analyses are well worth reading. On this occasion it has missed the point.

For the BMJ Christmas issue is always a cocktail of unbelievable reports and unsustainable headlines. It's a chance to read, enjoy, chuckle for a moment and learn a little bit of scepticism about far-flung conclusions.