SIRC Media Watch Archive
The Pick – August 2003

My, you're looking well. As a way of monitoring patients at risk of specific diseases, body screening is invaluable. But should it ever be used for a general check-up?…A large and unexpected cancer, although rare, may be easy to spot, but there are many other smaller, minor abnormalities – for example, benign, non-cancerous tumours – which scans may reveal yet whose significance is uncertain. Richard Hayward, consultant neurosurgeon at Great Ormond Street, recently wrote in the British Medical Journal about this problem. He coined the acronym "VOMIT" (victims of modern imaging technology) to describe those patients – and their relatives – concerned about an abnormality on a scan, which later turns out to be "no more than a red herring". The policy of using imaging like CT for screening tests, he says, will "produce a bumper harvest of both 'normal' and unanticipated 'abnormal' results." Independent

Bad Science. For the first time a theory is being treated like a celebrity: the Daily Mail has portrayed low-carbohydrate Atkins as the saviour of modern womankind, especially after a study showed people lost, err, 4% more weight on it, with no health complications after, umm, a whole six months. Now, after an equally trivial trial, no, in fact, a passing comment from one "expert", who, it transpired this week, has links to the Flour Advisory Board (of all the sinister carbohydrate peddlers in the world) it is suddenly a potential killer. Not even George Best was booted off his pedestal so quickly. Guardian.

Grey goo – The next big panic? Nanotechnology promises all kinds of advances but some would have us believe it might just destroy the planet, converting our surroundings into what has famously been termed 'grey goo'. All of them were to wreak havoc and reduce us to mutants or kill thousands in uncontrollable pandemics across the planet: test tube babies, fertility drugs, animal cloning, contraceptive induced thrombosis, mad cow disease, human cloning, stem cell research, brain-cooking mobile phones, GM crops, anthrax, West Nile Virus, Sars – the list seems endless and continues to expand by the week. What actually happened? Relatively speaking, nothing. The real killers are still malaria, cancer, heart disease, influenza and accidents in the home or while driving.

Secret of long life is to become scientist. For a long life, study science. For the best chance of an alcohol-related death, try medicine, dentistry or the veterinary sciences. If low blood pressure is an ambition, enrol on a divinity course. Tim Radford in the Guardian