– Lucia de Berk is officially not a serial killer. No, I’d never heard of her all throughout the six years she’s already spent in prison for what was almost certainly a non-existent crime, but the background to this story is truly horrible.
– There was some interesting scientific research done lately into the connection between cell division and the circadian clock (sort of an internal clock that regulates your body’s unconscious activities over the course of 24 hours) in mice. They put an experimental group of mice and a control group into environments where it was light for 12 hours of the day, then dark for 12 hours. The experimental group also got an hour of bright light, in the middle of the usually dark period. The scientists then measured what effect these hour-long blocks of light during “night-time” had had on the mice’s RNA – whether certain genes had been activated or deactivated.
Unfortunately, I forget where I first read this story, but it caught my attention because of a conversation I’d overheard between two colleagues at work earlier, about a Daily Mail article describing how going to the toilet in the middle of the night can give you cancer.
If you don’t see the connection between those two things, then congratulations, you’re smarter than people who write for the Daily Mail.
None of the scientific data cited made any reference to going to the toilet, and didn’t even involve research on humans, as has been amply clarified. There is a connection to cancer, in that chronic light exposure during night-time may thrown some animals’ circadian clocks off-balance, disrupting the regulation of their cell division, and “cancer is, essentially, unregulated cell division”. But that’s it.
It’s not the most powerful or obvious reminder I’ve seen of just how free the tabloids are to utterly mislead their readers, probably not by a long way. But it’s one of the most recent, and it’s always worth noting quite how wrong they can get things. They read “changes in activity in RNA genes in mice subjected to an hour of bright light during night hours”, and printed “Switching the light on to go to the toilet in the middle of the night could give you cancer”.
That goes beyond providing a helpful real-world analogy enabling people to better understand complex scientific jargon, and way beyond drawing practical conclusions from specific and esoteric experimental results. You have to be wilfully or self-deludedly putting factual objectivity and balance aside in favour of sensationalism to create something so distorted.
The Daily Mail are leading the charge into a world where I simply will not trust any news I didn’t read on Twitter.
– And finally, let’s end on something completely insane. I think I’m slightly too appalled to laugh, but that will no doubt vary with my mood.