Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The M&B Approach

This week's selected article from the West Australian newspaper's Mind&Body supplement (from the September 26, 2006 edition) is "Not so sweet smelling?" which not only alerts its readers to the dangers of deodorants, but also illustrates the standard format of these misleading articles.

The first step is to get the reader worried about something (chemicals or anything "artificial" are always a good candidate for this):

Well, some scientists are now asking: are antiperspirants protecting us in the short-term and harming us in the long-term?

The second step is to find some scientific studies that might support these assertions:

A handful of studies has suggested a tentative link between the use of antiperspirant deodorants and breast cancer.

This second step also gets extra points for bringing in the scare factor of cancer.

In this case a 2003 study published in the European Journal of Cancer Prevention is presented, which showed cancer being diagnosed at a much younger age in those who used antiperspirants and shaved their underarms, as opposed to those who didn't. It's also clear the newspaper knows what sort of target audience is going to be reading these articles since, for some reasons, the journal is prefaced by the adjective "non-government". This obviously raises its veracity in the mind of the conspiracy-theory believing alties.

The researchers in the study postulated that parabens in the antiperspirants may seep into the body through small cuts from the shaving. A second study, published in 2004 in the Journal of Applied Toxicology (is this a government publication? the article doesn't provide the same reassurance for this journal) which found 18 of 20 tissue samples from human breast cancers contained parabens.

The article now loses substantial points, since it fails to follow the standard game plan and actually quotes some people who might know about how these studies are not as clear cut as they are presented to be. The acting director of the National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme details a number of problems: the small sample size, no analysis of healthy tissue, no proven link between parabens and cancer, no established source of the parabens (which are found in a number of sources, including naturally - and doesn't that mean they're good for you?). The education officer of the Cancer Council WA refers to these ideas as "cancer myths" commonly circulated through email and which are generally false.

After this, however, it's back to normal business: get in some specialist to reaffirm the possibility of the scare. Someone who writes regularly for Nova would be ideal...

Leading Perth toxicologist Peter Dingle agreed with the NICNAS and the Cancer Council on the nonexistent cancer link. However, he is suspicious of antiperspirants. "I believe that antiperspirants are, without doubt, harmful to general wellbeing," Dr Dingle said. "They stop you perspiring by clogging up the underarms with aluminium - a process that is supposed to eliminate toxins from the body. If this is occurring, then where are the toxins going?"

Can you follow the logic of that? Yes, there is no link between antiperspirants and cancer. Nonetheless, they're destroying our health and, somehow, building up "toxins" somewhere (could it, possibly, be in the breasts?).

EoR would like to know just which toxins Dr Dingle is referring to, and why he thinks that the only place these "toxins" are expelled is in the armpits. EoR's understanding is that sweating was a cooling response for heat control, and that it also occurs as a reaction to fear or anxiety.

Having reestablished the woo belief, the article finishes with its rapid decline into magical science and illogic in admirable fashion:

Aluminium-free deodorants were available as an alternative for people who want to reduce toxins, without stinking out the office.

So, somehow you can still release the underarm toxins, but without sweating. These toxins appear to be invisible. Nonetheless, if aluminium-free deodorants can do this, maybe you never need to go for another liver cleansing detox?

The article concludes ambivalently:

The experts agree that the link between antiperspirants and cancer appears to be circumstantial.

That one's easy! Even EoR can work it out:

1) The experts say there's no link between antiperspirants and cancer;
2) Dr Dingle says antiperspirants are harmful to our wellbeing and could be causing all sorts of half-hinted-at evils;
3) Ergo, Dr Dingle is not an expert.

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