The scientific shock-fact-discovery-announcement-revelation on Radio 4’s breakfast news was a real mind bender (if your mind is especially malleable that is).
SCIENTISTS, it was claimed last week, have concluded that some people suffering from heart disease get more benefit from exercise than they do from medication (please visualise a gob-smacked facial expression here).
I was so amazed I nearly forgot to be irritated by the moronic way science is reported. Items of brain-wilting, soul atrophying dimness masquerading as information worthy of broadcast is becoming depressing.
A disease which is often caused by lack of exercise can be aided or alleviated by EXERCISE. Good lord. Next they’ll discover that the problem of being tired can be resolved by going to bed.
If scientists have managed to make this breakthrough and the BBC have aired the revelation on prime time programming, what else could be coming our way? Because let’s face it – hardly a week goes by without some super futuristic announcement about cures – genetic, chemical, biological or otherwise - which will end sickness, inherited illness, starvation etc. Usually the small print or garbled unintelligible bits at the end can be missed, such as –
‘Only tested on fleas so far’
‘1 out of 100,000 responded with only a couple of horrific side effects’
‘This is still in a very experimental stage and may show no results for 35 years or EVER but if we don’t promote it now we may lose our funding’
And so on.
The reality is that very few diseases have been absolutely cured or eradicated recently by immunisation or medical breakthrough. Since polio can you name one?
Some of the really awful ones are returning with a vengeance and with new strains. Historically, rich countries concentrated on their own populations while germs and bacteria failed to respect borders.
This morning’s ‘break-through’ announcement relates to malaria, killer of hundreds of thousands every year. The drug GSK wish to see licensed has been shown to reduce incidents of malaria by (for example) a quarter in infants – in the test groups but the effect of the drug is also thought to decline and the W.H.O believe its benefit – if at all – is simply another string to the anti-malaria bow and possibly a short-term one at that. And yet mining companies are still being allowed to abandon open mining sites that then fill with stagnant water which encourages the malaria mosquito. The 600,000 who die annually are mainly based in the poorest parts of Africa. Do we need these stats to tell us that poverty is the real terminal disease? What is the point of tackling malaria without dealing with poverty and industrial abuse?
Our contradictions are going to kill us.
One of the truly unpalatable messages we just don’t want to hear is that some things may not be curable in the real sense of the word. Research into a cure for Alzheimer’s was significantly downgraded last year by three major drugs companies on the basis that they could no longer spend their resources with no realistic ROI on the horizon.
Many new drugs are prohibitively expensive, labour intensive and complex to administer. Use of that new medication for a single patient as set against resources that could medicate or treat far greater numbers makes it unviable and possibly unethical. And if anyone thinks that we can save a human life at any cost they are forgetting that ‘any cost’ may mean the lives of people whose conditions are more easily and effectively dealt with. In other words we in the West, where we seem to have begun to think we are immortal, have to start taking a realistic approach to health and medicine.
Scientists cannot be blamed for being enthusiastic about scientific discovery but the media have a responsibility in the way they air these stories. The manner in which they handled the false measles vaccination soap opera was scandalous. As recently as this year the effects of that have come back to bite us. The public has to be trusted with sensible information and not treated alternately to horror scare stories and tales of wonder cures.
Far from being anti-science I am simply pro-common sense. The sooner we get the hang of the idea that we are going to have to take responsibility for ourselves and also care for everyone not just the rich – the better for all of us.
I wonder if the people with their off-shore accounts think that germs growing ever more immune to modern drugs as well as those we’ve relied on for decades will bypass them in the future because they are rich.
We are still failing miserably with the unpalatable message that prevention is better than remedy. Not only is it better – in a few years, for many conditions we believe to be easily treated now, prevention may be the only option.
Meanwhile look out for more announcements
Kids who are stuck in front of TV as soon as the umbilical cord is cut probably won’t function well at school, physically or mentally.
It will turn out that Botox is bad for you.
Car use is killing us – actually, violently and also slowly and horribly.
Grass is green and pigs can’t fly.
If you fancy a fictional account of where I think this will end – why not treat yourself to a read of The Remainder – a short story of mine based on the last verse of T.S. Eliot’s The Hollow Men (“This is the way the worlds ends / Not with a bang but a whimper”) ROOT anthology published by iron press 2013