Monday, November 2, 2015

Two Cases of Hype and A Question

The news media certainly have a way with headlines that get our attention and leave us misinformed if we don’t read further.

The first case blasts the headline:  “Human DNA found in hot dogs.”  Later it explains that of the “345 hot dogs and sausages from 75 different brands sold at 10 retailers, and found human DNA in 2 percent of its hot dog samples — and two-thirds of the vegetarian samples,” ten percent of which contained meat.  One wonders why they were even testing for human DNA.  Was there a suspicion of cannibalism?  The problems with the vegetarian brands would seem to be a bigger concern, especially to vegetarians, but this is glossed over.  In reality, the DNA could be an eyelash or less, and 2% found means 98% clean; but the attention-grabbing headline is designed to lead us toward panic.  Such headlines are so common, yet the media continue the practice and are never accused of crying, “Wolf.”

The next headline, also from last week, and repeated on several morning and evening news broadcasts warned us:  “Meat Is Linked to Higher Cancer Risk.”  Everyone was getting all excited about bacon and hot dogs and red meat in general.  News came from the World Health Organization, so it must be true.  The first thing to notice is the word linked, not causes, linked.  As we all should know, correlation is not necessarily causation and much more research would be required to make such an assertion.

Although the headlines imply problems with all meat the first paragraph of the NY Times article adds considerable clarification and calm.  “An international panel of experts convened by the World Health Organization concluded Monday that eating processed meat like hot dogs, ham and bacon raises the risk of colon cancer and that consuming other red meats ‘probably’ raises the risk as well. But the increase in risk is so slight that experts said most people should not be overly worried about it.”  I added the emphasis to make the points:  not all meat as the headline implies, not all cancer, most people should not be worried about the slight increase in risk, and what does probably mean?  A little further reading turns this into a ho-hum situation rather than a crisis.  The news is no different than that released almost a year ago in another report.  (There may have been a lot of panic about it back then too, but there have been so many "crises" and "emergencies" since then, it has faded in memory.)

The best advice concerning both these warnings came from one of the network medical experts:  All things in moderation.  That sounds like perspective to me.

And now the question:  In a report on the retirement announcement of Abby Wambach, one of the greatest soccer players ever, holding the record for the most goals scored in international soccer by anyone, one teammate called her an “inspiration” and “an incredible role model to women and girls around the world.”  The question:  why just women and girls?  Can an accomplished woman in any field be a role model for everyone?  Can an accomplished man of any race or nationality also be a role model for anyone who chooses to excel?  When looking for role models, why would anyone get so hung up on physical characteristics?  This looks-like-me emphasis that narrows the field and precludes opportunities to strive and set lofty targets seems misguided and such a waste.

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