Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Look out! Cookies!

My company has a birthday party each month for the employees and I'm on the committee that provides the snacks. Unsurprisingly, the brownies you saw here last night were completely demolished by my coworkers. Photobucket Photobucket Before the carnage started. Photobucket The ice cream cake was still very firm but John managed to avoid injury. Photobucket Interest in the treats was high! As it is every month, it was fun. But today I have other things to talk about. I recently read about the origins of MRI technology and how it came to be used extensively in medicine. It's a wonderful application of technology that allows for non-invasive diagnosis of many, many conditions including many cancers. MRI stands for "Magnetic Resonance Imaging." What I didn't know is it was initially called Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Imaging (NMRI). Why was the "N" dropped? One reason is a fear that the public wouldn't accept the machine if they thought it would bombard them with "dangerous nuclear radiation." In fact, that's not what happens when you go in the machine. But the word "nuclear" is politically charged and the population at large is not scientifically educated enough to deconstruct the terminology. As a science-and-logic-loving guy, the poor level of scientific and philosophical education that we see in the public at large distresses me. Today, I'm focusing on science. I don't know if leaving "nuclear" in the name would have proved problematic. It might have. What if some entity (a company selling a competing but inferior technology for instance) decided to try to scare the public away from the new NMRI machines? Would we then today have fewer of the machines around and miss out on the benefits? Non-hypothetical examples abound relating to such topics as evolution, genetic engineering, nuclear power, stem cell research, and on and on. I don't want to turn this post into advocacy for something specific so I'll move on. And you know who is not helping? The media. Here is a recent headline from the UK: Crumbs: half of Britons injured by their biscuits on coffee break, survey reveals Yikes, I love cookies (cookies = biscuits in the UK). Should I be worried? Well, no. The reality of the situation is described comprehensively here. In brief... "Half of Britons" is 25 million people. It's completely unclear where that number comes from based on the study (and I use that term loosely) that was published. A number that is clear is the 500 people were hospitalized due to incidents which occurred while eating cookies. The hospitalizations were a result of such mishaps as "falling off a chair reaching for the [cookie] tin" and "being bitten by a pet." 500 is rather shy of 25,000,000. And I'm sure those people would have been much better off eating ice cream! <smirk> Digging deeper, we find that the study was conducted by a group of high school students at the behest of a cookie manufacturer. Oddly enough, names of the sponsoring company's products made it in to the press release but the same can't be said for competitors' products. So there we have it, the whole thing was just a bit of creative advertising. It was wrapped in scientific language and released as news. And the media - they ate it up and presented it for public consumption so to speak. I have more stories but I think this post is long enough already. Maybe a couple of my more gullible coworkers felt safer because I chose to serve brownies rather than cookies. I will console myself with the thought that Listgirl readers will no longer fall for such chicanery.


  1. Todd: I miss those monthly celebrations and your always-perfect choice of goodies.... Very interesting about the MRI's history. I noticed too that when you get a bone scan, they downplay the fact they must inject nuclear material into your bloodstream so you "glow" on the scan. And you must drink a ton of liquids immediately afterward to get rid of the excess nuclear waste.

    And, Christine: I finished Case Histories last night and really liked it!

  2. They still call it Nuclear Magnetic Resonance in the Chemical Industry. At least people there are slightly more likely to be scientifically educated than the general public. People aren't usually in the NMR units either...


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