Thursday, 20 August 2009

'Jack be nimble, Jack be quick, Jack got a tumour from a candle stick...'

Science has taught us this week that if zombies were real, you would likely be killed by them. And now we've found out that if the zombies didn't get you, then candles would. That's right. Candles. What next, 'Glade Plug-ins cause diabetes'? According to research at the clearly underlit University of South Carolina our humble waxy friend has become the newest member of the League of Extraordinary Cancer Causers (along with just about anything you like and a few of the things you don't). Which explains why everyone died so young in the age before lightbulbs. Well, that and all the horse joyriders. It's also a sign that I should probably give up my ten a day candle habit (I've been meaning to quit for years, honest). Because suddenly aromatherapists have become fragrant deathmongers, birthday cakes are ticking timebombs, romantic dinners are death traps - that may as well be a stick of dynamite in the top of that wine bottle! Lighting a candle in church? What, do you want to meet God so soon? Put down that match! These are the new cancer sticks people, and it's time we took our lawsuit to Big Candle, because our children's lives are at stake! There are youngsters out there lighting up and enjoying the mellow yellow flames that these death-cylinders produce as a side-effect of their lethal cancer rays! Candles - the Flickering Killer!!!

Except no, they're not.

Patently, any 'merit' this research has is immediately rendered moot because it's fuelled by scaremongering of the highest order. And in an age where newspapers seem to scream that apparently 'everything can give you cancer!', our attitude as a society has become so nonchalant to threats that adding another thing to the list really doesn't matter. Besides, the risk of getting cancer from a candle is so galactically low that it's still debateable. I mean, this was one piece of research done by one university - you need many more independent studies and a whole lot of data sampling to even start to determine whether candles might be a threat to health. But what really pisses me off is that once again Science is seen by the general public to be wasting time and funds on subjects and areas that are of no concern or help to society. It's not really the Scientific community's fault - I mean, yes, zombie and candle research are a waste of time, but it is only a small part of a much bigger endeavour. The problem lies with the Media cherrypicking these stories for want of a cheap public health scare and to sell more papers to an already worried public. For instance, did you know that this week scientists in Maryland came one step closer to generating synthetic life? Or that a new flood-resistant rice plant that could feed millions has been developed? Or that strains of life-generating amino acids have been found on a comet out in deep space? That's all real, impressive, boundary-breaking science and if you haven't heard about it it's not your fault, they're just not stories that a newspaper can practically apply to terrify you and your kids.
Candles aren't going to give you cancer, but if they did then I'm just glad there are proper scientists out there working on cures. So, South Carolina researchers, get the wax out of your ears, give your matches back to mummy, and go help them.