As a rule, my friend Adam takes a Gatorade with his lunch. And why shouldn't he, a onetime nominee for "Best Athlete" in his office's superlative contest. His daily beverage is more than just a personal refresher--it's a boost to the office morale, to the certitude of their convictions. But yesterday, his thirst piqued by a Chicken Milanese, Adam picked up a flavorless Poland Spring. "They're bad for your teeth," Adam explained of the untouched Gatorades, which stared back like puppies left unclaimed at the pound.
Hardly quenched, Adam returned to his desk, wherefrom he forwarded me a bit of news that I deemed worthy of my Twitter feed. One Tweet and a few minutes later, I heard back from dear Adam; it seemed Twitter, like Gatorade, was unhealthy, even dangerous, for the human mind. What schoolmarm had so chastened his tastes? Strong, sturdy, and strapping--everyone in the office says so!--Adam now lived an abstemious and fearful existence.
Some hasty Googling revealed the David who had toppled our Goliath. Adam, like so many perusers of the daily news, had fallen victim to the dreaded and dubious studies that are widely disseminated by such organizations as CNN, MSNBC and Fox News. It seems that while I was Tweeting, my friend was clicking "Scientists warn of Twitter dangers" (CNN, 4/14/09) or "Can Twitter Confuse Your Moral Compass?" (FOX, 4/15/09), both of which drew on a study that said Twitter, in CNN's words, "could numb our sense of morality and make us indifferent to human suffering."
Far from indifferent, I was ready to snap a TwitPic of Adam's profound suffering. Indeed, the Twitter results (of, it turns out, a mere 13 volunteers) are hard to square with a study that made the rounds last year: "Google does a brain good" (CNN, 10/14/09), which lauded increased neural activity in tech-savvy brains.
In the case of Gatorade, the sensational headlines disagreed with the reporting. "Study: Sports drinks may be bad for teeth," offered CNN (4/8/09). Yet in a previous study picked up by FOX (3/10/06), a pediatric dental researcher confirmed, "I know of no data that sports drinks are more harmful than other drinks." Continue reading the CNN article, and you'll find that an Ohio State University study of 300 athletes found no relationship between sports drinks and dental erosion.
The tendency of news networks to pick up sham stories, quack theories and snake oils was immortalized in one much-forwarded email. "Study," ran the headline: "Fellatio may significantly decrease the risk of breast cancer in women." While it seemed to answer the age-old question of "spit or swallow"--preventative benefits, said the article, were conferred only on those who, how do you say, gulped the Gatorade--the study did throw a monkey wrench in the old maxim, "Sex Sells"; find me the man who used the thesis, and I'll show you a black eye or two.
This "study" was unmasked as a hoax, but it's shockingly similar to real-life inquiries showcased by all-news networks that link cancer to deviant behavior. MSNBC holds that "3 drinks a day raises breast cancer risk among women" (10/23/07)--though presumably not because it encourages fellatio. CNN warns the same (2/24/09), and clarifies (3/10/09) that red wine carries the same risk for women as white wine. Yet the study's methodology was characterized by one expert as "not an experiment," while another holds that, "Individuals that chose to drink should do so in moderation and because they like to, rather than expecting a health benefit."
Men aren't immune to the cancer-by-bad-behavior scourge. "Marijuana may raise testicular cancer risk," says MSNBC (2/9/09). In reporting the same analysis, CNN cites a UCLA professor: "The bottom line is that I would not start warning my marijuana smokers that they are going to get testicular cancer." But then, that's why there's MSNBC.
Which all raises the question: why employ the media to sniff out cancer, when we've got perfectly good dogs? Yes, yet another CNN-reported study (3/27/09) has found that dogs can smell bootlegged DVDs, impregnated cows (more on them in a moment), peanuts, and even cancer. "This one's still in its early stages," admits CNN, though one Japanese black lab's sense of smell was so acute that he's reportedly being cloned to raise a "larger army of cancer-smelling canines."
And lest we offend these olfactory-enhanced dogs, let's be sure to keep them away from fish-deprived cows. As FOX has it (3/30/09), if cows ate more fish oil, their flatulence levels would be so curtailed that global warming might be alleviated! It seems flatulent cows, sheep, and goats expel half of all the methane emitted by the nation of Ireland.
Think that smells fishy? Where David Foster Wallace once considered the lobster, CNN has considered the crab (3/27/09). I, too, was confused when my hermit crab ran out of his shell after I electro-shocked his abdomen. But with the advances of modern science, I now know that this was my crab's way of expressing pain. Thanks CNN!
But these networks aren't all about human interest and brain food--no, like any intrepid reporter, they've sifted through the financial crisis for the hard truth. "Forget incompetent financiers, weak regulations and big bonuses," says CNN (3/25/09), it's a defect in the human brain that makes us vulnerable to swindlers like Bernie Madoff that's responsible for the meltdown. Based on what must have been an extensive study of 24 people, scientists found that when confronted with "expert" advice, human brain activity decreases.
Which is why I doubt the following Tweet will do much good:
@Adam this gatorade's 4 u!
Follow Rob Fishman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/rbfishman