Friday, November 30, 2007

Night Shift Causes Cancer?

There is no way I could ever be a news reporter or even a headline reading news anchor. I would go to bed at night feeling unclean, with guilty conscience knowing I had fed my audience a spiel full of half-truths, package-deals, out of context statements and a general disrespect for concepts and their meanings. I would get bounced out of any job like that in the first day or so because, in order to sleep at night, I would have to annotate everything.

Case in point: in Friday's Detroit News is a front page, above the fold article by AP writer Maria Cheng which, if I were anchorman--then reporter-- Mike N, I would report thusly, my annotations in brackets:

"The Associated Press reports on a new study which found that working the 'Night shift may cause cancer'. [Which means after tonight there will be no more News at Eleven.] Our ace reporter Mike N has the story from London. Mike?"

*Thanks Mike. 'London--Like UV rays and diesel exhaust fumes, working the graveyard shift will soon be listed as a *probable* cause of cancer.
It is a surprising step validating a concept once considered wacky.'

[Actually folks, it doesn't validate anything. It just identifies itself with that wacky concept which we are to believe was once considered wacky but evidently no longer is.]

"Next month, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the cancer arm of the World Health Organization, will add overnight shift work as a probable carcinogen.

The higher cancer rates don't prove working overnight can cause cancer. There may be other factors among graveyard shift workers that raise their risk for cancer.

However, scientists suspect that overnight work is dangerous because it disrupts the circadian rhythm, the body's biological clock. The hormone melatonin, which can suppress tumor development, is normally produced at night."

[While true, this is a misnomer. According to this source, Melatonin is produced in darkness which for most people is at night. But if you work at night and sleep in a darkened room, you'll still get your melatonin.]

"There are plenty of skeptics. And to put the risk in perspective, the "probable carcinogen" tag means that the link between overnight work and cancer is merely plausible.

Dr. David Decker, an oncologist for Beaumont Hospital said he's never heard of a correlation between cancer and the shift a patient has worked, although he said it's plausible.

"I would take (the study) with interest but I wouldn't change my lifestyle or go out and quit my job," Decker said."

[So we see ladies and gentlemen that the threat is only a plausible one but the IARC is going to call it 'probable' anyway. My advice? Don't lose any sleep over this one.]*

I probably wouldn't make it to the end of the story before security guards escorted me out the door. I do think the reporter Ms. Cheng, and contributing News writer Oralander Brand-Williams did a good job of giving some balanced perspective to the article.

However, one more quote from that article is noteworthy:

""The indications are positive," said Vincent Cogliano, head of the agency's (IARC-ME) carcinogen classifications unit. "There was enough of a pattern in people who do shift work to recognize that there's an increase in cancer, but we can't rule out the possibility of other factors.""

I want to add that what is really going on here with elevating 'plausible' to have the same meaning as 'probable' is another attempt to morph the meaning of correlation into causation. As readers of this blog know from this post, a "positive pattern" is all that is needed for a correlation to be deemed "convincing". Once so ordained, it becomes fact and no more evidence or proof is needed.

The need to end government encouragement of science has never been greater.

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