Cancer from your pen top

In which Dr Aust enjoys some musical wit and whimsy

Via some of my new friends from Skeptics in the Pub, and Twitter, I encountered this rather wonderful song about One of the Twin Powerhouses of British Media Ghastliness (along with the Sun), the Daily Mail:

The Tweet that alerted me to this little masterpiece (and which came from a skeptical arts blogger) referenced the brilliant line:

“Cancer from your shoes, from your dog, from your pentop”

– which I think deserves instant classic status. The Daily Mail is, of course well known in UK bad science circles for what Ben Goldacre likes to describe as:

“[Its] bizarre ongoing ontological project to divide all the foodstuffs (indeed all the inanimate objects) in the world into those that either cause, or cure, cancer.” (see also here)

– to which I would only add that it is not unknown for the same foods, or inanimate objects, to show up in both of these lists, often at surprisingly short intervals.

Private Eye routinely refers to the Mail as the “Daily Fail”, though my favourite title for the paper, which I think was coined by much-missed recently retired medical blogger Dr John Crippen, is the “Peoples’ Medical Journal”. This owes its origin to what all my doctor friends regard as the misleading medical and NHS stories that the Fail runs, mostly about how doctors are useless/grasping/sinister. But it serves equally well for the Fail’s seeming obsession with cancer, and multiple credulous stories about Alternative Medicine.

For any non-UK reader who would like to learn more about the Peoples’ Medical Journal and its long and not especially illustrious history, Wikipedia offers a useful introduction.

Anyway, the video, which is both brilliant and funny, and is now getting quite a bit of re-tweet and blog action, comes from this/these chap(s).

And now – a  random musical discursion

If you’ve watched it, the discarding of the copies of the newspaper as a dramatic device rather reminds me of a famous early pop clip, the one for of Bob Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues.

The Dylan video is actually the opening sequence of the famous documentary Don’t Look Back by DA Pennebaker. (The film itself is an absolute classic, and anyone even vaguely interested in the music of the 60s should seek it out at once,  if they’ve not seen it.)

Now, while the newspaper discarding conjures up Dylan, Dan and Dan’s general style puts me more in mind of the (sadly departed) Jake Thackray. Most younger people in the UK now will not remember Thackray, a whimsical and often very funny singer-songwriter most famous in the UK in the late 60s and 70s. Thackray, whose distant influence can perhaps be seen in a song like Pulp’s Common People, was himself much inspired by the French singer-poet Georges Brassens.  So here, as an introduction, is Thackray singing his (rather good) translation of Brassens’ famous anti-capital punishment song Le Gorille:

and the Brassens’ original for comparison (with subtitles from this blog):

Upcoming highlights (which may never appear)

If you listen to Le Gorille you will notice that it evinces a less than respectful approach to the gravitas of the judiciary. Which reminds me that we are expecting the formal Appeal Court ruling on the BCA v Singh “appeal on meaning” some time soon, and possible before the weekend. I am aware that I have been very slack about posting recently, so perhaps I will try and comment on the ruling when it appears, as Jack of Kent has been nagging me to do. And then there is World Homeopathy Awareness Week to come after that….

In the mean time, enjoy the music. And I’ll close with one other completely unrelated – though appropriately seasonal – musical favourite; in this case a song I like to sing to Junior Aust when we go for a walk.  Enjoy.

PS AND UPDATE – March 31st:

One of my senior academic colleagues reminds me of another piece of British newspaper-related beat poetry, this one from our youth back at the end of the 70s, and dealing with another mid-market tabloid, the Daily Express. In an interesting piece of serendipitous co-incidence the writer/performer, the wonderful John Cooper Clarke, famously pinched much of his own visual style from the early 60s Bobby Zimmerman, though its not easy to see that in this rather low-quality live clip. However, the poem makes up for the quality.


8 Responses to “Cancer from your pen top”

  1. Bellerophon Says:

    The Daily Mail, while certainly the worst, is not alone in it’s terrible reporting of medical matters. Look at this crap from today’s Indy.

  2. draust Says:

    Thanks for that, Bellerophon.

    It certainly is a memorably (or rather unmemorably, as so dismally typical) feeble article, and study. Twenty punters, no control group, done by dentists who are acupuncture enthusiasts, and published in an acupuncture journal. And of course using acupuncture this way is a “double win” for any dentist who charges – ££ for the needling and then £££ for the treatment the person can now tolerate and hence not cancel.

    The only real upside would be that the needling would clearly be less dangerous than knocking people out, or sedating them, so they could get their teeth done. Yaay placebo, as it were.

    I notice you commented on the Indy article (which has all the appearances of a direct reprinting of a press release) to point out some of its manifest shortcomings.

  3. Pro-reality activism soundbite – from the desk – UPDATED « Dr Aust’s Spleen Says:

    […] fear not, the Peoples’ Medical Journal knows what is needed in healthcare. This tragic story manages to suggest it is the Tories, while […]

  4. Dorian McILROY Says:

    Excellent English version of Gorille. I didn’t know such a thing existed.


  5. draust Says:

    No. me neither, Dorian, until I started hunting around on Youtube.

    I actually studied Le Gorille in school French classes long ago… which was the same era (late 70s) Thackray was around on TV. He seems a lot funnier looking at the clips now then I remember him being then. Not sure if it’s my age (quite probable) or his not being able to do the ruder (and funnier) songs on the TV shows I was watching (also possible). Apparently he performed or recorded quite a few of Brassens’ songs.

    My dad is an old Brassens fan, and my daughter first learned to crawl (Xmas 2004) on the floor of a kitchen in Brittany with a Brassens compilation on the stereo. That makes us sounds appallingly middle-class, but there you go.

  6. An outbreak of crankiness « Dr Aust’s Spleen Says:

    […] Now, some of what Fiona Fox says about blogs is undoubtedly true, especially their being more opinionated than articles in the mainstream press. But in science terms, I think her defence of the old media against the new lacks credibility. Does anyone really recognise the picture of mainstream reporting that she paints? I would say there are probably half a dozen mainstream media science writers in the UK whose stuff strikes me as worth reading. Most of the other science stories are re-heated press releases, which I (like a lot of scientists) only read so that I can grumble about them. And don’t get me started about the coverage of issues like vaccination, or cancer, in places like the Express or the People’s Medical Journal Daily Mail. […]

  7. Devon Chatley Says:

    much appreciated very much, I am obliged to say your blog is brilliant!

  8. In one (y)ear and out the other « Dr Aust’s Spleen Says:

    […] –  They will still get lots of laughably credulous media coverage, especially in the People’s Medical Journal […]

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