Everybody knows that it is perfectly acceptable to say anything you like about religion. Anything. Go on, try it. Nobody will care one way or the other. After all, for as long as the history of human civilization has been recorded, it has been characterized by nothing other than back-to-back episodes of pacifistic religious tolerance, featuring heart-warming collaboration across religions and between atheists and believers. I’m pretty sure about all of this. In fact, having racked my brain, I can think of absolutely no controversies at all. None whatsoever. Uh huh.
So when scientists investigate religion, they can proceed in the knowledge that everything they discover will be greeted by believer and atheist alike as representing little more than benign, banal, and dispassionate trivia. That’s why scientists never need to pussyfoot around the subject, or to give any thought to how they might choose their words in order to avoid causing offence.
But maybe things are changing. Continue reading “Euphemistic congress”
So, apparently, being married is good for you. Married, I tells ya, as in party to a matrimonial contractual arrangement with a legally eligible spouse. Why might this be? Well, one advantage to being married is that your tax and inheritance provisions tend to be facilitated by legislation in ways that materially advantage you over non-married folk. And if you are inclined toward such stuff, you may also expect your relationship will be spiritually blessed by whatever deity you think morally underwrites your existence.
But what you mightn’t count on are the associated medical benefits. And quite specific ones at that. Because, according to several media reports this week, scientists have now revealed that “being married” makes you twice as likely to be alive 15 years after heart surgery. Or three times as likely, if you read a different media website. Or four times as likely if you read another. Whichever, it seems like quite a lot. Put the other way around, it means that not being married makes you only half, a third, or a quarter as likely to survive as someone who has been wedded in holy (or civil) matrimony.
It was a pretty simple message; so simple, in fact, that the media ended up gravitating toward a relatively narrow repertoire of similarly worded headlines. The LA Times went with “Marriage helps the heart“, while CBS News had “Marriage tied to longer survival after heart bypass“. Both USA Today and CNN came up with “Marriage helps survival after heart surgery“. Meanwhile, some of the more socially conservative outlets emphasized the importance of having a cohesive marriage: “Take Heart! A good marriage protects even after a bypass” proclaimed Fox News; while the Christian Post declared that “Healthy marriages lead to healthy hearts“. And these pronouncements were not intended as social value-statements moderated by conservative editorial stances. No, science told us that all this is so, apparently.
Except it didn’t, of course. Continue reading ““Marriage saves lives!” (Well, it has a nice ring to it…)”
This week’s news that researchers had apparently debunked the link between dietary salt intake and heart disease was surprising to say the least, but for all that it was lapped up enthusiastically by the media. Some headline writers revelled in the newness of the findings: “Scientists shake up what we know about salt” announced CBS News; “New salt study stirs up controversy” said The Independent. Many outlets remained hesitant about dispensing with prior wisdoms: “Eating less salt may not help heart health” cautioned US News & World Report; “Is sodium actually good?” wondered Shape Magazine. However, as always, other news reports were quite happy to shift the paradigm straight away, providing verdicts that turned previous wisdom on its head. “Salt is GOOD for you” announced the Daily Mail. “Low-salt diet kills” warned the Canada Free Press. “Pass the potato chips” cheered The Globe and Mail. So what’s the story with this research then? Should we now start munching on salt rocks straight out of the shaker? Or should we take these new findings with a pinch of, well, you know…? Continue reading “A study not worth its salt?”