You guys! It’s time again for another in my series on Crazy Cancer Cures, where we discuss the many dumb ideas I’ve heard about alternative ways to cure my cancer. Today’s is by far, hands-down, my all-time favorite: that smelling farts cures cancer. Seriously, I can’t stop giggling about this one, it’s fantastic.
So here’s how this one got started: there was a study done at the University of Exeter having to do with using some kind of molecule to deliver hydrogen sulfide to cells to help preserve their mitochondria. This was done in a Petri dish in this study. Hydrogen sulfide is the stinky part of farts and rotten eggs. Ergo, smelling farts cures cancer. Wait, what?
Now, it’s funny, because duh, it’s about stinky farts. I mean, farts are just funny, always. I laughed pretty hard when the news articles about this study started floating around like hydrogen sulfide in our bathroom after The Hubs takes a dump. (He’s a good guy, though, he always turns on the bathroom fan when he poops.)
But here’s the thing that’s kind of sad about this study: it actually points out a lot of what’s wrong in science journalism today. First, it’s really common for science journalism to make these same kinds of leaps in non-hilarious-fart-related articles. There’s a lot of articles about basic Petri dish science that end up with screaming headline about exiciting breakthroughs or cures right around the corner. As my oncologist likes to say, if you inject cancer cells in a Petri dish with just about anything, it’ll kill them. Cells in dishes just don’t like having things injected in them. But a lot of what we read about in the paper is just that: a Petri dish study. Too many science journalists, or whatever journalists write about these studies, don’t seem to get this.
Second, as in this case, the press releases about scientific studies often do their best to get press attention, as press releases are designed to do. So they sometimes/often/practically always oversell the research. Nobody’s going to cover your study on important but incremental and highly technical research that’s still ten years from bringing a new treatment to patients. How will that sell newspapers? No, instead you’ve got to talk about how that obscure research is exciting or promising or a breakthrough or some other buzzword that’s going to get your study covered in the media.
In this case, the study’s press release didn’t suggest a cure for cancer, but it did make sure to point out that hydrogen sulfide is found in farts, because farts are funny, and then talk about how the molecule they studied might have applications in cancer. Cancer’s a big one, that always gets headlines, and when combined with the fart thing, I mean seriously, that’s going to generate an awful lot of page views, isn’t it?
So, unfortunately for all of you who have told me that your dog or your loved one whose farts can clear a room, I’m sorry, those farts aren’t reducing your risk for cancer. Sorry, guys. But hey, at least we all got a good chuckle out of it, right?