Keeping Tabs

What You Don’t Know About Salad

And other scientific revelations from the tabloids. 

Although Keeping Tabs’ perambulations don’t usually take her into the Weekly World News’ neighborhood, she found herself powerless to resist last week’s cover story about a stunning rescue at sea: “Titanic Baby Found in Life Ring!” (“He’s dressed in 1912 clothes—& crying for his mother! Time-warp tot hasn’t aged a day in 89 years!” read the subheads.) A $1.69 later, Keeping Tabs had gotten the entire story behind the “science shattering” discovery in the North Atlantic. The 13-month-old boy—the News chose to comply with unnamed “authorities” and declined to identify him “out of consideration for living relatives and descendants”—was said to be “cold and confused, but otherwise unharmed.” The cover photo, said to have been snapped by a crew member of the Norwegian shipping vessel Hysstad-Sceter, showed the tot looking surprisingly robust and composed. Science-shattering, indeed.

Perhaps even more incredible was Keeping Tabs’ realization that she had somehow missed all the “international headlines” generated 11 years ago, when according to the WWN none other than the Titanic’s storied captain, E.J. Smith, was found alive in a lifeboat near the same spot. (Sadly, according to the News, Capt. Smith died just nine weeks later, apparently before they had time to book him on the Today show.) “Famed maritime researcher” Dr. Malyin Iddleland (whose fame is such that plugging his name into the Google search engine turns up not a single reference; perhaps he went to school with Dr. Jackish, the medical genius behind Redu-Quick) believes the phenomenon can be explained by the existence of a “mysterious” monolith on the ocean floor near the site of the Titanic disaster. A monolith? Who needs science? Case closed.

Keeping Tabs’ brief detour into the world of the tabs’ least reputable cousin—a WWN story titled “22 U.S. Senators Worship Satan” reports that Sen. Hillary Clinton has put “breaking the satanic cartel at the top of her agenda” while another claims that the U.S. surgeon general’s office has written a “top secret report” on the grave public health threat posed by flatulence—got her thinking about how the tabs in her regular rotation approach science and health reporting. Tempting though it is to explicate last week’s Globe cover on the “Gay Sex Scandal Rock[ing] Bush White House” or this week’s 24-page “Who’s Sleeping With Who?” special in the Star, Keeping Tabs decided instead to see whether there was any other science-shattering going on.

When it comes to science and health reporting, Tabloidland is really a one-horse town; only the National Enquirer delivers anything even resembling service journalism, but it does so as only a tabloid can. In general, the folks at the Enquirer seem especially fond of “things you didn’t know could hurt you” stories, especially when presented under eye-catching, alarmist headlines. Last week’s “Beware! Salads Can Be Harmful to Your Health” provides an otherwise reliable list of potentially dangerous food-drug interactions (click here for a free brochure on the subject recommended by the Enquirer) while “Beware! St. John’s Wort Can Cause Blindness” turns out to be an only slightly extravagant rendering of legitimate findings by Dr. Joan E. Roberts of New York’s Fordham University. (Click here for a press release on Roberts’ study and here for her résumé. She’s real!) This week’s Enquirer brings us “Stuffy Nose? It Could Be Your Cell Phone,” which refers to an actual study at London’s National Heart and Lung Institute suggesting that cell phones increase the temperature of users’ faces, “causing nasal blood vessels to expand and produce stuffiness” although the sample included only 31 subjects.

Even when there are no hidden hazards to be uncovered, the headline rule clearly still applies. Last week’s Enquirer, for example, had a small item titled “Clinton’s Cancer and You,” complete with four appetite-curdling photos of cancerous moles, including one said to approximate the basal cell carcinoma recently removed from the former president’s back. The “New Scientific Shocker!” in this week’s Enquirer is that gay couples “could soon be having babies of their own thanks to new methods being pioneered by top scientists.” Turns out that this is actually legitimate news from the United Kingdom, although “soon” is a highly relative term, and if the couple is male, they’ll still need a surrogate mother. (Click here for more from the researchers involved and here for a story on the matter from the Times of London.)

Keeping Tabs began to worry about the kind of reader who gets health news from a publication that runs a “Why I Love My Pet” column—fears only compounded by reading the letters to the Enquirer’s editor, for which readers are actually paid $25. “When I saw the picture of the World’s Cutest dog (January 2), I hugged and kissed it,” Dorothy S. of Chicago tells the Enquirer. “I never saw anything so cute! This is why I buy your paper. May God watch over Mr. Winkle!”

“I can’t believe Drew Carey would want to change his looks just to get women (December 26),” complains C.G. of Victoria, Kan. “I thought he already looked handsome the way he was!”

Flo L. of Morgantown, W.V., coos: “I got twice my money’s worth with the December 19 ENQUIRER—first a handy tip for baking my first fruit cake, and an update on Buddy Ebsen. I always wondered what happened to him!”

Fruitcake? Buddy Ebsen?? Keeping Tabs is grateful that the Enquirer withholds correspondents’ full names. Must be out of consideration for living relatives and descendants.