We all know that facts taken out of context can be misleading, that spurious correlations can be misdirecting. There’s even a website (and a book) that specialises in spurious correlations. One of my favourites is the 80% correlation between the letters in the winning words of a spelling bee and deaths from spider venom. Ah, the joys of unmoderated, unrefereed information.
Here’s some news to consider from a recent edition of The Week.
USA Today notes that over a roughly seven-month period starting in mid-March – a week after Donald Trump declared a national emergency – America’s 614 billionaires ‘grew their net worth by a collective $931 billion’.
I hope you can enjoy wherever this ‘fact’ took you but I have to say the thought of these billions made me bilious.
Perhaps you’ll spare a moment to read some other bits of news that were news to me. Women can and do get prostate cancer. Now, I wouldn’t have known this unless I listened to the BBC podcast Inside Science. I chose to listen to the recent edition entitled A New Saliva Gland because anything related to head and neck cancer is important in our household.
It turns out that PET (positron emission tomography) scans have been used to identify two previously unknown saliva glands just above our mouths. Which means, almost certainly, that past radiotherapy regimes have been destroying these glands, thereby introducing permanent eating and breathing challenges. Put another way, there is a strong correlation between these symptoms and radiotherapy regimens for patients in Holland whose historical records have been reviewed.
The PET scans in question are those done to screen men for metastases of prostate cancer which can lurk anywhere from the thighs to the top of your head. Such full body scans showed up some anomalies whose signatures or appearance looked like saliva glands. And so it proved; there are two 3 cm saliva glands that no one knew about, effectively hidden from most anatomists scalpels by being hidden behind the eyes and below the brain.
Somebody thought to check women’s PET scans and confirmed that females have these same glands. But wait, what’s that small thing located on the woman’s scan about where men have a prostate? Women have been getting infections and cancer in their Skene’s glands for ever but very little is known about the glands’ purpose or function.
Like the male prostate, Skene’s glands produce the hormone PSA. Remember that no one yet knows what these glands or the prostate actually do. But an infection or cancer in either of them can kill their owner.
Have some fun with those spurious correlations but take the prostate and saliva gland news more seriously.