You can quit losing sleep over this myth

Posted: Wednesday, November 06, 2002

One of the intended consequences of the Internet is the flood of information available to anyone with access to the Web. One of the unintended consequences of the Internet is the flood of misinformation that gets out there too. And rumors. And myths. There's no end. They're like that arcade game where gophers pop up from one hole after another. Who can hit them all? And though humans have magnified their ability to make and transmit information, they've done nothing to improve their truth-seeking capacity.

As one result, you may have missed the recent news from the Journal of the National Cancer Institute that underarm deodorant does not cause cancer. Humans have displayed a proclivity over the centuries to believe almost anything -- that the Earth is flat, the moon is cheese, kings

know best, the Angels will never win a World Series. And that proclivity to believe is particularly strong if the news is bad, despairing or scary. Scandal news spreads quickest, of course. Which grabs your attention first: a neighbor has an affair with a next-door widow or a colleague buys a new hat and makes her mortgage payments on time? See?

Now, a fair number of us were oblivious to the fictitious danger lurking in our armpits because we had focused on Nostradamus, shark attacks, subliminal advertising and evil sorcery hidden within corporate logos. But the Great Deodorant Drama has all the ingredients for an enduring urban myth -- an innocent activity performed daily by almost everybody that in the end might be invisibly lethal. That's worse than pantyhose causing an extra layer of fat on legs. The deodorant and antiperspirant myth has circulated for more than a decade but gained heightened credibility apparently through infinite forwarding of an anonymous e-mail detailing an alleged case.

Like the neighbor's affair with the widow, it's passed on and on and on. Scientists knew this was bunk, of course. But when Dana Mirick, an epidemiologist at Seattle's Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, checked the scientific literature, no one had proven the negative -- one of countless negatives yet to be proven, by the way. So for nearly three years, the study examined the personal hygiene habits of 813 women with breast cancer and 793 without. No connection with deodorant. None. Not even when they shaved and immediately applied deodorant. Totally safe. So spread the word, that urban myth you didn't know about anyway is finally countered.

But two questions do remain: What do you suppose tooth whitener might do to kidneys? And why don't country residents have rural myths?

--Los Angeles Times

Nov. 4

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