April 26, 2004

Academic Freedom is Only Skin Deep

If that.

GeekPress has the scoop on a Boston University dermatologist who has been fired for daring to suggest that a few minutes of unprotected sun exposure every once in a while might not kill you outright, that in fact it might be good for you:

Holick cites a number of benefits to such moderate sunlight exposure, including prevention of osteoporosis, decreased levels of depression, and some new work indicating decreased risk of breast and prostate cancers.

Both the department head who fired him and the head of the professional association who was asked to comment on the matter used the words "irresponsible" and "dangerous" in justifying the decision to fire the man. There have also been suggestions that Holick has some unwholesome connections with the tanning bed industry. He denies that there was any influence. I tend to wonder whether the tanning guys didn't seek him out after they learned what his views were.

There are three possibilities, here:

  1. He has a point.
  2. He's wrong, but he's honestly mistaken.
  3. He's deliberately misleading the public for financial gain.

The Department of Dermatology and the American Academy of Dermatology both seem to hold the opinion that either (2) or (3) are grounds for termination. Actually, it's unclear to me whether they even care whether (1) might be true. Apparently they have sufficient and final knowledge on the dangers of UV raditation. New, controversial opinions — whether based on research or not — will not be entertained or tolerated.

Of course, they're right about (3), but the other two? How much free inquiry will take place when scholars know that their research had better lead to the "correct" conclusions or else? If doing sound research is no excuse, the answer is "very little." If being right is no excuse, the answer is "none."

Posted by Phil at April 26, 2004 08:17 AM | TrackBack

The authors of "Protein Power Lifeplan" - basically a low-carb diet book - went a little off topic in their book in order to discuss the benefits of periodic short-duration sun exposure.

I guess if you're going to be a maverick in one area - diet - you might as well be a maverick in other areas.


The authors, who are both M.D.s, made a convincing case - at least for me.

Posted by: Stephen Gordon at April 26, 2004 09:10 AM

Isn't this guy's claim, at least about depression, central to the claims by the manufacturer's that their lamps produce a light like the sun's and that this decreases depression? And isn't there a general consensus that depression is higher in norhern regions and northern seasons when sunlight is limited.

These may be old wives' tales and merchanting exaggerations, but it has certainly been true in my experience.

Does anyone care about the truth and does anyone think that moderation might be the answer rather than wholesale bans of anything?

Posted by: Ginny at April 26, 2004 09:38 AM

Get the man his hemlock, he's clearly lost his mind!

Posted by: ashby at April 26, 2004 09:57 AM

The body DOES need at least occasional exposure to the sun.

I remember that at one time there was a problem in Japan with younger children being sick. It turns out that they were severely vitamin deficient in, as best I can remember, vitamin E. This was a puzzle, but as it turned out, light skin was highly prized, while dark tanned skin was a sign of corseness (ie. a peasant who toiled in the fields in the sun, vs high class people who were able to stay inside). Mothers were keeping their children inside to such an extent that their children were getting sick due to lack of exposure to the sun.

Posted by: Jim Thomason at April 26, 2004 10:42 AM

Jim: That's Vitamin D, not E, that is produced by exposure to sunlight:

This fact was commonly taught when I was a child, but of course that was before the rise of the health nazis.

Posted by: Paul Stinchfield at April 26, 2004 10:49 AM

Funny how people, who think (know!) they are smart can be so consistently dumb. It has been observed many times over the past few centuries, that dogmatism is inbred in institutions ostensibly dedicated to openness. - Niels Finsen was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1903 for the use of sunlight (UV - radiation) in the eradication of Lupus Vulgaris, a common disease before 1900. Generations of danish and other european children were given medicinal uv-baths in the first half of the 20-ies century based on the known benefits of the radiation.

The dark side to overexposure has been known for at least as long, but rather than finding the therapeutic window, the calvinists (taliban etc.) like it simple and binary. It beats thinking.

There is a similar orthodoxy in dementia research, if you don't believe in amyloid you will be excommunicated from the church.

The closed minds and their allegy to questions basic to real science is perhaps an even greater threat to our universities, than the political indoctrination inherited from the 60ies generation. This will not last - and it is going to be traumatic for higher education, when the reaction already underway hits its stride.

Posted by: Svend Gothgen,MD at April 26, 2004 02:24 PM

I'm of a certain vintage (birthday number 61 coming up this week) and my mother was given strict instructions about the importance of exposure to sunlight for health. I have seen the pamplets she was given; they stress placing undressed babies next to sunny windows in winter and exposing them to outdoor sun in mild weather. Given the current hysteria, I find the switch in Official U.S. Government Health Tips to be rather amusing. Yes, yes, I know about the dangers of skin cancer and my kids were always well-covered with sun block and I make sure to slap it on if I am going to the bearch or even just doing yard work on a sunny day, but this news item is a perfect example of politically correct Zero Tolerance stupidity.

Posted by: Jim at April 26, 2004 03:08 PM

Why are black folks black and white folks white? Black skin is protective; it can tolerate longer exposure to the sun without damage. White skin is, however, not just vulnerable: it is sun-friendly. Mother Nature has made white folks white so they can get the benefits of the sun. If the sun were so bad for you that you should always avoid it, all humans would be black. Obviously the people from equatorial regions need protection, while those from the areas nearer the poles need greater sensitivity to the sun. Proof that moderation is not just good for you, but essential. Duh.

Posted by: Lawrence Barnes at April 27, 2004 07:19 AM

Hey! What's so "sun-friendly" about quickly burning and easier cancer?

Northerners don't need greater senstivity to the sun.

At least, you have not presented any case that they do.

You make it sound like black people would suffed in Swedeland.

Have you ever been to Aquavit in Manhattan?

Posted by: Hey! at April 27, 2004 08:48 AM


that's where common sense comes in. much like watering a plant. it needs some water, but too much will drown it.

Posted by: samkit at April 28, 2004 03:36 AM

oh, and a quick search at encyclopedia.com:

Related: Biographies Chemistry

It is one of two pigments found in human skin and hair and adds brown to skin color; the other pigment is carotene , which contributes yellow coloring.


Besides it role in pigmentation, melanin, which absorbs ultraviolet light, plays a protective role when skin is exposed to the damaging rays of the sun (see sunburn ; skin cancer ).

Posted by: samkit at April 28, 2004 03:40 AM

6394 Get your online poker fix at http://www.onlinepoker-dot.com

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