Saturday, November 05, 2005

Man with MS dies of complications at 66? It's a curse, I tell you!

If anyone out there is collecting evidence for the thesis that The Independent wants to be a sort of right-on Daily Mail, they should check out Exhibit A before it disappears behind the paywall.

Our exhibit describes a curse on those who tangle with Oetzi, that Stone Age corpse from the Italian Alps. Prolonged contact, we're told, leads to "strange, often accidental deaths". The toll is long-ish, but not dominated by strangness: it runs to two mountaineering accidents, a car crash in heavy traffic, one heart attack relatively young, a brain tumour and two deaths after long illnesses.

The long-term medical conditions have to be included, by the way. Dr Tom Loy, who had an hereditary blood-clotting problem, is the latest to die and the hook for the story. And Konrad Splindler, an Austrian archeologist who died at 66 from MS complications, provides the liveliest quote: "I think it's a load of rubbish. It is all a media hype. The next thing you will be saying I will be next."

Kathy Marks, who wrote this tosh, clearly wishes to be thought of as tongue-in-cheek. The nearest she comes to a named source arguing for the curse is "for others, the link between Mr Loy's death and that of other men associated with Oetzi is irresistible". And I will agree that a bit of amusing nonsense is a necessary part of the newspaper reader's diet. But when that amusement amounts to Fun With Cadavers, it becomes questionable. To quote Ms Marks's piece:

Academics, of course, pour scorn on such notions. Tom Loy's colleagues at the Institute for Molecular Bioscience refused to comment yesterday. But one university source said staff were deeply upset, not only by his death, but by all the speculation about a curse.

"They feel that it trivialises his death, and does not do justice to his life and work," said the source. "He was a brilliant academic, and that is how his colleagues want to remember him."

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