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NaturalScience's Dangerously Misleading Headline Award

April 13, 2003 "Cannibalism may be protection from mad cow-style ailments: study" is the headline to a story that appeared today on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation web site.* Before this story leads to an outbreak of cannibalism in Australia, we hasten to point out that cannibalism is a potential cause of mad cow-type diseases not a cure. It is the case, however, that if the diet of a prion-disease-susceptible cannibal includes prion-disease-infected people, he is likely to die young, thus leaving the propagation of the tribe to his more prion-disease-resistant relatives. So if there is any truth to this story, it is that our resistance to prion diseases, if any, is a result of natural selection among our cannibalistic ancestors. But then again the story may contain no truth whatsoever. A more accurately titled version of the story was published by Science Daily.

* Since first publication of this story, ABC has revised its headline to "Ancient cannibalism may protect us from 'mad cow' ailments: study," which makes a lot more sense.

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