Tender Tendons and Slippery Slopes


It’s easy to forget about the possibility of injury when drifting through metres of powdered snow 2000m above sea level. The same as how, when you’re in Alps, it’s easy to forget about that annoying young guy in the office who has been there half as long as you and gets twice the credit, or the broken lamp in the living room that your partner keeps yelling at you to fix. Amongst clear blue skies, snow covered goggles and 6 year old locals who are scarily fast on a pair of skis, such outdoor adventures always come with an element of danger. Of course there are countless other risky sports, however I think people often overlook just how serious injuries produced from skiing and snowboarding can be. One caught edge could mean a broken collar bone and six weeks of physiotherapy. One slippery ice patch might equal a busted knee and crutches. I guess the upside is you might not have to see the irritating guy in the office with six weeks off work.

Not only does skiing give the chance to replace the view of the adjacent apartment block with seemingly endless mountain ranges, but it also drives us to make the most of what we can’t do at home. This sport somehow spurs us to get out of bed at 8am in order to be the first of many keen individuals on the slopes. And naturally once we’re in our element, a mixture of excitement, the altitude and the six-and-a-bit pints that are still lingering inside us from the previous night push us to go higher, steeper, faster. So I still find it rather worrying the amount of people who choose not the wear helmets both on and off-piste. Hurtling down an icy slope at 50mph lacking any sort of head protection seems like the equivalent of driving down the A23 in a car with no body, no framework and no seatbelts. But maybe we’ll throw in some snow on the dual carriageway to cushion the landing.

With the most common ski injuries involving the knee, the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) becomes a frequent topic of injury-related conversation among skiers. The ACL is the short central ligament connecting the femur to the tibia and can be subjected to rupture or tearing. As the lower leg is forced forward when the upper leg remains stationary, the ligament becomes overstretched. Luckily the advancement of ski, boot and binding designs has allowed for softer falls and release of skis before your legs manage to throw themselves all the way over your head, or perhaps the head of whoever else you’ve managed to take out down the run2. However, recent ski and boot design also has its drawbacks; the insulation around the lower legs puts a higher amount of pressure on the knees upon falls. In addition, the curved edges of newer types of carving skis reduces friction between the skis and snow, pulling skis away from you when turning and taking your knees with them as well. You might think at low speeds you have less chance of injury – which is usually true if you take a tumble and land on your head – however knee injuries can often end up worse as there is a lack of an abrupt force to open the bindings1.So what can we do to prevent these accidents? Not pushing yourself to the absolute limit is a sure-fire way of reducing the chance of breaking both legs at once. And to be honest, a beginner throwing themselves down icy moguls is never going to look cool. Taking lessons to improve technique is always good and having correctly-fitted bindings is vital; research has showed that skiers who have the wrong DIN settings or borrow others skis are eight times as more likely to injure themselves. In addition, a day of rest – preferably sitting in a hot tub, treating yourself to something that’s not pasta or baguette, or just having a four hour nap – gives your muscles a chance to recover1.

With the winter Olympics grasping everyone’s attention, the high risk of injury from snowsports is slowly becoming more apparent. Only recently did Czech snowboarder Sarka Pancochova go plummeting head-first down the womens’s slopestyle course, smashing her helmet on landing. Michael Schumacher’s disastrous accident a few months’ back was spread across the news; these headlines are often all it takes for people to think twice about taking risks on the mountains. It is great, however, to have the chance to support and admire the incredible British skiers and snowboarders that have competed so far. These guys are pulling off moves that I couldn’t even land on SSX games on the PS2. But does this give us the temptation to attempt such ridiculous stunts? Let’s hope it’ll give rise to a new generation of gold medallists as opposed to a new generation of back braces. With so many accidents occurring off-piste, it’s becoming more and more important to prepare for the worst. Attempting to trek miles from the nearest chalet in order to have a ‘sweet ride’ in a potential avalanche zone, dressed only in baggy shorts and an XXL hoodie is only going to end in tears. And probably a fat medical bill. The vast majority of people (particularly students, I’ve found) who don’t realise how much of a burden medical expenses can be, is also rather troubling. Surrounded in an NHS bubble in the UK, it’s easy to forget how insanely expensive it is to buy even a packet of paracetamol abroad. So don’t be too surprised if you find out that your parents have sold the dog in order to get your broken arm in a sling.

So whether you’re intending to pull off that 14,000-McMelonGrabPorkPie (or any trick with a similarly ridiculous name) or attempting to merely just stay standing on a snowboard, a little protection can’t hurt. Decide which slopes are suitable and invest in winter sports insurance and you’ll have yourself a nice getaway. Down a bottle of gin following a NekNominination and go hurtling down a black slope on your second day and no doubt you’ll be back at home with your partner yelling at you about that broken lamp in the living room again before you know it.

1 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/snowandski/748928/Top-tips-for-avoiding-skiing-injuries.html

2 http://www.ski-injury.com/prevention/alpine_prevention


How entertaining should science journalism really be?


I only recently came across the term ‘infotainment’. As an amalgamation of ‘information’ and ‘entertainment’, the term describes a style of writing that is both informative and amusing. The article in which I discovered this was based upon the suggestion that “Too much contemporary science writing falls under the category of ‘infotainment’”.

As a science journalist, I can imagine that one of the trickiest tasks is getting the balance of information and entertainment right. Too much information and you’re squashing your potential audience into those who care enough about the subject to read more than two lines; too much entertainment and the punch-lines become more interesting than the subject line. I think it’s easy to look at a journalistic piece and comment on whether the writer has included enough results or references or researchers quotes. And of course all these factors make up the foundation of the piece, whereas it’s often difficult to judge an article for being too funny, too catchy or targeting too wide of an audience. Perhaps because it’s well written?

In my head, the world of science journalism is like a roundabout, with research and grant proposals and scientific publications following each other in a clockwise direction. Successful research gives way to great results, which in turn gives rise to further research. Stuck in traffic on the slip road which trails off the roundabout are the journalists who act as the bridge between the science world and pretty much everyone else. And they’re responsible for making sure that every piece of information that leaves that roundabout can be understood. And then processed into something that someone other than a lab technician or plant science lecturer wants to read. The excel spreadsheets pumped out of laboratories and compressed into journals then thrown towards journalists to be deciphered are the building blocks for great writing. So I guess it’s pretty challenging, considering the amount of headlines that the public get bombarded with on a daily basis. But I guess it’s also why it appeals to me. In my opinion, it’s easy to write informatively. It’s simple to tell a reader exactly what results were found after x number of clinical trials were performed, just like it’s simple to tell a reader exactly what you had on your toast this morning. But what’s interesting and memorable and readable is what difference it’s going to make.

So I think as long as all the facts are right, and all the building blocks are there, why not make an article as entertaining as possible? Squeeze in as much ‘infotainment’ as possible. Of course it depends on your audience but in my case, I’d rather read a ten-page article on something that will want to make me turn the page, than twenty lines on something that won’t.

The article I highlighted evaluates critical science journalism against infotainment science journalism, emphasizing that “infotainment science journalism rarely challenges the validity of the scientific research study or criticises its conclusions”. Within the last century, I have no doubt that the rise in the number of articles in which the validity of the research is undermined or ignored has risen, mainly due to competition between tabloids to produce the most scandalous headline. And I am sure that countless journalists overlook the accuracy of data in order to publish a piece with ‘dramatic’ or ‘life-changing’ results; however this is usually due to the journalist, not the style of writing. Informative articles can be misleading, just as entertaining pieces can be incredibly accurate. In contrast to the quoted statement, I actually believe infotainment journalism often finds flaws within the research in order to bring up an alternative view to comment on. I accept, however, that it would be refreshing to find a detailed critical analysis at the end of an entertaining article or more quotes or figures directly from the original paper. Considering the readers of an article would rarely venture towards the original paper – or often, even struggle to find it – it is of such high importance that the facts that are reproduced are the correct ones, and that the writer takes the time to study whether the research is worth a headline or not.

But I still firmly believe that the entertainment value of science journalism cannot be undermined. Without infotainment, the potential target audience would diminish and all that’s left would be undergraduates desperately trying to find a 50th reference for their lab report due in the following day. Clever science writers and opinionated journalists are what’s pushing science forwards in the 21st century. These are the ones making it more appealing, the ones inspiring future generations of writers, journalists and researchers who kick start the next set of experiments and the next set of headlines. So of course it’s important to criticise any journal papers that might be publicised, but it’s the way that a journalist can make stem cells seem more interesting than that hilarious cat video on YouTube that’s going to catch people’s eye. After you’ve got people’s attention for the first paragraph, the nitty-gritty hard science, facts and statistics are all easy writing.

The need for critical science journalism (May 2013) The Guardian http://www.theguardian.com/science/blog/2013/may/16/need-for-critical-science-journalism

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