The complexity of skin cancer

Hat tip to Rafe Furst blogging at the Emergent Fool for picking up this video from the University of California Television. In it Edward Gorham, PhD, with his very dry sense of humour illustrates the hugely complex interactions that occur when we humans are exposed to sunlight.

My Dad has had reoccurring malignant melanoma for more than ten years and the effect on us as a family was to always buy the strongest sun block, apply it repeatedly when the sun was out and try and avoid direct sunlight wherever and whenever possible.

Watching this talk, with its admirable use of silly jokes to reinforce key points in the research, made me shudder at the possibility that we have all along been taking inappropriate action and perhaps even increasing the chances of skin cancer in later life.

What suddenly dawned (sic) on me as I watched this life changing video was the implications that we have over time tried to simplify our understandings of ‘sunburn and its prevention’ while trying desparately to control the outcomes. The Cognitive Edge cynefin framework and diagnosis tells us that trying to manage and control a COMPLEX situation or system using an approach more appropriate to the SIMPLE and COMPLICATED domains can in fact cause more problems than it solves.

In a nutshell this is another deadly example of a complex system in which all the components have co-evolved naturally over time into their own equilibrium. We have jumped in, simplified and categorised it and made progressive policy (which to give the scientists, health advisors and policy makers their due were all done in everyones best interests and are easy to criticise in hindsight) and changed behaviours and cultures to the point where it looks like we could be causing more harm than good.

Finally as if all this wasn’t scary enough I have bought but have still to read Dr Sharon Moalem’s book “Survival of the sickest” where she explains how sun glasses can trick the brain into believing it is not so sunny and so not produce melanin in the skin to protect itself in the first place.

Don’t you sometimes think we live in a topsy turvey world?


1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Daily Digest for September 4th

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