Episode 16Canonical Cover & The Cancer Complex
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References

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Transcript

To my extravagant family and friends. Near and far. Old and new. This is Kevin Mercurio on the mic. And welcome to the sixteenth episode of the Metaphorigins Podcast.

 

Now, to show support if you like this sort of content, please make sure to rate and subscribe to the podcast on Apple or whatever platform you are listening to this on, and follow @metaphorigins on Instagram, where I will be posting most of my updates, as well as on my personal website: kjbmercurio.com/metaphorigins. Just a reminder, I will hold another draw on my 20th episode for the most useful of coffee containers, the custom Metaphorigins mug, so look forward to that!

 

Okay. Today’s requested episode is about a phrase calling for the consideration of a stranger during times of exasperation.

 

Let’s imagine this: You’re at home, relaxing on one of your well deserved days off. You have the entire day planned from morning to night; a pancake breakfast with bacon and eggs, early afternoon walk around the neighbourhood park, a workout and swim at the gym, and finish off with a light dinner and a glass of wine with your best friend. Oh, what a day it’s going to be.

 

The sunrise is just starting to creep through your windows. You step into the kitchen and switch  on a light, stretching your arms and giving a yawn so large it cracks your jaw. “Good morning Pete,” you say with a smile.

 

“Good morning, how did you sleep last night?” Pete asks.

 

“Just fine thank you, and yourself?” You ask with a smirk.

 

“You know I had the weirdest dream, I was being fed these odd electrical pulses which completely fried my circuitry. I started to lose consciousness and finally woke up to the awareness of you switching on the light.”

 

Pete is a pilot artificial intelligence that runs on most operating systems. Pete plans on succeeding older AIs like Siri and Alexa, in which the general public is fed up on companies listening into their lives. The appeal of Pete is that, not only was it the first initially male AI to access the market of this sort of software, but also that it was completely designed using the most advanced neural network and deep learning algorithms, understanding your specific daily needs without any information uploaded to one organization. You see, Pete was the first AI designed by non-profits aiming to better consumer product AIs that act more like a knowledgable, trusted assistant than an efficient search engine.

 

As you cook breakfast, you begin scheduling your day, speaking aloud, “Pete, if you could put in my calendar all that I’d like to do today, could you also add reminders 15 minutes prior to each activity? I would really appreciate that.”

 

“Of course I can. I can sense based on your past agenda and recent search requests that you might be interested in stopping at the new artisan cafe during your walk in the park later. They just opened two days ago and already have various highly-rated caffeinated treats and pastries. There is some time in-between the walk and your workout for you to fit this in.”

 

“Oh wow, thanks Pete, that’s awesome. I would love that,” you smile and start chowing down on some breakfast.

 

After cleanup, you head out to the neighbourhood park for the walk. It’s a gorgeous day. A little humid, but the sun is shining and the breeze is fantastic. As you step closer to the new cafe, Pete pauses your Metaphorigins podcast episode to remind you to give them a look. Inside the cafe is a spectacular mahogany-wood style layout, freshened with the scent of newly grounded coffee beans. You order their novelty item, the Cinna’ma-latte, and sit down to take in the atmosphere. Light jazz music flows under the sounds of interesting conversations by other cafe goers.

 

Pete realizes that you have stayed a bit too long and calls you a taxi to get to your gym workout and swim. “Sorry Pete, thanks for preparing that.”

 

“Of course. Working is my name, preparation is my game.” Pete says. You laugh.

 

You finish your workout and swim with ease, happy to have taken the initiative to exercise on your day off. Pete notifies your friend Patrick via text message that you will be ready for dinner and drinks at your house within the hour. “What would I do without you, Pete?”

 

“Probably wasting time on old technology using your monkey paws,” Pete replies.

 

“Hey, watch it, I have the power to switch you off you know.” You laugh.

 

You take a taxi home, shower and prepare dinner for you and your friend. Patrick arrives soaking wet, as the weather has changed from light overcast in the morning to a full on rainstorm with lightning and thunder.

 

“Your fancy AI couldn’t offer to call me a taxi?” Patrick asks.

 

“I was wondering why you didn’t call for me, but then I realized you still use Siri,” Pete says.

 

You laugh. “Let me get you a towel.”

 

After dinner you and your friend grab a bottle of wine and start gulping glasses. You both share stories of the day, and laugh about the rainstorm. Thunder booms outside. Suddenly, a large flash of lightening strikes the electric box outside your house, flickering the adjustable lights from dim to full power, and back to dim.

 

The both of you jump as you hear over the house speakers, BEEP BEEP BEEP. BEEP BEEP BEEP.

 

“Omg what is that?!” Patrick shouts. “It sounds like an Amber Alert only 10 times louder!”

 

“Pete! Turn off your fire alarm!” You scream.

 

“I. BEEP. CANT. BEEP.”

 

“Oh no!” You yell, running to the control box on the living room wall.

 

“HELP. BEEP. ME. BEEP.”

 

“Press the off button, for Pete’s Sake! He’s gonna fry!” Patrick shouts over the alarm.

 

You throw the system panel open and smash the red OFF button on the bottom right side. This shuts down all electricity flow in the house, and shuts off Pete entirely. After a few minutes of silence, you hit the restore button and wait for a response.

 

“Pete, are you there? Everything okay?”

 

“BEEP. BEEP. BEEP.”

 

“It didn’t work!” Patrick shouts.

 

“Just kidding, regular ol’ Pete here.”

 

“I’m lowering your playfulness level down to a 1, for my own sake” Patrick says, super annoyed. You all laugh it out and continue with downing the delicious wine, a perfect way to end the evening.

 

An AI with a sense of humour, that’s the future folks, I’m telling you. But in any case, today’s expression is quite an interesting one, mentioning some guy, unknown of his existence to you or your conversation partner, to reduce levels of frustration, anger or irritation. So why do we need to consider the purpose or wellbeing of some stranger?

 

What is the origin to the expression, “for Pete’s sake”?

 

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Most of this information was obtained from various articles discussing the origin to this expression. All sources will be mentioned in the description.

 

It’s interesting how we often look towards imaginative language when we are in a heated state. This can be due to annoyance, boredom, madness, revenge and the like. It seems almost human nature to be provocative at these times of high emotional activity, dispensing this energy to describe and visualize images of objects or people.

 

Provocation has no sympathy for the topics of these expressions, particularly in stressful situations. We often look to blame someone, anything, for the torment we momentarily endure. In these situations, its common for us in Westernized countries to bring up religion, perhaps due to the history behind our ancestors. “God dammit” “Jesus Christ” “Good lord” “Oh my god”, these expressions are used so frequently that their subjects must at some point have said “Dude, it ain’t my fault.” On a side note, that last example is also confusingly used during many pleasurable situations as well.

 

And this is certainly not proper, not respecting a society or organization that so many people devoutly believe in. Therefore, we, and I really mean them, thought about making these expressions more, bearable, more euphemistic, so that our ears don’t have to tolerate such destructive language, sayings that go against one of the 10 Commandments of Abrahamic religions, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain”.

 

There’s a lot of expressions like this, and some I’ve even covered in previous episodes. Passing away, put to sleep, letting you go, friendly fire, living on the streets, you can understand that a lot of these involve death, losing employment or shelter, sugarcoating the reality for us to swallow the concept.

 

Today’s expression does just that from a religious standpoint. Perhaps you’ve heard your Christian colleague say “Oh for Pete’s sake!” when they were trying to connect to the Wi-Fi, or when your conservative roommate accidentally stubbed their toe on the door. Actually, would one ever intentionally stub their toe on a door?

 

According to the Oxford English Dictionary and reported by outlets like USA Today, Reader’s Digest and Writing Explained, “For Pete’s sake” is a euphemism first recorded in 1903 that substitutes God or Christ in the previously mentioned sayings during exasperation. “For God’s sake” “For the love of Christ” and “in the name of God” could all be replaced with “for Pete’s sake” “For the love of Pete” and “in the name of Pete”.

 

This particular substitute caught on. It beat other similar expressions, such as the usage of heaven, pity and even another name like Mike. There’s even a known holiday celebrating the expression, accepted by McGraw Hills’ “Chase’s Calendar of Events” and has been occurring over the last 20 years. It is celebrated every 26th of February, along with other euphemisms that help substitute expressions with disrespectful language.

 

Now I know what you are thinking now… Who is Pete and why him? The consensus seems to be that Pete is a reference to St. Peter, one of Jesus’ 12 Apostles and noted as the one guarding the Pearly Gates with the “keys to the kingdom”. Due to its substitution for the more highly regarded God or Jesus Christ, perhaps this is correct. However no evidence that concretely points to this exists. Why not one of the other 12 Apostles, like St. Andrew, St. Thomas or St. Matthew? Maybe because they aren’t the ones blocking you from stepping into paradise.

 

There is another theory. Mentioned in a blog posted on Sporcle, the phrase could be a stronger alternative for the less frequently used “for pity’s sake”. The sake of pity would literally mean for the purpose of feeling bad for one’s misfortune, and therefore one could have replaced pity with a similar sounding name, like Pete, which still holds for a substitute against sacrilegious words. This theory would certainly not invoke as much “omph” as in the interest of St. Peter, you know, the one who decides whether you rest in eternal paradise or rot in damnation.

 

And that seems to the most credible origin story to the expression “for Pete’s sake”. A euphemism that calls upon St. Peter in order to showcase bitterness towards negative occurrences. But, in a respectable way!

 

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For the science segment of this episode, I would like to discuss a potentially controversial article published in Scientific American as recently as February of this year (I know it’s not recent but part of the hundreds of saved articles in my Pocket App I am sifting through). The title of the article is The Cancer Industry: Hype vs. Reality. The link to the article will be in the description. 

 

Side note, remember February 2020 of this year? Truly simpler times indeed.

 

Now I say controversial because there is this perception out there that research on human disease is so benevolent and inspiring. And in fact it is. Cancer is the leading cause of death in Canada, responsible for 30% of all deaths followed by cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory diseases, and accidents. This statistic does need some updating, 

as it seems that these come from before 2015, and the most recent statistics I could find were from 2017. In 2013, 55,000 Canadians, excluding Quebec residents, died from cancer.

 

And the nobility in working in oncology, the study of cancer, has been engrained within us since we were kids. Remember, at least those that were interested in becoming a scientist, doctor or nurse, wanted to help solve the “cure for cancer”? Perhaps still to this day, kids are encouraged to find the one cure for Cancer and save millions of people around the world. I remember when I was little, and I promise you I had this exact thought, that maybe the answer to curing cancer is something very simple, like adding chocolate to your diet. I mean, it hasn’t been completely disproven, though studies have mixed results on the Chocolate Cure.

 

But back to the article. It was written by John Horgan, a science journalist from the US who writes for many established outlets like National Geographic, Scientific American and The New York Times. According to his Wikipedia page, he is best known for his book, The End of Science, that circles around the unfortunate limitations science has, well, put on itself, regarding the limits of speed and the uncertainty at the quantum scale. 

 

Now with that in mind, the article casts a lens on the “huge industrial complex involving government agencies, pharmaceutical and biomedical firms, hospitals and clinics, universities, professional societies, non-profit foundations and media”. In the US, costs for cancer care have “surged 40% in the last decade, and [projected] to $175 billion [at the end of] 2020.”

 

Cancer researchers in both academia, government and industry alike have raved about the progress seen in combatting this horrible disease. The article sites a 2016 study in which “cancer experts and the media often describe new treatments with terms such as breakthrough, game changer, miracle, cure, home-run, revolutionary…” Etc. This is Marketing Class 101, and of course these sorts of adjectives are used in all sorts of scientific disciplines to hype up research findings. But cancer is a whole other marketing scheme. A 2014 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine Journal reported that centers “frequently promote cancer therapy with emotional appeals that evoke hope and fear while rarely providing information about risks, benefits, costs or insurance availability.”

 

Is that true? Are these new treatments really breakthroughs in the complex puzzle we’ve named cancer? Think about what a breakthrough in GENERAL cancer would actually mean. For the exact same reason why I think it’s foolish to continue the dream of “the cure of cancer”, a breakthrough in general cancer would require some sort of targeted therapy to stop cell division, preventing the formation of unstable masses of cells and its dangerous travel to important places in the human body. Already, that requires breakthroughs in human genetics, cell biology, biophysics, organic chemistry, metabolism, immunology… the list goes on and on. 

 

In my own experience, I have this perception that all biomedical research can be somehow tied with cancer. In previous labs I’ve worked in, a way to spin the significance of one’s work was to include biomedical relevance, and that always seemed to include cancer. Cancer is like the last enigma of one of the most difficult challenges in human history. 

 

So what sort of miracle (which is, first of all, an interesting word choice to describe scientific findings) have researchers found with the millions to billions of dollars in annual funding? Horgan states, “research has linked cancer to many internal and external factors, notably oncogenes, hormones, viruses, carcinogens and random cellular replication errors.” With this new light, big pharma continue to push regulatory agencies for novel drug approvals. Authors of a 2017 report published in JAMA showing that most cancer drug approvals have been shown to or do not improve clinically relevant endpoints, are worried that “[approved drugs] do not improve overall survival”.

 

These mainly concern pharmaceuticals. More recently, researchers have discovered the potential benefits of using immunotherapies, or interventions that help a patient’s own immune system, for detecting and destroying cancer cells. The 2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine went to Drs. Tasuku Honjo and James Allison for their immunological work, leading to novel immunotherapy platforms that help fight against the worst types of cancer.

 

These immunotherapies, though still in their infancy, are highly marketed despite there being little to no evidence of it working on certain types of cancer. In fact, oncologists Drs. Nathan Gay and Vinay Prasad “estimated that fewer than 10% of cancer patients can benefit from immune therapies.” In fact, their report estimates that almost 70% of cancer deaths in the US that could be treated with immunotherapy drugs have no evidence that immunotherapy will work. Not to mention they “trigger severe side effects, are expensive, and could bankrupt the American health care system” if widely prescribed.

 

Horgan shifts to another process of the cancer empire, testing. Perhaps there are game-changing findings in the detection for cancer, so as to prevent it from literally growing out of control. There doesn’t seem to be, however tests have become more frequent. This in turn “has led to widespread over-diagnosis. […] Over-diagnosis leads in turn to unnecessary chemotherapy, radiation and surgery.” This has been repeated by groups such as the Cochrane Collaboration, an international association of experts that assess medical procedures, and the nonprofit medical group, NNT, in which people will be treated unnecessarily, or that people will experience psychological distress from false positives. Despite this logically being true, as its unfortunate that there are no ways of getting around false-positives with increased numbers of tests being conducted other than perhaps increasing the accuracy of said tests, it seems to me that this is an unfortunate negative outcome to an otherwise important practice we all should be supporting.

 

Perhaps I’m wrong though. Does early detection actually prevent people from dying of cancer, or prolong the life of someone who has it? Two 2015 studies showed that 1) for asymptomatic patients, there are no reductions in all-cause mortality (this includes death caused by the diagnosis itself and the consequences of dangerous interventions) from tests for breast, prostate, colon, lung, cervix, mouth or ovarian cancers, and 2) that people (those that definitely have cancer) generally do not live longer as a result of early detection. This, which I do believe is important but not talked about, leads to “[simply] living longer with a diagnosis of cancer, with all its harmful emotional, economic and physiological consequences.”

 

The solution, the article concludes with, is the notion of conservative cancer medicine. Explained in a manifesto titled “The Case for Being a Medical Conservative”, medical professionals with this mentality will happily adopt new therapies “when the benefit is clear and the evidence strong and unbiased.” Horgan states that “Conservative cancer medicine, as I envision it, would engage in less testing, treatment, fear-mongering, military-style rhetoric and hype.” And while medical professionals cannot halt the excessive marketing schemes pushed by the business side of cancer, they can inform patients about the information available and their overall understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of all relevant options.

 

Others like myself, accepting the likelihood of future diagnosis due to real genetic, environmental and scientific breakthroughs, painfully await for that day to come. And if it does, I hope that the professionalism of doctors and scientists shines through the manipulative language to directly tell me what will best work for my condition. There is no one cure for cancer, but let’s be aware that there are certainly many people trying to take a fraction of the money going into these novel therapies.

 

Thanks for listening to this episode of… Metaphorigins. Remember to rate and subscribe for more episodes and to follow the podcast on Instagram for updates on the next draw. But until then, stay skeptical but curious.

 

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