Friday, 18 December 2009

Satire or not? [updated]

Update 2 PM: I'd updated to 95% chance spoof on noticing the "Santa studies" line; we now have confirmation that it is indeed pure spoof. Email copied at the end.

If I had to bet, I'd say 75% chance that the healthist anti-Santa article is satire.
Infectious disease vector

A quick perusal through the Victorian infectious diseases surveillance records shows no notifications of infectious disease outbreaks associated with kissing Santa. Although there were no cases of infectious mononucleosis ("kissing disease") associated with Santa, there have been numerous foodborne viral and salmonella outbreaks associated with Christmas parties. Santa was not named as a suspected point source.

Surveillance programmes do not routinely collect data on Santa exposure but, temporally at least, Santa is potentially a point source for infectious diseases outbreaks. The grey literature documents clear basic hygiene issues arising from interactions with Santa. One survey found that "Santa is sneezed or coughed on up to 10 times a day."13 The potential for Santa in his asymptomatic phase to propagate an infectious disease is clear. Unsuspecting little Johnny gets to sit on Santa’s lap, but as well as his present he gets H1N1 influenza. Santa continues on his merry way and gives the present to a few more 100 kids before coming down with influenza himself. This then becomes a contact tracer’s nightmare.


Santa studies is a developing field in public health, and currently there is a disappointing lack of rigorous research on the effect of Santa on public health. More targeted research is required before authorities might take action to regulate Santa’s activities. This research should particularly focus on the ability of Santa to encourage unhealthy behaviour; the use of Santa in advertising to kids; and the infectious disease risk of Santa impersonators.

We need to be aware that Santa has an ability to influence people, and especially children, towards unhealthy behaviour. Given Santa’s universal appeal, and reasoning from a population health perspective, Santa needs to affect health by only 0.1% to damage millions of lives. We propose a new image for Santa to ensure that his influence on public health is a positive one.
It starts off sounding standard healthist, but then goes far enough over the top that it's gotta be satire. It is satire, right? It's so hard to tell these days. A piece 40 years ago advocating banning smoking in public outdoor places would have been seen as satire too though.

Place your votes in the comments if you like. I'll try emailing the author to find out.

Update 2PM: The author replies (most of which I'd guess is boilerplate after fielding many many queries):
Hi Eric,

Most of the 'Santa- A public Health Pariah' article is meant to be tongue-in-cheek. It's a Christmas spoof. It's supposed to be spreading a bit of Christmas cheer, but with a tinge of seriousness to provoke a bit of healthy Christmas dinner table conversation. The BMJ Christmas edition is a special edition with much humour.

Unfortunately, the article has spread like wildfire but it has lost a bit of the Christmas cheer element. I describe the article like belief in Santa. There is a little bit of truth and every person has to decide how much they believe. The media perhaps believed a little too much...probably because they had only read media release and not the article. The BMJ article is clearly ludicrous.

I am a Santa believer and lover! I have donned the red and white garb a number of times to bring cheer at school concerts in rural Victoria. I believe in the true meaning of Santa. The true Santa, Saint Nicholas, was a very generous man who gave of all his wealth to bless others who were in need. This was a reflection of one of the greatest gifts given to humanity: the baby Jesus.

We need to reclaim Christmas for the beauty of giving and loving. It is definitely not about alcohol companies and coke cola exploiting Santa's selling power! Santa was never accepted the job as chief sales consultant for a tobacco company.

I received much correspondence accusing me of wasting 10 years of university education and bringing the academic institution to shame! To clarify I am not a Santa researcher. The article was written in my spare time for a bit of comic relief. My heart lies in doing charity work in India and research in partnership with the Nossal Institute of Global Health. Interestingly this reflects the work of true St Nic. We help to bring the gift of improved health to people in need. It would be great if the media were to care as much about my 'real' work as about a fantastical Santa article.

Ho ho ho! Merry Christmas!
Nathan (AKA Scrooge)


  1. Definite satire: "Unsuspecting little Johnny gets to sit on Santa’s lap, but as well as his present he gets H1N1 influenza". I lol'd.

  2. The "Santa studies is a developing field" put it up to 95% sure on satire.

    But it's so hard to tell these days, especially if you read enough of the stuff coming out of Otago at Wellington's School of Public Health...