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Jul. 21 2010 - 9:54 am | 941 views | 0 recommendations | 4 comments

Does Michael Wolff understand how to use Google?

Long ago, I established that Michael Wolff doesn’t know how to use Newser, the website he helped launch (and that I briefly freelanced for). But now I think we’re getting the picture that he doesn’t understand how to do basic Internet research.

Wolff’s daily column for Newser (why?), which also gets picked up by Vanity Fair (even more why!?) today notes that The Author has noticed all the young ladies about his neighborhood exposing their sexy tattoos. He then breathlessly warns them that they’ll never be able to get MRIs in the future. Why? Because tattoos, he writes, have metal in them:

Everywhere in the MRI unit are warning signs about tattoos. They’re made with metal apparently and the image resonance magnet pulls the metal right out of your skin, to excruciating effect. Do the tattooed know this? That their inner organs can’t be inspected?

If Wolff had bothered to do a tiny bit of fact-checking just before he hit publish (and maybe even before his assistant hit ’send’ on the daily mailing list), he could have just hit the ‘I’m feeling lucky’ button on Google. Then he would have received the following clear-eyed explanation of why metal in tattoos isn’t a problem for the young people with body art who he says don’t have jobs worth keeping. This is Karen Hudson at About.com:

How can you know if your tattoo contains metal? Well, there is no really easy way to know for sure unless you have access to a very high-powered metal detector. But don’t fret – if your tattoo was obtained within the past 20 years you are almost assured that this is not going to be an issue for you. Even if your tattoo is older than 20 years old, that doesn’t mean the ink absolutely contained metal. And even if it did contain metal, that does not mean you absolutely will have a problem with getting an MRI. If you find yourself at this juncture, it will be best for you to inform your doctor of your concerns and let them help you make an informed decision. Remember that there are always alternatives to MRI – people with pacemakers and metal implants (among other things) also have to find other diagnostic methods. Your doctor can help you decide if you might be at risk and, if so, what alternate options are available to you.

So, Mike, thanks for propagating Internet rumors. What’s next in your daily ‘column’? An explanation of how rhythmic coughing can save you from a heart attack? Will you share with us the Mrs. Fields cookie recipe on Friday? Etc. And if you are going to circulate things like this, can you at least keep them to 120 words like Newser writers do?


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  1. collapse expand

    According to the Mayo Clinic there are indeed potential worries with tattoos and MRIs, although Wolff exaggerated them.

    Generally, it’s safe to have magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) if you have tattoos. However, extra caution may be required.

    MRI is a diagnostic test that uses a magnetic field and radio waves to create detailed cross-sectional images of your body. Reports of burns in tattooed areas — particularly in dark black tattoos — during MRIs have been widely circulated. It’s unknown how often the problem occurs, however.

    Some researchers suspect that the burns are related to the iron oxide in dark tattoo ink. Iron oxide is potentially magnetic. It also conducts electricity. If the iron oxide is heated during an MRI, the affected area may be burned.

    According to the FDA:

    There have been reports of people with tattoos or permanent makeup who experienced swelling or burning in the affected areas when they underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). This seems to occur only rarely and apparently without lasting effects.

    While Wolff’s claim was exaggerated, your dismissal on the basis of some tattoo artist at About.com was also misinformed. Using Google is one thing; judging what’s an authoritative source is another.

    • collapse expand

      I read some other things, too, and went with the succinct explanation from the About.com ‘expert’ because I have some knowledge of, and thus faith in their editorial process.

      Meanwhile, Mayo and FDA refer to ‘reports’ and researchers’ ’suspicions’ – hardly settled science. In fact all of the above is consistent with Karen Hudson’s point about older tattoos. Wolff is leering at and than criticizing young women with tattoos who probably didn’t get them a long time ago when they used inks that were more likely to contain things like iron oxide.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  2. collapse expand

    I guess that means that the tattooed ones cannot be participants in the future MRI and PET scan tests on whether screen reading is inferior to reading on paper. The results will be interesting.MRI scan and PET scan studies of reading on paper vs reading on screens: coming soon! Iasked a well known PHD at X Uni about helping me:

    First, Dr X said

    Dear Dan
    We are not doing these kinds of MRI or PET scan studies on reading vs screening, and I do not know of others who might be doing them. Sorry not to be of any more help on this. Good luck in your quixotic quest.
    Dr X

    but then i asked him

    Hello Dr X

    If we commissioned you to do them, would you? Do you think it’s
    important to know this? Would such MRI studies or PET scans be
    with people reading from screens in the machines?

    I am a reporter in Taiwan, Tufts 1971, doing major major pioneering
    can you help?

    IF THE NEW YORK TIMES does the story I am working on, are you willing
    to be quoted for public?



    Dear Dan,

    I think we are quite busy now with other studies. The funding would be expensive to pull our group from other studies. It would take some ingenuity, but I think these MRI or PET scan kinds of studies are feasible.

    Dr X

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    I'm waiting for the day when I can get the news directly into my brain. Until then, I'll be lit up by the electric glow of screens, chasing the latest breaking like the hopeless news junkie I am. Ever since the Encyclopaedia Britannica tried to launch a web portal ten years ago, I've seen many ends of the online news spectrum, from my time as a political news reporter for both RawStory.com and the Huffington Post to the better part of a year I spent running the late New York Sun's website. There have been a lot of other stops in between. Now I am your homepage editorial overlord. But I haven't let it go to my head. Yet.

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