Cynicism is no stranger to us here on the Science light desk. Indeed it has become a close and valued ally. A comforting mental overcoat, arming us for the oh-so-smug task of gently mocking some entirely innocent and well meaning research.
The thing about cynicism is that it can be seductive. It quickly becomes easier to dismiss out of hand some prima facie peculiar research rather than engage fully with its implications. However – like many things that have an air of seductiveness – it does tend to leave its mark. If not kept in check it can warp your outlook to the point where thought processes are bent double – gollam-esque – leaving you desperately hunting for jeer-worthy flaws in all that you survey.
It is a trap that we very nearly fell into once again this month. Forgivable – almost – given the piece of research that awoke our lightly sleeping inner cynic was entitled: The effect of clowning on pregnancy rates after in vitro fertilization and embryo transfer.
That’s right – clowning. Clowning – an occupation otherwise reserved for children’s birthday parties, big tops and horror films – is rapidly infiltrating the ranks of medicine. And the real prod in the side of our cynic came in the form of the following sentence: Medical clowning as an adjunct to IVF-ET may have a beneficial effect on pregnancy rates and deserves further investigation.
Medical clowning? Cue an explosion of cartoon-like eyes on stalks as the realisation hit the science lite desk that the discipline of japing around in a hospital is so established that it is actually called medical clowning. What future circus based medical therapies await we thought? Lion tamer therapy for the depressed? Juggling for diabetics? Will GP’s soon be prescribing a strict regimen of acrobatics to eczema sufferers?
However, it was at the point of actually reading the study – the downfall of many a wry attack on a piece of research – where we had to gently coax the cynic back into the dark cave from whence it came.
The study, led by Dr Shevach Friedler of the Infertility and IVF unit at Assaf Harofeh Medical Center, in Israel, tracked 219 women undergoing IVF treatment and, over a period of a year, treated half of them to a medical clown’s 15-minute routine of jokes, magic tricks and other clowning immediately after their embryos were implanted.
Friedler – who is also trained in movement and mime – reports that 36.4% of women exposed to clowning immediately after embryo transfer became pregnant, while only 20.2% of the controls became pregnant. The reason for this, claims Friedler, was probably because the clowning reduced the stress of what for many was many years of gruelling IVF treatments.
Hmmm – the response of our inner cynic now looked shamefully excessive. And on further investigation it seems that medical clowning has been used successfully in many clinical situations – and has been doing so in every state in Australia, the USA, Canada, Israel and all over Europe.
So, to the medical clowns of the world we salute you. Any initial instinct to ridicule clearly came from a rapidly germinating seed of jealousy – after all what better way to spend your day than clowning around whilst helping those in need.