This message displays if you try to access any of the locked subreddits. Photo: reddit.
Show Hide image

Reddit rebellion: huge chunks of the site have gone down following a staff member’s departure

Victoria Taylor, administrator of the popular "Ask me Anything" section, has left the site under mysterious circumstances.

Reddit is in revolt. This week, Victoria Taylor, director of talent and coordinator of the site's popular "Ask me Anything" (r/IAmA) subreddit, left Reddit, apparently against her will. In response, a group of the site's coordinators have pulled the shades on some of the site's most popular sections.

The link-sharing site - called the "front page of the internet" so often it's bordering on cliché - relies on its team of volunteer moderators, who run and curate its various subreddits. This, as it turns out, has its downsides: moderators of a swathe of subreddits, including Books, Gaming, Movies and Music set them at "private" last night, meaning they're now inaccessible to users. (You can see the full list, along with updates on their current status, here.) 

The furore follows hot on the tails of another revolt last month, this time among users rather than moderators. The site banned five offensive subreddits, including "r/fatpeoplehate" and several anti-trans threads, and in response, many users flocked to competitor site Voat in search of an uncensored browsing experience. 

It's not clear why Taylor, who went by the username chooter, was let go - she wrote in response to one user that she was "dazed" by what had happened. (Amusingly, an unknown user responded by paying for her "Reddit gold" premium membership, thereby handing over money to her ex-employer) . However, rumours abound that she objected to proposed attempts to monetise r/IAmA by, for example, launching video webchats with the well-known celebrities who agree to be interviewed by users on the subreddit. 

According to the GuardianAlex Ohanian, co-founder of the site, has now posted in a private forum for volunteer moderators in an attempt to quell the uprising: 

The communication between Reddit and the moderators needs to improve dramatically. We will work closely with you all going forward to ensure events like today don’t happen again.”

Spare a thought, too, for the news sites who rely on Reddit for a constant stream of recycled viral content - wedding videos, cool pictures of dogs and questionable sexual anecdotes will slow to a trickle on newsfeeds today. Let's hope, for all our sakes, that the site can work through its internal disputes. 

 

Now listen to Barbara discussing Reddit's rebellion on the NS podcast:

Barbara Speed is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman and a staff writer at CityMetric.

Davide Restivo at Wikimedia Commons
Show Hide image

Scientists have finally said it: alcohol causes cancer

Enough of "linked" and "attributable": a new paper concludes that alcohol directly causes seven types of cancer.

I don't blame you if you switch off completely at the words "causes cancer". If you pay attention to certain publications, everything from sunbeds, to fish, to not getting enough sun, can all cause cancer. But this time, it's worth listening.

The journal Addiction has published a paper that makes a simple, yet startling, claim: 

"Evidence can support the judgement that alcohol causes cancer of the oropharynx [part of the throat], larynx, oesophagus, liver, colon, rectum and [female] breast"

So what's especially significant about this? 

First, scientists, unlike journalists, are very wary of the word "causes". It's hard to ever prove that one action directly led to another, rather than that both happened to occur within the same scenario. And yet Jennie Connor, author of the paper and professor in the Preventive and Social Medicine department at the University of Otago, New Zealand, has taken the leap.

Second, alcohol not only causes cancer of one kind – the evidence supports the claim that it causes cancer at seven different sites in our bodies. There was weaker evidence that it may also cause skin, prostate and pancreatic cancer, while the link between mouth cancers and alcohol consumption was the strongest. 

What did we know about alcohol and cancer before?

Many, many studies have "linked" cancer to alcohol, or argued that some cases may be "attributable" to alcohol consumption. 

This paper loooks back over a decade's worth of research into alcohol and cancer, and Connor concludes that all this evidence, taken together, proves that alcohol "increases the incidence of [cancer] in the population".

However, as Connor notes in her paper, "alcohol’s causal role is perceived to be more complex than tobacco's", partly because we still don't know exactly how alcohol causes cancer at these sites. Yet she argues that the evidence alone is enough to prove the cause, even if we don't know exactly how the "biologial mechanisms" work. 

Does this mean that drinking = cancer, then?

No. A causal link doesn't mean one thing always leads to the other. Also, cancer in these seven sites was shown to have what's called a "dose-response" relationship, which means the more you drink, the more you increase your chances of cancer.

On the bright side, scientists have also found that if you stop drinking altogether, you can reduce your chances back down again.

Are moderate drinkers off the hook?

Nope. Rather devastatingly, Connor notes that moderate drinkers bear a "considerable" portion of the cancer risk, and that targeting only heavy drinkers with alcohol risk reduction campaigns would have "limited" impact. 

What does this mean for public health? 

This is the tricky bit. In the paper, Connor points out that, given what we know about lung cancer and tobacco, the general advice is simply not to smoke. Now, a strong link proven over years of research may suggest the same about drinking, an activity society views as a bit risky but generally harmless.

Yet in 2012, it's estimated that alcohol-attributable cancers killed half a million people, which made up 5.8 per cent of cancer deaths worldwide. As we better understand the links between the two, it's possible that this proportion may turn out to be a lot higher. 

As she was doing the research, Connor commented:

"We've grown up with thinking cancer is very mysterious, we don't know what causes it and it's frightening, so to think that something as ordinary as drinking is associated with cancer I think is quite difficult."

What do we do now?

Drink less. The one semi-silver lining in the study is that the quantity of alcohol you consume has a real bearing on your risk of developing these cancers. 

On a wider scale, it looks like we need to recalibrate society's perspective on drinking. Drug campaigners have long pointed out that alcohol, while legal, is one of the most toxic and harmful drugs available  an argument that this study will bolster.

In January, England's chief medical officer Sally Davies introduced some of the strictest guidelines on alcohol consumption in the world, and later shocked a parliamentary hearing by saying that drinking could cause breast cancer.

"I would like people to take their choice knowing the issues," she told the hearing, "And do as I do when I reach for my glass of wine and think... do I want to raise my risk of breast cancer?"

Now, it's beginning to look like she was ahead of the curve. 

Barbara Speed is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman and a staff writer at CityMetric.