Political satire - Beyond the Humor

WHN photo

mostly fictitious ways
Introduction by:
Dr. Dana Devine, Graduate Studies Program Director


Some of you may not yet have had the opportunity to meet Dr. Mark Scott. This is really a shame, and hopefully you’ll have the chance sometime, somewhere soon. In addition to his membership on the faculty of our department, Mark is also a senior scientist with Canadian Blood Services and a member of the UBC Centre for Blood Research. Mark is a very creative scientist and the inventor of ‘stealth red blood cells’ and ‘nose juice’ which share the idea of using polymers to block natural processes. In the case of stealth RBCs, a polymer coating allows the movement of small molecules while protecting the cells from antibodies against blood group antigens. Mark has also used polymers to interfere with viral infection in the case of nose juice, and immunomodulation.

But that is only the tip of the iceberg of Mark’s creative genius. Mark has a not so secret life as the author/editor of a satiric newsletter that pokes fun at public figures, especially the more outrageous American ones. Mark’s life as a published satirist has become much more interesting with the current White House tenant. Using his 3D printer, he has even printed a satirical statuette of the Orange Man himself. Enjoy the interview with Dr. Scott!

Clinical Professor - Senior Scientist
University of British Columbia - Canadian Blood Services
Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine - Centre for Innovation
Centre for Blood Research

I’ve published “The World Headline News” for 25 years (yes, 25 years) first in print then on the web; it is a satire site, usually political.

What is the World Headline News?

The World Headline News (WHN; www.thewhn.ca) is a hard-hitting investigative reporting (i.e., satire) site that I’ve published for over 25 years; first in print and then on the web. It has served as a creative (though that is clearly open to other interpretations) outlet for both my ‘artistic’ and ‘fine literature’ aspirations. As an undergraduate student, I was initially an art minor, until it became clear that I was a minor artist and, despite my desires to write fine literature, I found that my minor talents in that regard limited my potential. But, my ‘minor in Art’ and a ‘minor in Literature’ eventually ‘colluded’ to create the WHN. Did I mention I like Russian literature?

Do you write the WHN alone and how often does it publish?

I wish I could claim sole credit for the World Headline News, but today the most important person at the WHN is our Editor and Publisher, Mr. Ned Ander-Thal. I’ve known Ned his entire life…. he’s been alive for about 25 years and is my alter-ego/nom du plume. My choice of Ned Ander-Thal as contributor to the WHN in 1988 (Issue 12) was highly prescient as subsequent genetic testing in 2015 clearly shows my strong Neanderthal heritage. Ned and I try to do a WHN article about once a month. There is a “Subscribe” (and “Unsubscribe”) button at the top of the home page if people want to be notified via email that a new story has been published (there are no ads, no tracking, and no abuse of email addresses).

How did you become interested in political satire?

I think I’ve always been a satirist… Irony abounds in life and if you focus on it, irony makes you either a satirist or cynic, or potentially, if you are very unlucky like myself, both. I still have early WHN’ish history reports written in 6th grade to attest to this. But Watergate is where my interest in political satire really began. My senior English literature project was a “pictorial” expose on Nixon, Watergate and the Watergate hearings. Nixon resigned a few months following my report and I like to think that it was because of my ‘in-depth expose’ .

Tell us about your process. Where do you capture ideas?

As to what inspires the WHN’s exclusive photos and stories, I have no clear idea. I see something in the news, or a random thought occurs, that leads to a series of neuronal misfires. These adverse events coupled with my classical education (3 Stooges, MAD Magazine, gangster movies, science fiction, and a strong academic background and interest in history) leads to an idea. For example, the classic 1931 American gangster movie “Little Caesar” and Donald Trump just seemed natural together (https://www.thewhn.ca/whn-exclusives/little-caesar.html): “Bone spurs could not stop him, could the F.B.I.?”

What are your favorite pieces from WHN and where do the ideas come from?

My favorite part of the WHN has always been our ‘exclusive photos’ – usually taken by Ned Ander-Thal. I’m a bit of a computer nerd and that coupled with my ‘minor art talent’ led to my very early abuse of Photoshop (Version 2.0; 1991). I usually create the photo first and then build the story around it. I have several favorite photos from over the years, Bill Clinton’s New Limousine, Dick Cheney as Gollum (Lord of the Rings), Obama’s high school basketball team (teammates included several nefarious individuals), the infamous El Bandido Hillary Clinton, and Trump… lots of Trump. There appears to be no limits to the inspiration that Mr. Trump provides.

Did you want to write before you became a research scientist or was it your experience as a research scientist that inspired you to start writing?

I’ve always enjoyed creative writing. From elementary school through university I always found ways, or took courses, that allowed me to write; usually with a satirical bent. As a young investigator at a research institute in California I started the WHN as a way to abuse Photoshop and to right (or is that write) the ills afflicting my institution. In fact, after accepting a faculty position at a university, my formal resignation letter to the research institution was Issue 3 of the WHN (available in the archives). I remain good friends with the former (not my fault!) Director of the research institute.

In what ways does writing help you do research and if you could communicate one thing to medical or Ph.D. students about the value of art, as a researcher, what would you want to say?

I ‘ve always believed that creativity in any one area can help with creativity in other areas. With regard to research, I’ve always believed that good cooks often make some of the best research technicians and scientists. Similarly, reading can help teach you story telling (i.e., you need a good plot, character development, and continuity) and help you ‘passively’ learn to write.” . Research and science writing is, in essence, story telling. A good grant, paper, seminar or research project needs to tell a story with a (hopefully) happy ending. Sometimes the spirit of the WHN enters my scientific writing. The WHN influence was most pronounced in the prologue of a 1997 book chapter on markers of free radical-mediated tissue injury that I co-authored: On a soft and cloudless summer morning in southern Georgia, Marvin ('Skeeter') Phelps - driving his trusty 1969 Chevrolet pick-up truck - accidentally runs over one of the largest raccoons in Macon County. Forty-eight hours later, the dead raccoon is discovered by Clive Fairlamb, state forensic oxidologist, who is looking for cases of the dread Oxidative Encephalitis Virus (OEV). Clive's roadside brain biopsy, upon later testing for malonyldialdehyde, shows signs of massive brain oxidation. Clive alerts the Communicable Diseases Center (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia, that an epidemic of OEV is underway in Macon County. Eight months of investigation by an extraordinarily clever team of CDC scientists leads to the discovery of a tire print on the dead raccoon, suggesting vehicle - rather than virus - as cause of death. For his part in initiating this massive bogus investigation, Clive Fairlamb loses his job as the state forensic oxidologist.
    There are three morals to this story:
  1. Dead meat oxidizes.
  2. Dead material which is oxidized did not necessarily die of oxidation.
  3. When engaging in forensic oxidology, beware the 1969 Chevrolet pick-up truck.*
_____________ *The original version of this familiar aphorism is to be found, of course, in the I Ching. IN: Scott, M.D. and Eaton, J.W. Markers of Free Radical-Mediated Tissue Injury. In: Free Radical Toxicology (Wallace, K.B., ed) Taylor & Francis, Washington D.C., pgs. 401-420(1997).

Do you have any other creative outlets?

I read a fair number of novels and am a student of history. Over the last couple of years I’ve read, and very much enjoyed, the ‘Bernie Gunther’ novels by Philip Kerr. The novels originate in 1930s Germany just as Hitler is coming to power and do an exceptional job of conveying the sociological changes occurring consequent to Nazism. The parallels to today's world, with the rise of nationalistic policies (especially in the US; my native country) is at times unnerving. I also have become enamored with 3D printing. Indeed, in contest for WHN readers, the WHN had a drawing for a custom Cheeto Orange 3D Trump Bust pencil holder that I printed. Dr. Maria Issa within Pathology was the (hopefully) proud recipient.