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Mayan Apocalypse Dooms Medical Research

You may have heard about the Mayan apocalypse, said to bring the end of the world on Dec. 21, 2012. But have you considered how this so-called doomsday will affect the life's work of clinical scientists?

Of course not. You're probably too busy building your underground bunker. But University of Ottawa researchers have it all figured out. The death of the human race is going to wreak havoc on clinical trial statistics, they say — though there is an unexpected finding of a potential "zombie repopulation."

In case you haven't guessed, this new research is firmly tongue-in-check. As part of the Canadian Medical Association Journal's lighthearted Christmas issue, oncologist Paul Wheatley-Price and his colleagues wrote about a "study" considering the effect of a world-ending doomsday on medical clinical trials, which are research studies with strict guidelines meant to test the safety and effectiveness of a treatment or device on humans.

The conclusion? Mayan Doomsday "is bad," say the authors. The obliteration of the human race is going to make it very tough to see a difference in survival in people recieving experimental treatments versus those who aren't. [2012 Mayan Apocalypse (Not): Full News & Coverage]

"If the world's going to come to an end, you won't have time to see the difference, 'cause it will all just fall apart," Wheatley-Price told LiveScience.

The doomsday fears and excitement behind the clinical trial "study" stem from two ancient texts — one a calendar inscription referring to the coming of a god and the other an inscription linking a king to the Mayan Long Count Calendar — found in Central America and dating back to the heyday of the Mayan Empire. In neither text were apocalyptic predictions made. When westerners examined the Mayan calendar and the inscriptions, they mixed in their own end-of-the-world mythology, much of it stemming from Christianity, and created a new legend, according to University of Kansas Maya scholar John Hoopes.

Wheatley-Price and his coauthors decided to examine the effects of the Mayan apocalypse on clinical trials after plans for other crucial experiments, such as whether clean desks are linked to productivity, fell through.

"Oddly, despite censoring for major known sources of bias (e.g., astronauts currently aboard the International Space Station, as well as zombies, the undead, the Grateful Dead, Dungeons and Dragons players, men who have read Fifty Shades of Grey and other similar beings likely to be unaffected by the apocalypse), the obliteration group does not fall to 0," the researchers wrote. "We have dubbed this slow rise in the obliteration curve the 'zombie repopulation.'"

The researchers recommend that given the coming doomsday, all clinical trials be canceled immediately. Their exhaustive research can be found on the website of the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

As for Wheatley-Price, he has no special plans for Dec. 21 (or, for that matter, expectations that doomsday or zombies are in the future). If doomsday were really to come, he said, he doesn't know what he'd do.

"Probably have a drink," he said.

Follow Stephanie Pappas on Twitter @sipappas or LiveScience @livescience. We're also on Facebook & Google+.

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