Edward Davies: BMJ research, Welsh rugby, and a papal death

Edward DaviesThe life of a researcher seems to me to be a thankless task. Most research concludes that more research is needed on pretty much any given subject in pretty much the whole world. I have long looked forward to the BMJ paper that concludes: “We can close the book on this. It is now a fact.”

And this weekend, as I watched the denouement of a glorious six nations rugby tournament, so it came to pass…

Oh how we laughed when, in the 2008 Christmas edition of the BMJ, we published a paper about the link between Welsh rugby performance and papal death. The retrospective observational study of historical Vatican and sporting data concluded that “there was weak statistical evidence to support an association between Welsh performance and the number of papal deaths.” Simply speaking when Wales get a Grand Slam, the pope should watch himself. How could this be? Surely just coincidence?

And so as this weekend’s thumping and glorious win against the beleaguered Frenchies unfolded, I did cast a slight glance towards Rome, but with little expectation. And of course Rome was unmoved. Pope Benedict the Nth was in rude health as he enjoyed the humiliation of Scotland at the hands of the Azzurri in Rome. And it was pretty humiliating.

One glorious Welsh victory, no papal deaths, one BMJ paper down the crapper.

Or so I thought.

Imagine my amazement then when I read this the next day: Coptic Christian Pope Shenouda III has died at the age of 88.

That’s right. As the inimitable fullback Lee Halfpenny was busy icing the glorious Grand Slam cake, the pope WAS dying. As Wales were covering themselves in glory (have I already mentioned how glorious it was?), they were seeing Pope Shenouda III to glory.

Case closed as far as I’m concerned. And why was I surprised given the obvious links between Wales and God.

There is, however, a sting in this tale/tail. When Wales conquered Europe in 2008 it was a culminating achievement for a team reaching its zenith. But this year’s Grand Slam contained just a handful of survivors from that year – now the team is captained by a 23 year old in Sam Warburton, marshaled by the baby-faced Priestland at stand-off, and flanked by near or actual teenagers on the wings. There will be more to come from this bunch. While the BMJ’s research team can bathe in the glory of this almost indefinitely (probably), for European rugby and the world’s pontiffs there could be some tough years ahead.

Conflict of interest: None. Clearly. Any neutral with a name like Davies can see how glorious the Grand Slam was.

Edward Davies is editor, BMJ Careers