Kell and McLeod can happen together, actually.

Doctors and scientists are, like everyone on earth,  a product of their culture and upbringing. There is no such thing as “objectivity”. It is a fantasy constructed by the delusion that facts are immutable. Well, absolute facts do exist, but the interpretation of them is always skewed because they are only viewed through the prism of culture, which will warp facts or make them look pink when they are blue. Beliefs about what is “true” and “normal” will always effect a researcher’s conclusions about his/her data. This happens in every field. No exceptions. Including the field of medical anthropology, which is devoted to figuring out how culture is effecting the science and practice of medicine.

The framework of beliefs about what is “known” is called the paradigm. Paradigms are very, very seldom challenged. Whenever they are challenged there is a huge kerfuffle and even if there is a “paradigm shift” in favor of the new facts/theories there will continue to be holdouts for the old paradigm for years. For example, there was a huge shift in the nineteenth century when scientists suddenly noticed that the earth was a bit older than a few thousand years. The evidence was always there; only the ability to suddenly “see” changed.

Oh, and every generation of scientists scoff at older paradigms and are certain that they are no experiencing similar collective myopia.

While I do not think that the Kell-McLeod theory about Henry VIII is paradigm shifting (unless he was exhumed and a DNA test proved it) in and of itself, I have noticed some paradigm-inspired blowback from non-historical areas. Mainly, that is the “fact” that Kell positive individuals CANNOT have McLeod syndrome because the Kell-1 antigen does not express in patients with McLeod syndrome.

This question actually came up when the theory was initially in peer-review for The Historical Journal, and a whopping great scientific answer was given by Dr. Whitley that satisfied the medical people on the review team (I have no idea who they were, because peer-review is usually “blind”). Now, other people who have learned from an authoritative source (probably med school) that Kell & McLeod cannot co-exist are pointing out this gaping hole in the theory.

Sometimes they are not polite about it. For example, a commenter named Robert posted on The Anne Boleyn files that “At the heart of this weird hypothesis is a profound misunderstanding of what K positive means and the Kx protien a related protein which is the basis of the Mcleod phenotype … K/k is a single amino acid variation in the KEL protein and had nothing to do with the Mcleod syndrome. If anything the K/k expression is less … Thw whole artifice collapses when the profound misunderstading of the genetics and pathophysiology of the Mcleod syndrome is properly reviewed.”

Actually, no. Turns out Dr. Whitley and myself did indeed have to do at least a little research before publishing the work in a prestigious academic journal. Who knew? I responded to him:

“To shorten down the debate, below is the link to an abstract from a 1983 article from a peer-reviewed journal entitled: “An individual with McLeod syndrome and the Kell blood group antigen K(K1).” The article discusses the first recorded instance of a “known K:1 person with McLeod syndrome”. It should be noted that K(K1) does not CAUSE McLeod; re “the Kell gene is unlikely to have any positive input into development of McLeod syndrome; its role is one of passive involvement in which its expression is modified.”

You can have K(K1) effecting pregnancies and the father still express McLeod syndrome because of variant Kell antigen expression.”

Because a person in authority told Robert that X was TRUE, he didn’t bother doing even a cursory Google search before deriding Y as “weird” and the result of a “profound misunderstanding”. The article I sited is THIRTY years old. It’s not cutting edge. It’s just ignored or “overlooked” because it does NOT match the paradigm of what is true.

Another dissenter in another venue had a much more rational, and germane, critique of the theory based on the probability that Henry VIII would have both. Gerald Smith pointed out “had Henry suffered from the McLeod syndrome, there would still have been an 80 per cent probability of his being genetically K-negative … A medical maxim aimed at curbing fanciful diagnoses reminds the clinician that common disorders account for the vast majority of ailments. The McLeod syndrome is extremely rare. Henry’s several problems as described by Whitley and Kramer would not put this diagnosis near the top of my list.”

This critique involved known data and was germane to the argument. Moreover, it was polite. The only way I can respond to this critique is the reminder that rare does not mean never and that famous people can get exotic illnesses as often as commoners. My father is a doctor and often he has caught an illness that has plagued a patient for decades but was not considered as a possibility by other physicians due to it’s extreme rarity. Most of the time cotton mouth and agonizingly dry eyes are the result of dehydration and allergies, but sometimes it is Sjogren’s syndrome.

Without DNA analysis, there is no way to prove or disprove if Henry had Kell/McLeod, so it quickly becomes a circular argument. Nevertheless, until the theory is conclusively shown to be true or false I am willing to go in a circle because I happen to believe it.

And I am a big fan of messing with paradigms.

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