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Hunchback Quasimodo has a real-life disease

Published Jul. 9, 1996|Updated Sep. 16, 2005

In Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Quasimodo has a back deformity from birth. But what it is?

The proper term for his condition is kyphosis, a spinal disorder that causes a person to appear to have a hump. The spine bends, usually because of degeneration of the discs of the spine or the spacing between them.

Such a bent-over appearance is more common in older women and results from osteoporosis, a disease where bone mass is lost, causing fractures and curving of the spine. But as the movie shows, children can be born with the problem, although it is rare. Also, adolescents can show signs of kyphosis, especially during periods of rapid growth. Various bone diseases, infections, arthritis and even poor posture can lead it.

It is a disease that can cause extreme physical pain and leave a person open to the taunts of thoughtless people. But unlike Quasi, many children with kyphosis can be helped. A back brace, exercise and surgery involving rods can help minimize the curve.

Disney's artists say they tried to portray Quasi as "deformed but not disabled. Being bent over was a metaphor for his wanting to hide," according to James Baxter, who supervised the movie's animation.

The truth is out there

To show we are not thin-skinned, we offer this:

"The media have now virtually replaced schools, colleges and universities as the main source of information for the general public . . . the irresponsibility of the media in the area of science and the paranormal is a worldwide problem. But it especially applies to the United States, where the media have been distorting science, and in particular presenting pseudoscience as genuine science. Indeed, we are appalled by the number of "documentaries,' which are really entertainment programs, presenting fringe science as real science."

That comes from Paul Kurtz, chairman of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal and coordinator of a newly formed Council for Media Integrity.

I was willing to let the shots pass until I read the next paragraph of the news release in which he criticizes television shows _ including The X-Files! That's going too far. Remember, as they say in the show, trust no one.

Discovering other media

Each Monday on the online Cool Site of the Day (, there's a link devoted to knowledge. Last week's connected to the Knot Square (http://www.cs.ubc. ca/nest/imager/ contributions/scharein /KnotSquare.html), which is about mathematics and knots. It's complicated, but fun to view . . . Is it a show made for Florida? Trailer Park, a new series on the Sci-Fi Channel, premiered this weekend and will be shown Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. and Sundays at 11 p.m. It isn't about mobile homes, but a show devoted to "the very best parts of the movies" _ the coming attractions or "trailers" from classic science fiction movies . . . If my story on this page about genetic testing interests you, you might want to get Breakthrough: The Race to Find the Breast Cancer Gene (John Wiley & Sons, $24.95) by Kevin Davies and Michael White. It's about the researchers who isolated the BRCA-1 gene.

Compiled from wire reports and other sources. Contact John A. Cutter at the Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731. Fax: (813) 892-2327; e-mail:


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