Monday, April 17, 2006

Top Ten Junk Science Stories of the Past Decade

By Steven J. Milloy. See the original for links

My web site celebrated its 10th anniversary on April 1, 2006. To mark the event, this column spotlights 10 big junk science stories of the last 10 years. In no particular order, they are:

1. The most toxic manmade chemical? That's what some called dioxin, a by-product of natural and industrial combustion processes and the "contaminant of concern" in the Vietnam-era defoliant known as Agent Orange. Billions of dollars have been spent studying and regulating dioxin, but debunking the scare only cost a few thousand dollars. Keying off Ben & Jerry's claim on its ice cream packages that "there is no safe exposure to dioxin," we tested Ben & Jerry's ice cream and found that a single serving contained about 200 times the dioxin that the Environmental Protection Agency says is "safe" - and who's afraid of Ben & Jerry's? Read more.

2. Dial "F" for Fear. Since the 1993 Larry King Live broadcast featuring a man suing a cell phone maker claiming his wife died from a cell phone-induced brain cancer, many cell phone users have worried about phone safety. But studies failed to identify any risk. The final blow to the scare came in 2002 when notorious trial lawyer Peter Angelos' $800 million lawsuit - alleging a Maryland physician's brain cancer was caused by cell phone use - was dismissed (like the 1993 suit) for lack of evidence. Read more.

3. Powerline scare unplugged. Fears that electric and magnetic fields (EMFs) created by power lines and appliances caused cancer started in 1978. Parents worried about power lines over schools. Consumers worried about electric blankets. Power companies worried about burying power lines. The National Academy of Sciences finally unplugged the scare in October 1996, concluding that no evidence showed EMFs presented a health hazard. Read more.

4. Hormone Hysterics. Tulane University researchers published a 1996 study claiming that combinations of manmade chemicals (pesticides and PCBs) disrupted normal hormonal processes, causing everything from cancer to infertility to attention deficit disorder. Media, regulators and environmentalists hailed the study as "astonishing." Indeed it was as it turned out to be fraud, according to an October 2001 report by federal investigators. Though the study was retracted from publication, the law it spawned wasn't and continues to be enforced by the EPA. Read more.

5. Secret Science? EPA air pollution rules issued in 1997 governing airborne particulate matter (soot) are estimated to cost $10 billion annually. The EPA claimed soot in ambient air causes tens of thousands of premature deaths every year. Congress asked the EPA to disclose the scientific data underlying the claims. EPA refused. A subsequently enacted law requiring that taxpayer-funded scientific data used to support regulation be made available to the public through the Freedom of Information Act has yet to be enforced. The EPA is preparing to make those very same rules even more stringent. Read more.

6. Obesity statistics lose weight. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention added to our bodyweight panic in 2004 by announcing that obesity kills 400,000 people annually, a number approaching the death toll attributed to smoking (440,000). Criticism of the estimate from CDC's own statisticians caused the agency in 2005 to back-off the estimate - adjusting it downward by 93 percent to 25,814 annual deaths. Read more.

7. `Ear-ie' biotech scare. "Who plays God in the 21st century?" captioned an Oct. 11, 1999 full-page ad in the New York Times attacking genetic engineering. Placed by a coalition including Greenpeace and the Sierra Club, the ad featured a photo of a shaved laboratory mouse with what looks like a human ear attached to its back. The caption stated, "This is an actual photo of a genetically engineered mouse with a human ear on its back." As it turned out, it wasn't a real ear and it had nothing to do with genetic engineering. A template in the shape of a human ear was seeded with human cartilage cells and surgically implanted on the back of a mouse. The cartilage cells grew into the ear-like structure. The technology's purpose is to help children who are either born without ears or who lose their ears through injury. Read more.

8. PETA: Milk drinking makes for future felons. With its web site repeatedly alluding to acts of animal cruelty committed in childhood as being predictors of adult criminality, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals sponsored an in-school curricula teaching children that eating meat and drinking milk constitutes "animal cruelty. PETA's "Milk-Stealing Ming," for example, was depicted with his mouth attached to an unhappy cow's udder, alongside a "wanted poster" describing his crimes and exclaiming, "cows make milk for their babies, not for maniacs like Ming." Read more.

9. Choking on chips. Swedish scientists alarmed us in April 2002 that cooking high-carbohydrate foods - like potatoes and bread - formed acrylamide, a substance linked with cancer in lab animals. But even if lab animals were reasonable predictors of cancer risk in humans - a notion yet to be validated - someone of average bodyweight would have to eat 35,000 potato chips (about 62.5 pounds) per day for life to get an equivalent dose of acrylamide as the lab animals. Read more.

10. The Mother of all junk science controversies. The most important junk science story of the last 10 years is global warming. Though climate varies naturally and ongoing climate change is within that natural variation, the global warming lobby seems bent on railroading us into economy-killing regulation.

The Kyoto Protocol is being ignored by its EU signatories. Global warmers admit that the drastic and impossible step of halting all greenhouse gas emissions would have no impact on climate. Sky-high energy prices threaten our economy. Yet many yearn for global warming regulation. Read more.

Many other important junk science stories could have been mentioned here, but this column is too long already. When I launched, I never imagined there'd still be a need for it in 2006. After 10 years in the junk science trenches, however, I suppose it's possible that we'll be raising our champagne glasses again in 2016.


With warnings about global warming reaching a fever pitch in recent weeks--Vanity Fair is about to come out with a story featuring George Clooney and Julia Roberts on its cover--Americans are more convinced than ever that the Earth is being affected, but they have still not grown urgently concerned about it, according to a Gallup poll released today. Only one in three predict global warming will pose a serious threat in their lifetimes.

Contrary to what one might expect, Gallup found that while public concern is higher than in 2004, they are "no higher than it has been at several points in the past." In fact, Americans are more worried about water pollution, air pollution, and toxic waste than global warming. This comes despite the fact that a record number of Americans, 58%, believe climate change as a result of global warming has already begun, and is the result of man-made operations, not natural cycles.

Gallup found that only 36% of Americans say they worry a great deal about "the greenhouse effect" or global warming. The percentage saying global warming will "pose a serious threat to you or your way of life in your lifetime" is now 35%; 62% think it will not. The current percentage expecting to experience serious problems is similar to the 33% recorded in 2002. "Since 1999, Republicans' level of worry about the issue has dipped noticeably," Gallup reports, "while worry among Democrats has shown less change."

And Gallup observes: "Despite the increased concern about global warming this year, the issue still has a low ranking relative to other environmental problems, many of which also rose as public concerns since 2004. Since Gallup started measuring public concern about global warming in 1989, the issue has always placed near the bottom of a list of 10 environmental issues rated. Water pollution and toxic waste contamination lead the list this year, with more than 50% of Americans highly concerned about these. Air pollution and loss of tropical rain forests also rank higher than global warming. Acid rain ranks lower."

These results are based on telephone interviews with a national sample of 1,000 adults, conducted March 13-16, 2006.

Editor and Publisher, 7 April 2006



* The Kyoto Protocol is an ineffective instrument to face the challenge of climate change

* The European Union will unable to meet its targets under Kyoto

* More attention must be given to fast-growing, emerging economies

* A sensible climate agreement needs to be based on co-operation between developed and developing countries

* The issue lies not in curbing development, as insead in encouraging a cleaner development

* Climate policies are closely linked to energy and foreign policy

* The weakness of the European energy policy calls for the search of alternatives compatible with a stable geopolitical scene

* The proper course is the one outlined in Gleneagles and implemented in the Asia and Pacific Partnership on Clean Development

* Italy should leave the fruitless European course to joun the US-led Partnership

While assessing trends and projections of greenhouse gas emissions, the European Environmental Agency (EEA) warns that the 15 "core" EU countries will be unable to meet their commitments under the Kyoto Protocol. Against a commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 8 per cent below 1990's levels, "Existing domestic policies and measures will reduce total EU-15 greenhouse gas emissions by only 1.6 % from base-year levels by 2010."

However, further states the EEA, achieving the desired goal is still possible: "When the additional domestic policies and measures being planned by Member States are taken into account, an EU-15 emissions reduction of 6.8 % is projected. However, this relies on several Member States cutting emissions by more than is required to meet their national targets, which cannot be taken for granted. The projected use of Kyoto mechanisms by nine Member States will reduce emissions by 2010 by a further 2.5 %." (emphasis added) The current circumstances, the unfavourable economic predicament, the fuzziness of the required "additional measures," and the inherent awkwardness of a strategy predicated on a generous and undue effort by some countries to offset the failings of the laggards make quite unlikely that Europe can even begin to come close to its commitments under Kyoto.


Climate change is both a challenge and an opportunity. The current state of scientific knowledge cannot satisfactorily explain what is happening in the Earth's atmosphere, let alone identify the its causes with any degree of certainty. Moreover, the rising temperatures will have a different impact from place to place. If, as it seems likely, warming is going to be stronger in the colder regions of the planet, it might produce benefits as well as costs.

In view of the complexity of the climate scenarios, the Kyoto Protocol-underpinned by unproven scientific assumptions and by a strategy that is in all likelihood ineffective and most certainly costly-is unlikely to be equal to the task of capturing the many facet of the problem. Further, by diverting resources to different uses, Kyoto threatens to close off the most promising technologies' developmental paths.

Under this respect, the Asia & Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate is based on a completely different-albeit not incompatible - paradigm (Japan, for instance, participates in the Partnership, but is also committed to Kyoto). Innovation, international co-operation and free market are the keywords for a proper understand of the new initiative. Moreover, the geopolitical events suggest the advisability for the developed countries to devise common energy policies that cannot disregard the development of shared and sensible climate policies.

Italy, in common with the rest of Europe, is bound to Kyoto. Unfortunately the making of our energy system makes meeting the targets set by the protocol an unlikely-not to say impossible-goal. Nuclear energy - the only emission-free and competitive energy source-was unaccountably rejected in a referendum held in 1987: Italy's energy mix is thus heavily biased towards fossil fuels. The traditionally high level of energy taxes contributed to make consumption unusually efficient, which in its turn makes the unit cost of emissions reduction among the highest in the Continent.

If Italy is the part of Europe that most feels the impact of Kyoto, it is likewise the country that-for a number of different reasons-is more in tune with America. In the recent years Washington found in Rome an attentive and often responsive partner. This might enable Italy to start a domino capable of breaking the spell that keeps all the EU's Member States - even against their interests-in thrall of Kyoto, often for sheer political ornery (although more concrete interests also play a role). The road from Gleneagles to Sydney makes more sense for Italy than the one leading from Brussels to Kyoto. In applying for admission to the Washington-led Partnership, Italy might trigger a shake-up of environmental policies, encouraging a shift from a ideological and statist approach to a pragmatic and market-oriented one.

Such a choice could not be charged of being senseless or devoid of economic and environmental benefits, but it would require boldness and steadfastness to face down the inevitable opposition, particularly within the European Union. In the long-term, however, the other EU countries might be thankful if Italy succeeded to cause a quantum jump in the quality and rationality of climate policies.

The forthcoming government will be at a crossroads: on one hand, it will have the opportunity to revolutionize European climate policies, on the other it might supinely accept to walk the easy but treacherous road to Kyoto. For sure, it is unclear where the narrow way that started in Sydney may ultimately lead, but we all know where the road paved with good intentions ends.



So smog makes us cooler!

"In the "You Can't Win For Losing" department, an article on the BBC web site is reporting that reduced air pollution and increased water evaporation appears to be adding to man-made global warming. Research presented at a major European science meeting adds to other evidence that cleaner air is letting more solar energy through to the Earth's surface. Burn fossil fuels, you make things worse. Clean up your act, and you make things worse. Is it time to set off a few nukes and see if nuclear winter can cool things down?"

Slashdot, 7 April 2006


Many people would like to be kind to others so Leftists exploit that with their nonsense about equality. Most people want a clean, green environment so Greenies exploit that by inventing all sorts of far-fetched threats to the environment. But for both, the real motive is to promote themselves as wiser and better than everyone else, truth regardless.

Global warming has taken the place of Communism as an absurdity that "liberals" will defend to the death regardless of the evidence showing its folly. Evidence never has mattered to real Leftists

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