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Top 10 Junk Science Scams

My website JunkScience.com 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:

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…

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…

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 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…

7. ‘Ear-ie’ Biotech Scare

"Who plays God in the 21st century?" captioned an October 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…

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…

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 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…

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…

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…

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 phones 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…

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…

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Written By

Mr. Milloy is the founder and publisher of JunkScience.com. His columns and op-ed pieces have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Financial Times, and Los Angeles Times. He is the author of "Green Hell," a new book from Regnery Publishing.

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