Science Guardian

Truth, beauty and paradigm power in science and society

I am Nicolaus Copernicus, and I approve of this blog

News, views and reviews measured against professional literature in peer reviewed journals (adjusted for design flaws and bias), well researched books, authoritative encyclopedias (not the bowdlerized Wiki entries on controversial topics) and the investigative reporting and skeptical studies of courageous original thinkers among academics, philosophers, researchers, scholars, authors, filmmakers and journalists.

Supporting the right of exceptional minds to free speech, publication, media coverage and funding against the crowd prejudice, leadership resistance, monetary influences and internal professional politics of the paradigm wars of cancer, HIV(not)AIDS, evolution, global warming, cosmology, particle physics, macroeconomics, information technology, religions and cults, health, medicine, diet and nutrition.

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I am Albert Einstein, and I heartily approve of this blog, insofar as it seems to believe both in science and the importance of intellectual imagination, uncompromised by out of date emotions such as the impulse toward conventional religious beliefs, national aggression as a part of patriotism, and so on.   As I once remarked, the further the spiritual evolution of mankind advances, the more certain it seems to me that the path to genuine religiosity does not lie through the fear of life, and the fear of death, and blind faith, but through striving after rational knowledge.   Certainly the application of the impulse toward blind faith in science whereby authority is treated as some kind of church is to be deplored.  As I have also said, the only thing that ever interfered with my learning was my education. I am Freeman Dyson, and I approve of this blog, but would warn the author that life as a heretic is a hard one, since the ignorant and the half informed, let alone those who should know better, will automatically trash their betters who try to enlighten them with independent thinking, as I have found to my sorrow in commenting on "global warming" and its cures.
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John Stossel shows media how to bust myths, not promote them

Artist of the small screen educates the public

A sweet natured, sensitive artistic type, that’s the surprising impression given by ABC ace reporter John Stossel when you meet him in person. We enountered him a while back in the audience at a talk at CUNY in Manhattan, and his oddly gentle presence reminded us of the strange fact that the few mainstream reporters who rise to truthseeking in their craft tend to have surprisingly delicate social sensibilities, even though they also must have the armor plated egos needed to survive the attacks of those discomfited by their work.

An example from HIV?AIDS is Celia Farber of Harper’s, a perceptive social critic whose endless perseverance in rolling the great boulder of apathy over to reveal the wriggling worms of venality and error that infest the science of the field is driven by two things – her family tradition of mixing comment and reporting (her father is the celebrated radio talk host with the richly flavored voice, Barry Farber), and an abiding personal concern for the victims of the baseless paradigm HIV=AIDS (the word is used advisedly, for we can now say there is, as far we have counted to date in our own twenty year examination, and despite Bob Gallo’s best efforts to create one, not a single reason for credibility to be found in the literature of the field).

POZ: You’re billed as the most controversial AIDS journalist around.

Farber: I don’t think of myself as controversial at all. I think what others perceive as controversial is that I’ve lent gravity to large questions that most mainstream AIDS reporters have felt comfortable ignoring entirely. The biggest of all being, Does HIV cause AIDS? I’ve never said that it does or it does not — I’m not really equipped to know. But when I look around and see legions of respectable scientists arguing that it does not, then I cannot see why I shouldn’t report it. It’s not only news — it’s great human drama. It’s Shakespearean! And I for one really want to know how it’s going to end, and what the moral is going to be.

It has driven me nearly bananas. It is my private hell, but also my great Sisyphean challenge. My labyrinth…

In my view there is only one responsibility, and that one has been abdicated: To investigate. To question. One has a responsibility to the facts, period. Just tell me whether I was right or wrong. That’s all that matters in the end.

The Most Dangerous AIDS Reporter in POZ:

(show)

VIRUSMYTH HOMEPAGE

INTERVIEW CELIA FARBER

The Most Dangerous AIDS Reporter

By Richard Berkowitz

POZ April 2000

Her renegade coverage had the AIDS world screaming bloody murder. Now, writer Richard Berkowitz gets Celia Farber to answer a decade of charges — and level a few of her own.

Celia Farber “penetrates the ostensible,” probing and asking questions long after other big-name AIDS reporters file their stories and head home. She first made her mark in 1987 with her monthly Spin column, “Words From the Front.” Over the next decade, her sacred-cow-skewering reportage became an AIDS must-read, with investigations into such controversies as whether HIV causes AIDS and whether AZT kills, ground-breaking coverage of long-term survival and a platform for even the most extreme HIV dissidents. Farber may have made enemies in high places, but pioneering PWA Michael Callen, in his will, called her “the best AIDS reporter in the country.”

And she has paid the price for her renegade style: a barrage of personal and professional attacks culminating in 1995 with a high-profile sexual-harassment lawsuit against Spin and its publisher, Bob Guccione, Jr., during which Farber testified as exhibit A, said by the prosecution to have earned her job because of her romantic involvement with Guccione rather than her journalistic skills. After a bruising battle, the jury found that there had been no sexual favoritism. Soon afterward, Guccione sold Spin, and “Words From the Front” was picked up by the on-line magazine Iron Minds. Farber, 34, lives in New York City with her husband and son. She continues to make waves in her renamed column, “Welcome to the Machine”.

POZ: You’re billed as the most controversial AIDS journalist around.

Farber: I don’t think of myself as controversial at all. I think what others perceive as controversial is that I’ve lent gravity to large questions that most mainstream AIDS reporters have felt comfortable ignoring entirely. The biggest of all being, Does HIV cause AIDS? I’ve never said that it does or it does not — I’m not really equipped to know. But when I look around and see legions of respectable scientists arguing that it does not, then I cannot see why I shouldn’t report it. It’s not only news — it’s great human drama. It’s Shakespearean! And I for one really want to know how it’s going to end, and what the moral is going to be.

It has driven me nearly bananas. It is my private hell, but also my great Sisyphean challenge. My labyrinth…

How did you get started writing about the epidemic?

I was working nights at my father’s radio show, The Barry Farber Show, screening calls from listeners in 1986, when he had a guest on, Michael May, who was convinced that AL 721 was the cure for AIDS. I became enthralled with this man and his story and began a yearlong research project into these egg lipids and access and all that. It was a crash course in AIDS politics. I had this burning sense of right and wrong, and this fear that people were being — not murdered exactly, but threatened. Not kept alive.

I was also working as a research assistant at Spin, and I brought the story to Bob Guccione, Jr. Eventually he published the AL 721 article as the first installment of a monthly AIDS column.

Why a monthly AIDS column in a straight music magazine?

Bob said AIDS was the Vietnam of our generation.

You’d known Guccione for a long time.

Yeah. My father introduced us the first time when I was 9 years old, and he was 19. He was publishing a rock magazine called Poster, and he gave me a great poster of David Bowie.

How did you get drawn into the debate over whether HIV causes AIDS?

I read about [HIV naysayer] Dr. Peter Duesberg in The New York Native in 1987, and then interviewed him. My editor at Spin refused to even read it. I snuck the interview onto Bob’s desk, which was really very cheeky. He went nuts. He called me that night and said, “This may be the most important interview I ever publish.”

Bob believes in old-fashioned journalism values, in fighting evil through words. The AIDS column nearly destroyed us before it was all over. But I still think it was worth it.

What were your goals with “Words From the Front?”

To generate copy that Guccione would publish [laughs].

Nothing loftier?

The real, unvarnished truth is I was driven by a tremendous quixotism. I had this terrible sense of dread about AIDS. It felt so very unfair. I wanted to save people. To crack the mystery. To break new ground.

I didn’t grow up with my father close by, but I admired him very much from a distance. And still do. He was one of the pioneers of talk radio and, as a journalist, a real role model for me. During the Hungarian Revolution in 1956, he stood in the Danube in the middle of the night and pulled refugees across the border and fought to get them into this country — this kind of thing. Anyway, one day I asked my father what advice he could give me about journalism. He said: “All my advice is summed up in three words. Penetrate the ostensible.”

How were you treated as a result of your reporting?

I was attacked, of course. My motives were impugned, my character, morality. People have tried to have me fired. I’ve been sabotaged. All kinds of bizarre things. I have been guilt-tripped since day one: “You’re homophobic!” “Spreading dangerous theories!” “Scaring people away from AZT!” “Murderer!” But in that atmosphere, I did learn a lot about my favorite subject: mass hysteria.

I no longer give a damn about credit or respect from my peers. Why do I need acknowledgement from a bunch of whores? Little do-gooders. I am astounded by the legions of crisp-shirted AIDS reporters at the major newspapers who churn out this right-sounding, “responsible” babble. Why doesn’t the possibility that the HIV paradigm is wrong worry them? The fact that no proof exists for HIV being the causative agent, that there are thousands of HIV-negative AIDS cases, that the disease is spreading according to a wildly different pattern in Africa than anywhere else. That AZT was killing people never worried them. That the pharmaceutical industry has us all tightly wrapped in its tentacles. Shall I go on?

What were your biggest successes and failures?

My biggest achievement was to expose what went on behind the scenes at the FDA before AZT was approved and to sustain the very necessary critique of that awful drug amidst so much hype and hysteria. And to put out the Sonnabend-Callen-Berkowitz message about both multifactorialism and long-term survival and hope.

My biggest mistake? AL 721. I was simply wrong about that treatment.

You’ve written about the question of an AIDS reporter’s “responsibility.”

It struck me last year at the World AIDS Conference in Geneva. I was suffering through one of these “Media Responsibility in AIDS” panels, featuring Miss America and God knows who else. I bolted out of my chair and said: “This is the whole problem! The fact that you all have some elevated, wooly ‘responsibility.’ That you see yourselves as agents of some greater good.” That is the disastrous turn AIDS reportage took. It absorbed the “responsibility” assigned to it by some composite of Elizabeth Taylor, Mathilde Krim and ACT UP or whomever.

In my view there is only one responsibility, and that one has been abdicated: To investigate. To question. One has a responsibility to the facts, period. Just tell me whether I was right or wrong. That’s all that matters in the end.

What have your years at the AIDS front taught you?

I began writing about AIDS out of a sense of urgency about the illness itself. But that broadened over the years to an even deeper worry: Can truth survive in the so-called Information Age? What is the nature of “facts” in a world where the pharmaceutical industry has flat-out bought the clinical trials and the doctors and journalists and even activists?

In the press room in Geneva, I watched the pharmaceutical reps lay out these envelopes each morning for the reporters at all the major newspapers. They picked them up, went right to their laptops and just wrote straight from that. These Pulitzer Prize-winning AIDS reporters — they have very close “relationships” with drug company PR people. It seems to me they’re the ones who have some explaining to do. Not me.

We have a mind-set now that it’s primitive and passé to malign the drug companies, especially since the miracle of cocktail therapy. But we need a critique now more than ever. Yes, the drugs have saved some lives, but they are also killing people in their tracks. And David Ho’s HIV-eradication stuff is mired in hype and falsity. If an investigation were ever done into viral load, and what precisely is being “measured,” the entire edifice would come crashing down. It’s a mess.

Who has inspired you in your writing about AIDS?

Michael Callen was an enormous inspiration to me. Incalculable. He had the rarest thing of all, a truly open mind. But more important, he had love in his heart. A love for truth. No matter how much it hurt.

I am inspired by my mother, Ulla Farber, who died recently and who always taught me to listen to my “inner voice.” I do actually follow something that comes from inside. That’s where a story starts, with your instinct.

And I am a huge George Orwell fan. His writings apply beautifully to the problems in AIDS, with the subversion of the language and so forth. I had a dream once that I called him up and asked him, “Am I on the right track?” He said, “Yes, you are. Keep going.” It was a great dream.

We wait with interest to see when John Stossel finally gets around to this mega-myth, the largest of all animals in the zoology of misapprehension that he is indexing. We tipped him off to its existence when we spoke to him at CUNY, but since he had heard nothing about it, and nothing has appeared on 20/20, we can only suppose that his producers continue to be wary of placing him in the path of the juggernaut, though we know they have looked into it.

For the moment, his new book, the second on the topic, ‘Myths, Lies and Downright Stupidity’, provides plenty of enlightenment for those of us who wonder how many other media stories are bunk too. In the book, celebrated tonight May 12 Fri on 20/20 with ten examples from his text, Stossel rounds up more of the usual suspects, which interested readers may already know from two key books on scientific mythmaking, James Hogan‘s thorough survey, ‘Kicking the Sacred Cow’, and Tom Bethell‘s ‘The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science’.

Two of our longtime favorites are on Stossel’s list. First is the myth/reality of the dangers of radiation, where it appears that at low levels radiation is much less dangerous than thought, and may even be beneficial. Chernobyl claimed only 56 lives, for example, not hundreds of thousands as some people tell Stossel. The 20/20 segment included happy bathers in pools in Europe filled with mildly radioactive water, and mines in the US with seats where customers sit and absorb the benefits, saying they feel quite invigorated afterwards.

Also interesting is that Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore has switched sides on nuclear power now, having found out that low radiation wasn’t the death threat he thought it was.

Just weeks later, a nuclear power plant in Three Mile Island, Penn., released radioactivity in the air. People fled and worried that officials weren’t telling them about lingering health hazards from the accident.

In truth, the people living in the area were exposed to an average of 6.5 millirems of radiation. We now know that’s meaningless given that every year, all of us absorb about 30 millirems from the ground, 26 from the sun, 10 from just one dental X-ray, 10 from food, and 5 from our own drinking water.

Patrick Moore, who co-founded the environmental organization Greenpeace, said the group has actually fostered people’s exaggerated fears.

“It’s because they’re being told over and over and over again through the media that they are going to be damaged and killed by radiation from nuclear power,” he said.

Moore is now at odds with his former friends at Greenpeace. He’s now a consultant for the nuclear power industry.

“Not a single person is being killed in the nuclear industry, and people are wanting to ban it. It’s pure scare tactics,” he said.

But what about that accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine 20 years ago? It terrified the world.

The media projected hundreds of thousands of deaths.

In truth, a study by eight international agencies found 56 people were killed, mostly firefighters and workers at the plant. Thousands of other people may still die of cancer, but nowhere near the number that was predicted. The study said the biggest health menace the people of Chernobyl faced was psychological trauma, in part from fear. The fear was worse than the radiation.

The second is More Foreign Aid Will End Global Poverty, which deals with the unhappy fact (as we posted earlier in Is aid killing Africa? James Shikwati, African economist, objects., last July 7) that generous but unaudited American aid to African nations seems only to ensure their populations remain mired in poverty, since the money is typically swiped by the kleptocrats that run such nations as Kenya (will the new government there be any different?), who according to Stossel when they are not pocketing the cash, building large mansions, and selling the food and equipment on the black market, are busy bulldozing the shanty stalls of the few entrepreneurs in their slums.

There is video of a screaming woman dragged away from the path of a machine wrecking her rickety, tin roofed shop and the goods in it. And later a carpenter points out that there is no point in expanding his business when that may happen to him at any time.

All this makes the boneheadedly uncritical Bono look rather silly as he stops his concert to ask everyone to use their cell phones to vote for more aid, and Columbia’s Jeffrey Sachs doesn’t come off too well either. He after all is responsible for persuading donor nations to up the ante to $50 billion, without doing anything more to ensure that the spending is audited properly, even though he angrily tells Stossel that this is quite feasible if necessary.

Angelina Jolie visited a model village in Africa to promote what she believes would be possible if our governments would just give more. The village she visited is the creation of Jeffrey Sachs, director of the U.N. Millennium Project and author of the best-selling “The End of Poverty.” He’s also America’s most vocal promoter of giving more foreign aid to Africa.

“How can we go another day when 20,000 children are going to be dying of these stupid reasons that are utterly preventable,” he asked.

Sachs helped persuade Western governments to double foreign aid to Africa to $50 billion dollars. And the people in his model village were thrilled about getting all this help from Sachs and Jolie.

Other myths examined in the 20/20 hour were The World Is Running Out of Oil, Price-Gouging Is Bad, Secondhand Smoke Is a Killer, Teachers Are Underpaid, Flight Delays Are Due to Weather and Elephants Are Afraid of Mice.

Prices are the only way to ration scarce commodities in a crisis, of course, so Stossel can find Milton Friedman and two other Nobel economists to applaud what is called “price gouging”.

He showed an example of an enterprising fellow who had rented a van and driven 20 generators down into Lousiana in the aftermath of Katrina, and offered them for sale at a 100 per cent markup. Instead of being able to sell them to 20 grateful homeowners, he was clapped in jail for four days and the generators still languish in police custody.

As the economists and Stossel point out, if price rationing (“gouging”) is banned, there is no incentive for taking such an initiative, and God help those who rely on the federal government to take up the slack.

Turns out that teachers are not that underpaid, either. One on a picket line tells the camera she is making $60,000, and several talk of relaxing in spas and vacation spots during the three months summer break that is standard. A list of lesser paid folk (firemen and women are at the bottom) was appended.

Also, remember teachers are paid for just nine months of work. They have the summer off. Some work summer school, others relax.

Some teachers take the time off to relax, go to spas. One teacher I talked to said he went to Mexico for two months.

“If I’m going to be a good Spanish teacher, wouldn’t it behoove me to spend some time in Mexico,” he said.

It might, but the summer off means when you calculate teachers’ hourly wages, you find teachers make more than chemists, physical therapists, psychologists, registered nurses, aircraft mechanics and firefighters.

Obviously some of these topics may be complicated by a variety of factors left out in the four minute 20/20 segments, but the general conclusions seem valid. One thing for sure, the Stossel style of reexamining public myths, most of which are media myths too, is the style we need to teach in journalism schools and newsrooms across the country, not to menton some of the science reporters in a certain newspaper headquartered within shouting distance of Times Square.

We salute John Stossel for keeping his wits about him amid the rich temptations of television and for being the best, if unrecognized, scientific reporter on the screen. In a world where even PBS Frontline coverage of HIV?AIDS is as much a press release from the NIH as it is reporting, Stossel sets a very fine example of what HIV?AIDS reporting should be.

In his new book, he describes the essential problems in science reporting well:

MYTH: The media will check it out and give you the objective truth.

TRUTH: Many in the media are scientifically clueless, and will scare you to death. We don’t do it on purpose. We just want to give you facts. But the people who bring us story ideas are alarmed. Then we get alarmed, and eager to rush that news to you.

We know that the scarier and more bizarre the story, the more likely it is that our bosses will give us more air time or a front-page slot. The scary story, justified or not, will get higher ratings and sell more papers. Fear sells. That’s the reason for the insiders’ joke about local newscasts: “If it bleeds, it leads.”

Also, raising alarms makes us feel important.

If we bothered to keep digging until we found the better scientific experts, rather than the ones who send out press releases, we’d get the real story. But reporters rarely know whom to call. And if we did, many real scientists don’t want to be bothered. Why get involved in a messy debate? It might upset someone in government and threaten the scientist’s grant money. “I’d rather be left alone to do my work, and not have to babysit dumb reporters,” one told me.

Let’s hope the producers at 20/20 finally get up the nerve to let Stossel loose soon on the biggest myth of all in modern medicine, in which science has become completely unmoored from its own literature.

Here (click ‘Show’ below) is the excerpt provided by Stossel from Chapter One of his new book, which is a good read in itself. It has a nice section on Bruce Ames of Berkeley telling him that organic produce is as full of natural carcinogens as any other food.

DR. AMES No, absolutely not, because the amount of pesticide residues-man-made pesticide residues-people are eating are actually trivial and very, very tiny amounts! We get more carcinogens in a cup of coffee than we do in all the pesticide residues you eat in a day.

In a cup of coffee? To put the risks in perspective, Ames and his staff analyzed the results of every cancer test done on rats and mice. By comparing the dose that gave the rodents cancer to the typical exposure people get, they came up with a ranking of the danger. Pesticides such as DDT and EDB came out much lower than herb tea, peanut butter, alcohol, and mushrooms. We moved over to the mushrooms as the cameras continued to roll, and Dr. Ames put his mouth where his convictions were.

DR. AMES One raw mushroom gives you much more carcinogens than any polluted water you’re going to drink in a day.

STOSSEL So you’re saying we shouldn’t eat fresh produce?

DR. AMES No. Fresh produce is good for you! Here, I’ll eat a raw mushroom even though it’s full of carcinogens.

Even so, we remain entirely convinced that organic food tastes better, as long as it is correctly “framed”, ie labeled “Organic”.

(show)

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In his latest book, “Myths, Lies and Downright Stupidity,” John Stossel expands on his popular “Myth” segments on “20/20” and unearths truths often distorted — or disregarded — by the media. Below is an excerpt:

CHAPTER ONE

Clueless Media

Thomas Jefferson said he’d rather live in a country with a free press and no government, than in one with a government but no press. “The only security of all is in a free press,” he wrote. “It is necessary, to keep the waters pure.”

I couldn’t agree more. Without media to tell us about the excesses of government, the risks of life, and the wonderful new ideas that emerge constantly from every cranny in America, our lives would be narrow, and our freedom diminished. The Fourth Estate both informs and protects us. “Where the press is free, and every man able to read,” said Jefferson, “all is safe.”

However, thirty-six years working in the media has left me much more skeptical of its product. Reporters are good at telling us what happened today: what buildings burned down, what army invaded, the size of the hurricane that’s coming. Many reporters take astonishing risks to bring us this news. We owe them thanks.

But when it comes to science and economics, and putting life’s risks in perspective, the media do a dismal job.

MYTH: The media will check it out and give you the objective truth.

TRUTH: Many in the media are scientifically clueless, and will scare you to death. We don’t do it on purpose. We just want to give you facts. But the people who bring us story ideas are alarmed. Then we get alarmed, and eager to rush that news to you.

We know that the scarier and more bizarre the story, the more likely it is that our bosses will give us more air time or a front-page slot. The scary story, justified or not, will get higher ratings and sell more papers. Fear sells. That’s the reason for the insiders’ joke about local newscasts: “If it bleeds, it leads.”

Also, raising alarms makes us feel important.

If we bothered to keep digging until we found the better scientific experts, rather than the ones who send out press releases, we’d get the real story. But reporters rarely know whom to call. And if we did, many real scientists don’t want to be bothered. Why get involved in a messy debate? It might upset someone in government and threaten the scientist’s grant money. “I’d rather be left alone to do my work, and not have to babysit dumb reporters,” one told me.

One real scientist, Dr. Bruce Ames of the University of California, Berkeley, did make the effort. He urged a skeptical reporter (me) to be more skeptical of pseudologic from pseudoscientists: “The number of storks in Europe has been going down for years, the birth rate’s going down for years,” Dr. Ames pointed out. “If you plot one against the other, it’s a beautiful correlation. But it doesn’t mean storks bring babies.”

We’ve been swallowing the storks-bring-babies kind of logic for years. (My favorite version: I see fat people drinking diet soda; therefore diet soda must make people fat.) For instance, stories about pesticides making food carcinogenic would fill several pages of a Google search. To the scientifically illiterate, the stories are logical. After all, farmers keep using new pesticides, we consume them in the food we eat, and we keep hearing more people are getting cancer. It must be cause and effect! Get the shovel.

MYTH: Pesticide residues in food cause cancer and other diseases.

TRUTH: The residues are largely harmless.

Ames laughs at the claims of chemically induced cancers, and he should know-he’s the one who invented the test that first frightened people about a lot of those chemicals. It’s called the Ames Test, and its first use in the 1970s raised alarms by revealing there were carcinogens in hair dye, and in the flame retardants in children’s pajamas. Ames helped get the chemicals banned.

Before the Ames Test, the traditional way to test a substance was to feed big doses of it to animals and wait to see if they got cancer or had babies with birth defects. But those tests took two to three years and cost $100,000. So Dr. Ames said, “Instead of testing animals, why not test bacteria? You can study a billion of them on just one Petri dish and you don’t have to wait long for the next generation. Bacteria reproduce every twenty minutes.”

The test proved successful. It was hailed as a major scientific breakthrough, and today, the Ames Test is one of the standards used to discover if a substance is carcinogenic.

But after getting the hair dye and the flame retardants banned, Dr. Ames and other scientists continued testing chemicals. “People started using our test,” he told me, “and finding mutagens everywhere-in cups of coffee, on the outside of bread, and when you fry your hamburger!”

This made him wonder if his tests were too sensitive, and led him to question the very bans he’d advocated. A few years later, when I went to a supermarket with him, he certainly didn’t send out any danger signals.

DR. AMES Practically everything in the supermarket, if you really looked at it at the parts per billion level, would have carcinogens. Vegetables are good for you, yet vegetables make toxic chemicals to keep off insects, so every vegetable is 5 percent of its weight in toxic chemicals. These are Nature’s pesticides. Celery, alfalfa sprouts, and mushrooms are just chock-full of carcinogens.

STOSSEL Over there it says “Organic Produce.” Is that better?

DR. AMES No, absolutely not, because the amount of pesticide residues-man-made pesticide residues-people are eating are actually trivial and very, very tiny amounts! We get more carcinogens in a cup of coffee than we do in all the pesticide residues you eat in a day.

In a cup of coffee? To put the risks in perspective, Ames and his staff analyzed the results of every cancer test done on rats and mice. By comparing the dose that gave the rodents cancer to the typical exposure people get, they came up with a ranking of the danger. Pesticides such as DDT and EDB came out much lower than herb tea, peanut butter, alcohol, and mushrooms. We moved over to the mushrooms as the cameras continued to roll, and Dr. Ames put his mouth where his convictions were.

DR. AMES One raw mushroom gives you much more carcinogens than any polluted water you’re going to drink in a day.

STOSSEL So you’re saying we shouldn’t eat fresh produce?

DR. AMES No. Fresh produce is good for you! Here, I’ll eat a raw mushroom even though it’s full of carcinogens.

Dr. Ames is widely respected in the scientific community, but he is not on many journalists’ electronic Rolodexes. He’s the real deal, and no help at all if you’re looking for screaming headlines.

MYTH: Radioactivity is deadly; keep it away from food!

TRUTH: Food irradiation saves lives.

A classic example of journalists falling for a stunningly stupid scientific scare-falling en masse and really hard-was the outcry over treating food with radiation.

The irradiation process would give consumers wonderful new options: strawberries that stay fresh three weeks, and chicken without the harmful levels of salmonella that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says kill six hundred Americans every year, and cause countless cases of food poisoning. (The last time you thought you had the flu, you may have really been sick from bacteria on chicken-this is no myth! Wash the counter, your hands, and everything that touches raw meat, because they are all crawling with potentially dangerous germs.)

But reporters and environmental activists don’t worry much about the horrible toll from bacteria. For some reason, even when bacteria pose a far greater risk, the media obsess about chemicals and radiation. Radiation! Horrors! Three Mile Island! Jane Fonda! Nuclear bombs!

They don’t worry much about bacteria because bacteria is natural. But radiation is natural too. We are exposed to natural radiation every minute of our lives: cosmic radiation from space, radiation from the ground, and radiation from radon in the air we breathe. Every year, the average U.S. citizen is exposed to natural radiation equal to about 360 dental X-rays.

The reporters and protesters probably didn’t know that, but even if they did, they’d still be upset because irradiation plants propose passing radiation through food. News stories featured Dr. Walter Burnstein, founder of a “consumer group” named Food & Water, saying, “This will be a public health disaster of the magnitude we have never seen before!” I have to admire the activists’ skill in naming groups: Food & Water. What reporter could argue with a group with a name like that? They must be the good guys, right? I interviewed Dr. Burnstein and his “political organizer,” Michael Colby.

MR. COLBY If you look at the existing studies on humans and animals fed irradiated food, you will find testicular tumors, chromosomal abnormalities, kidney damage, and cancer and birth defects.

STOSSEL Caused because somebody ate irradiated food?

MR. COLBY Absolutely. Absolutely.

STOSSEL [Food & Water claimed an Indian study had said that, but we called the author and she told us she didn’t conclude that at all.] We just talked to her and she says she didn’t say that! She never said those kids were developing cancer.

DR. BURNSTEIN These are pure scientists and she doesn’t want to make that break. We are taking it the extra inch. We’re saying to people, “Don’t-don’t be put to sleep by people who work in test tubes-don’t.” I don’t need proof that it goes to cancer. We already know it leads to cancer.

Reporters gave Burnstein and Colby’s dubious claims so much credulous press coverage that politicians in Maine quickly banned food irradiation. New York and New Jersey followed suit. That spread fear to other states. I went to Mulberry, Florida, to report on a protest against Vindicator, a plant that proposed using radiation to kill germs on strawberries. When I got there, demonstrators were marching with picket signs, chanting, “Don’t nuke our food! Don’t nuke our food!” Their campaign persuaded the state of Florida to put a moratorium on Vindicator’s opening.

DR. BURNSTEIN Vindicator will go out of business, and not only Vindicator. That’ll be the end of the entire irradiation industry … When we go to talk to people, we don’t have to break their arms to convince them not to eat irradiated food. We just say, “Irradiated food,” and people go, “What? Who wants the food irradiated?”

The fact that Dr. Burnstein was not a research scientist, but rather an osteopath with a family practice in New Jersey, didn’t diminish the respect he got from the media. His protests drew headlines and TV coverage. Reporters knew radiation was bad for humans, and therefore bad for food.

One woman stood outside the Vindicator plant shouting angrily, “How much pollution are we going to put into our mouths?!”

“None,” is the answer. People think food irradiation makes food radioactive, but it doesn’t; the radiation just kills the bacteria, and passes right out of the food. That’s why the FDA and USDA approved the process a long time ago. Spices have been irradiated for more than twenty years. Irradiation is good for us. If it were more common, all of us would suffer fewer instances of food poisoning and we could have fruits and vegetables that stay fresh weeks longer. But scaremongering has kept it from catching on.

Food & Water told people that the AMA and the World Health Organization did not approve of irradiation, but that was a lie. Both organizations did approve. WHO told us irradiation is as important as pasteurization.

Pasteurization also met public skepticism when it was introduced. Louis Pasteur discovered that heating milk would kill bacteria, but critics charged that pasteurization was “meddling with nature,” and that it might change the properties of the food-or contaminate it. The U.S. dairy industry actually promoted raw milk as more acceptable than pasteurized milk. Only the persistence of scientists and medical experts allowed pasteurization to become standard practice. Irradiation might save as many lives, if the scaremongers would just get out of the way. After three years of delays, the Vindicator plant finally was allowed to open. But fear of radiation has kept this good idea from spreading across America. Only a tiny fraction of American meat is irradiated today.

If 50 percent were irradiated, the CDC says nearly a million cases of bacterial infections could be avoided and 350 lives could be saved every year. 350 lives! Why isn’t the press screaming about that? Because reporters and legislators look for danger in the wrong places.

Many reporters believe the activists because “something must be causing the cancer epidemic.” Mysterious and unnatural additions to our environment are an easy suspect. After all, during the past fifty years, Americans have been exposed to chemicals and forms of pollution and radiation that humans have never experienced before. “No wonder there’s so much more cancer!” say reporters. Get the shovel.

MYTH: Chemical pollution is the cause of the cancer epidemic!

TRUTH: There is no cancer epidemic.

You wouldn’t know it from the media, but there has been no surge in cancers. The death rate due to cancer has been declining for more than ten years. You might argue that fewer die from cancer today simply because there are better treatments for the disease, but look at the cancer incidence rate.

The incidence of prostate and breast cancer is up, but that’s only because there’s more early detection. In the 1980s more men starting getting PSA tests, and more women had mammograms. Lung cancer increased in women because more women took up cigarettes, and skin cancer increased because of lunatic sunbathing. But overall cancer rates have not been rising, and lots of cancers, like stomach, uterine, and colorectal cancer, are on the decline.

We think there’s a cancer epidemic because we hear more about cancer. Cancer is a disease of an aging population, and fortunately, more people now live long enough to get cancer. More talk about it too. Many years ago people who got cancer were secretive about it.

The other big reason we think there is an epidemic is that the media, suspicious of chemicals, hype dubious risks.

Almost every week, there is another story about a potential menace. Reporters credulously accept the activists’ scare stores: While I’ve been a reporter, I’ve been asked to do alarmist reports about hair dye, dry cleaning, coffee, chewing gum, saccharin, cyclamates, NutraSweet, nitrites, Red No. 2 dye, electric blankets, video display terminals, dental fillings, cellular phones, vaccines, potato chips, farmed salmon, Teflon, antiperspirants, and even rubber duckies.

I refused to do most of those stories, and now I have to ask, if the scares were valid, where are the bodies? If one-tenth of what the reporters suggested was happening did happen, there would be mass death. The opposite is true: Despite exposure to radiation and all those nasty new chemicals, Americans today live longer than ever.

The media hysteria may be nonsense, but our fear is real-and contagious. That can be deadly.

MYTH: DDT causes all kinds of cancers, and nearly wiped out every bird in the world.

TRUTH: DDT saves lives.

Malaria will kill more than one thousand children before you finish reading this book. The chemical DDT is at the core of the problem-not the use of DDT, but the failure to use it because of media hysteria. In Uganda alone, said minister of health Jim Muhwezi, “We are losing between two million and three million people a year.” Think of it: Millions die because the media gets it wrong.

You are probably saying, “What is he talking about? DDT is awful!” But it isn’t. DDT is capable of doing far more good than harm. You just don’t know that, because some people, including reporters, are terrified of DDT.

Here’s how it happened: Fifty years ago, Americans sprayed DDT everywhere. Farmers used it to repel bugs, and health officials to fight mosquitoes that carry malaria. Nobody worried much about chemicals then. It was a shock to watch the old videos my producer found: People at picnics just sat and kept eating while trucks sprayed thick white clouds of DDT on top of them. In fact, when the trucks came to spray, some people ran toward them-as if an ice cream truck had come-they were so happy to have mosquitoes repelled. Tons of DDT were sprayed on food and people.

Despite this overuse, there was no surge in cancer or any other human injury. Scientists found no evidence that spraying DDT seriously hurt people. It did cause some harm: It threatened bird populations by thinning the shells of their eggs.

In 1962, the book Silent Spring by Rachel Carson made the damage famous and helped instill our fear of chemicals. The book raised some serious questions about the use of DDT, but the legitimate nature of those questions was lost in the media feeding frenzy that followed. DDT was a “Killer Chemical!” and the press was off on another fear campaign.

It turns out DDT itself wasn’t the problem-the problem was that much too much was sprayed. That’s often true with chemicals; it’s the dose that matters. We need water, for example, but six feet of it will kill us.

In the 1950s we sprayed DDT indiscriminately, but it only takes a tiny amount to prevent the spread of malaria. If sprayed on walls of an African hut, a small amount will keep mosquitoes at bay for half a year. That makes it a wonderful malaria fighter. But today DDT is rarely used to fight malaria because environmentalists’ demonization of it causes others to shun it.

That frustrates Dr. Amir Attaran, who researched the issue at Harvard University. “If it’s a chemical, it must be bad,” he told us. “If it’s DDT, it must be awful. And that’s fine if you’re a rich white environmentalist. It’s not so fine if you’re a poor black kid who is about to lose his life from malaria.” Uganda’s health minister angrily asked us: “How many people do they want us to lose before we use DDT?” Good question.

The U.S. government does spend your tax dollars trying to fight malaria in Africa, but it has not spent a penny on DDT. The money goes for things like mosquito netting over beds (even though not everyone in Africa even has a bed). The office that dispenses those funds, the Agency for International Development, acknowledges DDT is safe.

I went to the State Department to interview the USAID official in charge of international health. With a straight face, she denied that their no-funds-for-DDT policy had anything to do with being “environmentally correct.” I felt like I was talking to a robot.

DR. ANNE PETERSON I would recommend that if those who want to use [DDT for] indoor spraying, that they can and should. And it is definitely less harmful than dying and being exposed to malaria.

STOSSEL But you won’t pay for it?

DR. ANNE PETERSON Currently we don’t pay for it.

STOSSEL This is pathetic. Millions of people are dying and you, to be politically correct, are saying, “No, we don’t want to pay for DDT.”

DR. ANNE PETERSON I believe that the strategies we are using are as effective as spraying with DDT. And we are getting them out as far and as fast as we can. So, politically correct or not, I am very confident that what we are doing is the right strategy.

The right strategy? Dr. Attaran has a better perspective: “If I were to characterize what USAID does on malaria, I’d call it medical malpractice. I would call it murderous.”

After my interview with Dr. Peterson, USAID said it has reconsidered its policy, and it may fund spraying of DDT.

We’ll see. For now, millions die while USAID dithers.

The agency was simply responding to media hysteria. Media hysteria invites politicians to do the wrong thing. In this case, the result of the media getting it so wrong is millions of deaths.

Media attention also kills reputations, particularly when sensationalism and the herd mentality are in play. Serious subjects, worthy of careful examination, are often treated with a kind of journalistic shorthand that cheats readers and viewers, while ruining lives. In this next example, innocent children became unknowing pawns.

MYTH: “My teacher molested me.” Kids wouldn’t make up stuff like that!

TRUTH: Yes, they would.

This trendy media scare sent people to jail. Many were innocent of any crime, but they were convicted by the court of public opinion. The witnesses against them were children who testified to horrible events-events which, in many cases, never happened. But when the media express gets rolling, people get run over.

One victim was Kelly Michaels, a New Jersey preschool teacher convicted in 1988 of molesting twenty children in bizarre and sadistic ways. She spent five years in prison before an appeals court ruled that prosecutors had planted suggestions in the minds of the children who testified against her.

I don’t blame the kids; I blame the prosecutors and the media. Reporters’ imaginations and keyboards were fired up in 1983 by accusations of sodomy and satanic abuse at a California day-care center called the McMartin Preschool. The woman who started the barrage of charges was later discovered to be a paranoid schizophrenic. Her claims of devil-worship and sadism were outlandish on their face, but never mind: It was “good copy.” Headlines blared, prosecutors roared, and seven people were charged in a total of 135 criminal counts.

It was nonsense. But the defendants had their lives ruined. The case against them was cooked up by therapists and social workers who planted suggestions in the minds of impressionable children, who then told horrendous tales to prosecutors. The prosecutors also listened to the drumbeats of the media, which stirred a different witches’ brew for every news cycle.

Kids are highly impressionable. We know that, but psychology professor Stephen Ceci proved it in a study at Cornell University. He told me, “We are now discovering that if you put kids who were not abused through the same kind of highly leading, repetitive interview, some of those children will disclose events that seem credible but, in fact, are not borne out in actuality.”

Ceci set up an experiment where he and his researchers asked kids silly questions like:

RESEARCHER Have you ever had your finger caught in a mousetrap and had to go to the hospital?

GIRL No.

RESEARCHER No?

At first, the kids say no. Then, once a week for the next 10 weeks, the researchers ask the question again.

RESEARCHER You went to the hospital because your finger got caught in a mousetrap?

BOY And it- RESEARCHER Did that happen?

BOY Uh-huh.

By week four or six or ten, about half of the kids say, “Yes, it happened.” Many give such precise information that you’d think it must have happened.

RESEARCHER Did it hurt?

BOY Yeah.

RESEARCHER Yeah? Who took you to the hospital?

BOY My daddy, my mommy, my brother.

RESEARCHER Where in your house is the mousetrap?

BOY It’s down in the basement.

RESEARCHER What is it next to in the basement?

BOY It’s next to the firewood.

By the time I met that boy, weeks after the experiment was over, he still “remembered” convincing details about things that never happened.

STOSSEL Was there a time when you got your finger caught in a mousetrap and had to go to the hospital?

BOY Uh-huh.

STOSSEL Who went with you to the hospital?

BOY My mom and my dad and my brother Colin, but not the baby. He was in my mom’s tummy.

What he told me was even more remarkable because just a few days before, his father discussed the experiment with him, explained that it was just a test, and that the mousetrap event never happened. The boy agreed-it was just in his imagination.

But when he talked to me, the boy denied the conversation with his father, and insisted the mousetrap story was true.

STOSSEL Did your father tell you something about the mousetrap finger story?

BOY No.

STOSSEL Is it true? Did it really happen?

BOY It wasn’t a story. It really happened.

STOSSEL This really happened? You really got your finger caught? This really happened?

BOY Yeah.

Why would the boy lie to me? I said to Professor Ceci that I assumed he wasn’t intentionally making up the story. Ceci said, “I think they’ve come to believe it. It is part of their belief system.”

Some molestation “experts” thought they’d come closer to the truth by giving kids anatomically correct dolls. With dolls, the social workers wouldn’t have to ask so many questions. They could just say, “Imagine you are the doll; what did the teacher touch?” Lawyers argued that kids “wouldn’t make up” what had been done to the doll. But Ceci’s colleague Dr. Maggie Bruck conducted tests that showed that they would.

Bruck had a pediatrician add some extra steps to his routine physical examination. He measured the child’s wrists with a ribbon, he put a little label on the child’s stomach, and he tickled the child’s foot with a stick. Never did the doctor go anywhere near the child’s private parts. Then, a few days after the exam, using an anatomically correct doll, Bruck and the child’s father asked leading questions about the doctor’s exam. We caught it on tape.

FATHER So what did he do?

GIRL He put a stick in my vagina.

FATHER He put a stick in your vagina?

GIRL Yeah.

[Then the girl claimed the doctor hammered the stick into her vagina. And she said the doctor examined her rectum.]

DR. BRUCk He was where?

GIRL In my hiney.

None of it was true. But when dolls were used, half the kids who’d never had their private parts touched claimed the doctor touched them. The tests made Dr. Bruck question her prior faith in the testimony of children. She told me she thinks dozens of innocent people are in jail.

Dr. Ceci told me their leading questions were mild compared to what the investigators asked: “What we do . . . doesn’t come close, for example, to what was done in the Kelly Michaels case.”

The appellate court decision that set Kelly Michaels free garnered just a smidgeon of the media attention her trial and conviction got. After she was freed, she told me about her nightmare.

MS. MICHAELS One day you’re getting ready for work and making coffee, minding your business, trying to get along as best you can, being a reasonable, decent, honorable citizen, and the next minute you are an accused child molester with the most bizarre-

Continued

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John Stossel’s: Myths, Lies, and Downright Stupidity

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(Page 2 of 2)

I’d never even heard of such things even being done.

STOSSEL They say you inserted objects, including Lego blocks, forks, spoons, serrated knives into their anuses, vaginas, penises-

* Related: Order “Myths, Lies and Downright Stupidity”

* Related: Endnotes From “Myths, Lies, and Downright Stupidity”

* Stossel’s Myths: Read the Book, or Watch Highlights Here

MS. MICHAELS And a sword. It was in there.

STOSSEL -and a sword-

MS. MICHAELS Yeah.

STOSSEL -that you made children drink your urine, that you made kids take their clothes off and licked peanut butter off them. It’s very hard to believe, yet the jury believed it and not you.

MS. MICHAELS No one was willing to doubt a child.

The media certainly wasn’t. Professional skepticism took a holiday in the face of “good copy.”

The media like bad news, and tend to believe it.

MYTH: Divorce hurts women much more than men, and many men abandon their kids.

TRUTH: Both men and women suffer after divorce, and lots of men want to give more to their kids.

The media (including the men, for psychological reasons involving guilt or other factors best left to Dr. Phil), see men as inviting, politically correct targets. When experts start trumpeting statistics that add up to “men are bad,” reporters listen. For years, I heard bad things about deadbeat dads. They were living it up, while their ex-wives and children had to scrape by. It’s a recurring story, and the media regurgitates it regularly. It’s also group slander.

In 1985, Lenore Weitzman, then a sociologist at Harvard, published data showing that men prosper after divorce, while women and children suffer terribly.

Weitzman’s report was appalling: Men’s standard of living rose 42 percent after divorce, while women’s declined by 73 percent. The media couldn’t get enough of this exciting news. Those figures were cited not only in news stories, but in 348 social science articles, 250 law review articles, and 24 appeals court cases. Around that time, government officials also reported that Census data showed that about half of the divorced fathers in America didn’t pay child support they owed. The evening newscasts and the papers featured both claims uncritically. The stories fit comfortably into the media’s “save the victim” rut. But get the shovel: The stories didn’t deserve the airtime or the headlines. A little reportorial digging would have burst the sanctimonious bubble.

Digging was finally done, but not by the media. Arizona State University psychologist Sanford Braver set out initially to examine the reasons for the shocking data. Why were those divorced fathers acting so irresponsibly? How could a dad abandon his child?

Braver was surprised to discover that the Weitzman figures were wrong, the result of a mathematical error. Weitzman later admitted she was wrong. She said a computer analyst had made a mistake-a mistake, in this case, heard around the world.

Braver conducted his own study of four hundred divorces, the biggest federally funded study ever done on divorced dads. His findings turned conventional wisdom, and all those media stories, on their heads. The 42 percent better for men, 73 percent worse for women data wasn’t even close. “Our results,” he said, “show that men and women come out almost exactly equally.”

Braver then found that the Census data about deadbeat dads was way off too. The data came from questions asked of the custodial parent only. The custodial parent was almost always the mother. “Everything we knew about non-custodial fathers” in the Census report, Braver told me, “we knew from custodial mothers.” Did some of the angry ex-wives lie? Probably, but we don’t know, because the Census workers didn’t bother to ask the fathers!

After my conversation with Braver, I went to Washington to meet with Dan Weinberg, the man who headed up that data collection for the Census Bureau. As often happens to me in Washington, I felt I was in another world:

STOSSEL So the Census worker says, how much in child support payments were you supposed to receive this year? And the woman remembers . . .

DAN WEINBERG Yes.

STOSSEL I just have a hard time believing that these people, many of whom are angry, are going to give honest answers.

DAN WEINBERG Actually-well, the anger may help them remember what they’re supposed to receive.

STOSSEL Why not go to the man and ask, is it true?

DAN WEINBERG We would be violating the confidentiality of the custodial mother.

STOSSEL Is there any cross-check?

DAN WEINBERG No. We don’t check any of it.

STOSSEL But wouldn’t they lie just because they’re mad at the man?

DAN WEINBERG People are basically honest.

The spirit of George Washington’s cherry tree lives on along the Potomac. I too cannot tell a lie: The media both distort and oversimplify the issues of custody and child support. That reinforces the myth that many divorced dads never bother to see their children-the “runaway dads” so beloved by headline writers. Some men are every bit as despicable as the media portray them, but Braver’s study showed that the majority of divorced dads do try to see their kids. In many cases, “fathers were impeded in their efforts,” Braver told me. “The mother just simply said, ‘No, you can’t see your kid.'”

We videotaped one such heartbreaking scene. A divorced father went to see his five kids for what he thought would be a full-day visit. He was entitled to that, under a court order, and the court also ordered the mother not to discourage the children from spending time with their father. But she clearly had poisoned his children’s minds against him. The father stood just outside his ex-wife’s house and begged his children, “Would you like to go out with me today?” “No,” said one kid after another. Then the mother ordered the kids back into her house.

What comes through on the tape is the unbridled satisfaction of the mother and the helplessness of the father. But that’s not the picture you get from the media. The media automatically cast divorced parents in the roles of villainous father and heroic mother. Many mothers are heroic, but so are many fathers. But a divorced mother as the villain? Heaven forbid! That would stand the world of media victimology on its head.

MYTH: Schools are violent.

TRUTH: Schools are pretty safe.

Media bad news bears love crime and violence. Turn on the television or pick up a tabloid, and you will be convinced that you have more to fear than ever before. Terrible things are happening, and everyone knows they’re happening much more often. These stories are more candidates for the shovel. The gory pictures and the excited copy conceal the actual TRUTH: America is safer than almost any country in human history.

The Columbine, Jonesboro, and Paducah school shootings during the late 1990s triggered a regular spate of stories about “spreading school violence.” But school violence in America had been steadily decreasing. Violent crimes in schools dropped by half between 1992 and 2002, although reporting about school violence increased.

The shooting incidents were awful, but aberrations; more Americans die from lightning strikes than from school violence. More kids die in bathtubs. But the media had become obsessed with school violence. In the wake of Columbine, my network aired 383 stories about the tragedy. Sam Donaldson warned wary parents and students about “angry teens turning up in other towns.” CBS News correspondent Bob McNamara called school shootings “an American nightmare that too many schools know too well.”

But it wasn’t a nightmare that schools knew well. In fact, students are probably safer in school than they are at home or at the mall. Crime statistics show that kids are twice as likely to be victims of violence away from school than they are in school.

The media hysteria encouraged people who run schools to do crazy things, like spend thousands of dollars on security cameras, and hire police officers to guard the doors. Some schools terrified students by running SWAT team drills; cops burst into classrooms and ordered kids down to the floor. The result? Kids in school felt less secure than ever before. Though school violence was down, studies show kids were more scared. “They can’t learn under these conditions,” says Dr. Frank Farley, former head of the American Psychological Association. To listen to the media, Dr. Farley told me, you’d have to believe that Chicken Little was right: “The sky is truly falling. America is in terrible straits and our schools are a mess and they’re violent. But they are not violent. I don’t know why there is all this press coverage, other than the need for a story.”

That’s it. The media beast must be fed. Scares drive up circulation and ratings.

MYTH: “Road rage” is an epidemic!

TRUTH: It’s not.

The inventor of the term “road rage” is unknown, but he or she has a lot to answer for. Not as much as the media does, though. In 1997, the American Automobile Association Traffic Safety Foundation issued a report on aggressive driving. Newsweek said we were being “driven to destruction,” Stone Phillips on NBC said it was “a bigger problem than ever,” and on ABC my colleague Barbara Walters said “the trend is frightening.”

Others were scratching their heads. They didn’t see what the media did. Robert Lichter, president of the Center for Media and Public Affairs at George Mason University, which studies media coverage, told me: “If road rage is something that’s increasing, we should have more fatalities on the road. There should be more reports of reckless driving. But these things are going down.”

So what was the evidence for all these stories? I went to the AAA Foundation, and confronted their chief spokeswoman about their claim that road rage had increased by 51 percent.

STEPHANIE FAUL That’s what it appeared to look like from our report. That’s all I can tell you. We saw an increase in reported cases.

STOSSEL Reported in the press?

STEPHANIE FAUL Yes, reported in the press.

STOSSEL It might be that reporters just started liking the alliteration, road rage?

STEPHANIE FAUL Well, also they like the idea of violent death by strangers! It’s a very common topic in the news reports.

STOSSEL [quoting from her press release] “Reached epidemic proportions. A bigger problem than ever.” Does the study justify that?

STEPHANIE FAUL Well, yes and no.

STOSSEL “A neglected epidemic.”

STEPHANIE FAUL Yeah, that’s a-that’s a bit strong.

STOSSEL The impression from the reporting is that there’s greater danger out there.

STEPHANIE FAUL Yes. Because that’s what sells papers, of course. I mean, you’re in the media. You know that if you get people excited about an issue, that’s what makes it appealing as a topic.

Get out the shovel! This is circular logic: The report was based on media mentions of aggressive driving. We in the media loved the catchy phrase “road rage” so much, we kept doing stories on it.

Robert Lichter suggested it all got started this way: “People were yelling at each other in their cars and making obscene gestures and even getting out of the car for years. Journalists just found a term for it. So last year, you went home and said, ‘Somebody yelled at me from his car.’ This year, you go home and say, ‘I was a victim of road rage.'”

Then the AAA writes a report based on the spurt of stories-and new headlines are born. Media incest!

Once the media had a catchy phrase for it, road rage became an “epidemic.”

MYTH: Using your cell phone at the gas pump could cause an explosion. TRUTH: Don’t tap dance either.

The media is alarmed:

cell fone fireball (New York Daily News)

buying gas? don’t touch that phone! (Toronto Star)

The facts are more reassuring. Cell phones are a source of static electricity, and anything that supplies a spark-however minuscule-can ignite a fire if the spark is near fuel vapors. If you are pumping gas yourself, with a cell phone in your hand that rings at the wrong time, theoretically you might be in danger. But there is no evidence that cell phones are causing fires.

Still, the media keeps pumping out the stories. In 2004, the Poughkeepsie [N.Y.] Journal ran this headline:

cell phone ring starts fire at gas station

The story quoted the local fire chief, Pat Koch, as saying gas vapors were ignited by the ringing of a cell phone. But-hold the presses and get the shovel!-just days later, Koch changed his tune: “After further investigation . . . I have concluded that the source of ignition was from some source other than the cell phone . . . most likely static discharge from the motorist himself.” To its credit, the Poughkeepsie Journal gave its follow-up story as much play as the original. The media rarely do that.

The University of Oklahoma actually has a “Center for the Study of Wireless Electromagnetic Compatibility,” which researches the effects of electronic devices on our lives. The center examined incident reports and scientific data, and concluded that there was “virtually no evidence to suggest that cell phones pose a hazard at gas stations.” The researchers went even further: “The historical evidence,” it said, “does not support the need for further research.”

Any static electricity, any spark-producing activity, is dangerous near vapors. So rubbing your rear end against a cloth car seat on a dry winter day is more risky than using your cell phone near the fumes. Don’t dance near the pumps with metal taps on your shoes either!

MYTH: We have less free time.

TRUTH: We have more.

“We’re fried by work, frazzled by the lack of time.”-Newsweek, March 9, 1995. “Life couldn’t get any busier.”-The Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), May 19, 2005. “Can your life get any busier?”-Saint Paul Pioneer Press, September 20, 2004. “Life is becoming busier for many Americans.”-Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), May 28, 2000.

Victimhood again. Reporters love reporting that life is getting worse. News stories tell us we’re “running ourselves ragged,” and that Americans “have no free time.” Pick up a magazine and read all about it: not enough time for romance, for relaxation, for our kids. Busy, busy, busy-less time than ever before. Except, it’s not true.

When I went looking for real data, some scientific measure of how we spend our time, all paths led to the University of Maryland. There, sociologist John Robinson records how people spend their days. Beginning in 1965, he’s had people fill out diaries so he could calculate how much free time people really have.

STOSSEL I assume since 1965, we’ve lost free time.

JOHN ROBINSON It’s not the case. There is a discrepancy between what people say and what they report when they keep a time diary.

His time diaries show that since 1965, we’ve gained almost an hour more free time per day. Researchers say it’s because Americans today work fewer hours, marry later, have fewer kids, retire earlier, and have better tools, like washing machines and microwaves.

The idea that we work harder than our ancestors is pure nonsense. Until 1890, half of all Americans worked in agriculture. People romanticize farms, but the old-fashioned family farm meant backbreaking labor under a broiling sun. Work began at dawn and continued past dark. Work in mines and factories was worse. Modern jobs are much easier. Our ancestors would be agog to see how much time we spend playing golf, watching TV (an average three to four hours per day), and going to our kids’ soccer games, while complaining about how much we work. But don’t tell that to any magazine editors you know; you wouldn’t want to ruin a perfectly good thing for them. The free-time myth is good for circulation.

MYTH: Gas prices are going through the roof.

TRUTH: Gasoline is a bargain.

The media periodically get upset about “record” gas prices.

“The price of gasoline has risen again to a record high!” said one newscaster in 2004. “The high prices are making it harder for some to keep their heads above water,” said another.

Drivers assume what they see at the pump confirms what they’ve heard on TV. One told me the prices are “scary.” A woman said gas was “going up and up and up, and it’s the most expensive it’s ever been.” And she was on a bike.

The media were saying that gas prices were at record highs for one simple, simple-minded reason: They are economically illiterate, so they didn’t account for inflation. That makes the numbers look bigger than the costs actually are. Such reporting is silly. Not adjusting for inflation would mean that the movies Meet the Fockers and Rush Hour 2 outgrossed Gone With the Wind.

It’s not as if the reporters would have to work at doing calculations to figure this out. Not only are there instant inflation calculators on the Web, but the U.S. Department of Energy accounts for inflation in its annual report of gas prices. At the time I’m writing this, the average price of gasoline in the U.S. is $2.26 per gallon. Once you account for inflation, that means gas today is sixty-seven cents a gallon cheaper than it was in 1922, and sixty-nine cents cheaper than in 1981. True, after Hurricane Katrina the price did reach an average of $2.87 per gallon-but that still is lower than the record average set in March 1981 of $3.12 per gallon.

By failing to account for inflation, the media have some Americans so alarmed that they can’t think straight. “What costs more,” I asked customers at a gas station, “gasoline or bottled water?” The answer I got from almost everyone was gasoline. At that very gas station, water was for sale at $1.29 for a twenty-four-ounce bottle. That’s $6.88 per gallon, three times what the station charged for gasoline. It gets sillier. I asked gas station customers, “What costs more, gasoline or ice cream?” Again, most people said gasoline cost more. But at $3.39 a pint, “premium” ice cream costs about $27.00 a gallon.

We should marvel at how cheap gasoline is-what a bargain we get from oil companies. After all, it’s easy to bottle water, but think about what it takes to produce and deliver gasoline. Oil has to be sucked out of the ground, sometimes from deep beneath an ocean. To get to the oil, the drills often have to bend and dig sideways through as much as five miles of earth. What they find then has to be delivered through long pipelines or shipped in monstrously expensive ships, then converted into three or more different formulas of gasoline and transported in trucks that cost more than $100,000 each. Then your local gas station must spend a fortune on safety devices to make sure you don’t blow yourself up. At $2.26 a gallon (about forty-six cents of which goes to taxes), gas is miraculously cheap! But what we heard from the clueless media was, “Gas prices are at record highs!” MYTH: We are running out of oil fast.

TRUTH: Not so fast!

“It’s going to be a catastrophe!”

When they’re not complaining about the price of gas, doomsayers would have us believe that we are burning oil at an “unsustainable” rate.

Camera-hungry politicians know that predicting doom gets them TV face time. “It’s inevitable that this is just the beginning of this gasoline crisis!” Senator Charles Schumer told me, as Hurricane Rita approached landfall in 2005. The New York Democrat is notorious for his hunger for media coverage. (A Washington joke: Where is the most dangerous place to be? Between Chuck and a camera.) Schumer told me that after Rita hit, the price of gas would rise to “five dollars a gallon.”

He was eager to spend your money to cure his panic. Schumer wants a new “Manhattan Project” that would use huge amounts of tax money to fund “independent energy sources.” I reminded him that the last time government tried that, it wasted billions on the totally failed synfuels project. That was a $20 billion Carter administration plan to develop a cheap way to make synthetic natural gas from coal. Schumer said that synfuels was a failure because “political leaders” chose it, but this time Congress would have “nonpoliticians” decide which projects to fund.

Sure they would.

If nonpoliticians are going to decide which projects to fund, why do we need Chuck Schumer? We already have a system in which nonpoliticians decide what projects to fund. It’s called “the market.”

If the price of a barrel of oil stays high, lots of entrepreneurs will scramble for ways to supply cheaper energy. They’ll come up with alternative energy sources or better ways to suck oil out of the ground. At fifty dollars a barrel, it’s even profitable to recover oil that’s stuck in the tar sands in Alberta, Canada. Peter Huber and Mark Mills point out in their book The Bottomless Well that those tar sands alone contain enough oil to meet our needs for a hundred years.

But the media don’t pay much attention to that. Not running out of oil is not a very interesting story.

MYTH: A full moon makes people crazy.

TRUTH: I was crazy enough to report that.

We media people routinely and mindlessly corroborate myths about science and nature. People already believe that a full moon influences people in weird, negative ways, and reporters are quick to confirm it. Here are samples of what the clueless media has said about the full moon:

“The moon’s effects are legendary . . . Few of us can escape the power of the moon.”-Hugh Downs, 20/20, November 8, 1984. “Spokane County sheriff’s deputies have no need to check their lunar tables to know when it’s a full moon out there.”-Spokesman-Review, October 19, 2005. “A Florida researcher studied murders in Dade County, and found more murders were committed during full moons than any other time. So tonight, watch out.”-John Stossel

Yes, I confess: I actually said that on Good Morning America years ago. The Dade County study seemed plausible-people might drink, party, and therefore murder more people when the moon was full. It was only much later that I discovered the study was flawed. Michael Shermer, editor of Skeptic magazine, embarrassed me by explaining that “Researchers went back, reanalyzed the data, and discovered that there’s nothing unusual going on.”

Shermer said thirty-six other studies prove there is no full-moon effect, but people still believe there is one because our memories play tricks on us. Our brains look for patterns, and when we find one, it sticks. We remember something unusual that happened on a full moon.

“We don’t remember the unusual things that happen on all the other times because we’re not looking for them,” Shermer told me. “These things go on all the time, and there’s no full moon, they’re not looking for it, they don’t remember it. We remember the hits, we forget the misses.” (See also Chapter 9, The Power of Belief.)

Next time you see the “more violence during full moon” headline-get the shovel. MYTH: We’re drowning in garbage!

TRUTH: There’s plenty of room.

“New York City produces 20,000 tons of solid waste every day and the Sanitation Department is running out of places to put it. It argues in a new report that the only place left is the sky.”-The New York Times, April 21, 1984. “We’re going to be drowning in garbage.”-William K. Reilly (former EPA administrator), from Newsday, February 1, 1989. “A World Drowning in Litter.”-BBC News, March 4, 2002.

This myth got jump-started with a real-life incident that took on a life of its own. In 1987, a barge full of New York trash was supposed to be shipped to a landfill in Louisiana. But on the way to Louisiana, the shipper tried to save money by dumping his trash in North Carolina. Suspicious local officials turned him away, and called the media. The complaints of “We don’t want New York’s garbage!” got so much publicity that by the time the “garbage barge” reached its original destination, the Louisiana dump wouldn’t accept it anymore. That brought more publicity.

Television news crews rushed to the scene. Before you could say “Fabricate a crisis to raise money,” activists around the country had added “the garbage crisis” to their agenda. Said Cynthia Pollock of the Worldwatch Institute, “We are now approaching an emergency situation!” That got more publicity.

But it wasn’t true.

The EPA says that, although some cities have to ship garbage to other states, overall landfill capacity is actually increasing. Dump operators keep finding new ways to pack the trash tighter, to make it decompose faster, and pile it higher. Some landfill owners actually compete for our trash; they make money off it by putting grass on top of it and building ski slopes and golf courses.

And America has huge amounts of open space. Not that we are going to fill it all with garbage-all of America’s garbage for the next five hundred years would fit into one landfill one hundred yards high. And it wouldn’t even be the size of one of Ted Turner’s ranches.

The fact that we have plenty of room-gets no publicity.

MYTH: The world is too crowded.

TRUTH: That’s garbage too.

We’ve heard this one for decades. News articles warn of “the population bomb,” a “tidal wave of humanity,” and plead “No more babies.” Clueless alarmists like Ted Turner warn, “There’s lots of problems all over the world caused by too many people.” It’s true that the world population today is more than six billion people, but who says that’s too many?

We could take the entire world population, move everyone into the state of Texas, and the population density there would still be less than that of New York City. I said that to Turner, who then looked at me as if I’d unwrapped a dead fish.

TED TURNER It is a catastrophe that’s just a time bomb that’s waiting to happen. STOSSEL But people are our greatest wealth. More people is a good thing. TED TURNER Up to a point. Up to a point. And you, as a newsman, should damn well know that. Eventually you stand around in a desert with nothing to eat. That’s absurd. The media runs pictures of starving masses in Africa and blames that on overpopulation. One writer, worrying about Niger, said that we must “reduce birth rates drastically, otherwise permanent famine . . . will be the norm.” But Niger’s population density is nine persons per square kilometer, minuscule compared to population densities in wealthy countries like the USA (28), Japan (340), the Netherlands (484), and Hong Kong (6,621). The number of people isn’t the problem.

Famine is caused by things like civil wars and government corruption that interfere with the distribution of food. Sudan had famine when government militia forces stripped the land of cattle and grain. In Niger, 2.5 million people are starving because food production is managed by the state. The absence of property rights, price controls, and other cruel socialist experiments under way in Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, and Lesotho are starving millions more. In Zimbabwe, it’s Robert Mugabe’s kleptocracy that’s doing the damage.

The number of people isn’t the problem. Improved technology now allows people to grow more food on less land. The UN says the world overproduces food today. More than 125,000 babies will be born before you finish reading this book, but they’re not a burden, they’re a blessing. They’re more brains that might cure cancer, more hands to build things, and more voices to bring us beautiful music. The clueless media, in pursuit of the scare du jour, do us a nasty disservice by focusing on the wrong things. Because of the constant parade of frightening stories, huge amounts of money and energy are spent on minuscule risks. In the meantime, millions die of malaria, thousands die from bacteria, teachers are jailed, fathers are kept from their kids, and most everyone is frightened needlessly. There are real problems in the world. The media ought to focus on them.

Excerpted from MYTHS, LIES, AND DOWNRIGHT STUPIDITY by John Stossel. Copyright © 2006 John Stossel. All rights reserved. Available wherever books are sold.

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11 Responses to “John Stossel shows media how to bust myths, not promote them”

  1. Claus Jensen Says:

    Truthseeker, I think I have discovered your secret identity. You’re really Neil Cavuto of Fox News aren’t you? Come on you can admit it, you won’t forfeit any of your privileges just because of the slight issue of AIDS denial when in all other respects you argue the perfection of God’s own system of ‘techno-capitalist democracy’ with such impeccable and self-evident logic.

    Take for instance the general issue of radiation – which apparently equals the issue of nuclear power plants. Here you alert us to the fact that ‘low level’ (naturally occurring background?) ‘radiation is not all that dangerous, may even be beneficial’. Take for instance that blessing in disguise, Chernobyl, where it turns out, (according to whom exactly? The same international agencies who’ve established without a doubt that HIV=AIDS?) that only 56 people – and possibly thousands of others in time, have died/will die.
    The latter unknown and difficult to ascertain variable is of course next to insignificant when we consider the millions of people whose health will probably benefit greatly for generations to come because of low level radiation exposure from that same incident. Heck! the lucky European bastards even get it for free now as opposed to the US, where people have to descend into subterranean cavities and pay for such an invigorating experience.

    By the way, here’s a great idea for some government revenue, or even profitable private enterprise (since it’s a long established scientific fact that greed is the strongest motivator of Man, as well as the true source of altruism). How about re-opening US nuclear test sites and let people pay a small fee to picnic in the vicinity on test days? Or better yet, follow the example of the French and conduct renewed testing in the old colonies or Indian reservations, as a compensation for the (of course highly exaggerated) inconveniencies they have suffered in the past.

    In a story both touching and informative about personal redemption, we also hear about Patrick Moore, who has switched sides to work for the big bucks pharmaceutical industry ever since he found out that moderate doses of antiretrovirals are not nearly as fatal as he once thought:

    ‘just compare the initial projections with present facts’, he tells us. Once, wild-eyed scientists, like Peter Duesberg, claimed that all the hundreds of thousands of HIV positives on HAART would die from liver failure. Today we know the number is not nearly that high, and that many of the patients even seem to benefit from treatment’ . . . ooops, I seem to get the topics all mixed up here. Sorry about that. We can’t of course demand that the rigorous logic and investigative depth applied to the HIV?AIDS issue be followed to the same extent in the very different matter of energy policy and radiation exposure made controversial primarily by people we all know are liberal fringe nuts anyway.

    Let’s turn instead to the topic of price gouging, a favourite of that superior branch of moral philosophy called ‘economic theory.’
    We all know the basic difference between economists (Marx and a few other misguided individuals possibly excepted) and other academics is their rich and varied real-life experience, which translates into a non-sentimental, practical approach to basic human problems. Illuminated by the profound psychological insights which form the basis of their discipline, these oracles give us not only a comprehensive picture of how things are, but also of how they must of necessity be in all possible real) worlds.

    As we all know, simplicity is the height of sophistication, hence it is no wonder that the economists’ entire philosophy can be summarized in the ancient imperative ’know thyself!’ Their unabashed self knowledge is proudly displayed in the basic premise which governs all their conclusions, in this case expressed with almost lyrical eloquence by an expert witness testifying before the ‘oddly gentle, sweet natured, socially sensitive small screen artist’, John Stossel:

    “People want to live in a world, where love is what motivates people to help others. And love does that. But there isn’t enough love to go around. And love for strangers isn’t gonna motivate enough people to get in their trucks, to load ’em up with generators, and take ’em down to help people who are cold and hungry,”

    These eminently quote-worthy words emanate from attorney general Hood much like invigorating rays of low level radiation from Chernobyl. We recognize immediately the worldly wisdom of a man initiated into the laws of economics when Hood with infallible certainty distinguishes between the world we all want to live in, and the harsh realities of the actual, finite universe to which we are confined.
    In the real world, Love, like crude oil, is a limited resource. Love for strangers, like gasoline, is an even rarer commodity. There simply isn’t enough for everybody don’t you know?.
    But we are still far from the truly sublime. Just imagine how much more poetic Hood’s message would sound if all nouns signifying living beings were replaced with X’s and Y’s, Love itself with a letter from the Greek alphabet perhaps, and all neatly arranged on a graph.

    Perhaps the best answer to the moral dilemma would be to price gouge Love itself. Think about it, if we made love more expensive, people wouldn’t consume it in such excessive amounts. There would be more left for the poor and the needy. If we raised the price of love to, say, 10,000 $ per unit, those who truly have nothing would then be able to buy their own share; and if they didn’t, it would just be proof that they don’t REALLY need it, that they are probably not really that poor after all, wouldn’t it? Ahh how simple an affair morals and responsibility, even love, become when we just leave everything up to greed, the most important part of the great, invisible, equalizing hand of economics.

    Consider also how easily we could solve the AIDS issue. In fact, it has already been solved! The scientists already do the kind of research,that ensures incessant funding. The pharmaceuticals already push the kind of drugs that ensure the further free flow of capital world wide. The consumers, convinced by informative free market advertising campaigns are already demanding the kind of product which they are served. All the major players are already motivated by greed and selfish ambition. What we need do now is keep stimulating the market so as to keep up demand – and, of course, price gouge frequently to make sure everybody get their due share of antiretrovirals.

    By the way, the logic governing the conclusion concerning the harmlessness of radiation, we are relieved to discover, makes everything else harmless as well, not only AZT.
    One of those real, rock solid non-sensationalist scientists whom we all admire, is Dr. Bruce Ames. He convinces Truthseeker and us to basically lay all our fears of industry and mass production in capitalist societies to rest with one piercing and hitherto unthought of observation:

    ‘It turns out DDT itself wasn’t the problem-the problem was that much too much was sprayed. That’s often true with chemicals; it’s the dose that matters. We need water, for example, but six feet of it will kill us.’

    Thus rings the voice of true science. If only all the paranoid protesters had known this secret of Nature, that it’s primarily a matter of quantity if something kills us, we could have let the pesticide producers, like the pharmaceuticals, get on with their business of saving our lives long ago.

    I, for one, am now no longer worried about the type of ad. I saw in Thai TV last year. It featured a Thai farmer dressed like a superhero with a big tank full of pesticides on his back, jumping around like a grinning madman spraying the stuff everywhere. I am quite reassured by the knowledge that American farmers seized to spray DDT on picnic parties almost 50 years ago.

    I sleep like a baby every night, for I know that, although companies are looking to maximize their profits, greed is still part of the economist’s invisible hand of morality. They would never push anything on us which is untested, or in quantities which could be harmful – not anymore anyway, not in this country anyway. I can quite confidently let down my guard and trust the real experts in the white robes.
    Even where we have been perhaps a bit overzealous in the application of harmless pesticides, like Vietnam, the inherent benevolence of the producers and their products will have shown itself. Who can doubt for instance, that in the most heavily sprayed areas, the population of malaria mosquitoes declined dramatically?

    I’m sure Truthseeker’s investigation of HIV drug trials and marketing has led him to the same reassuring conclusions. If only those stupid protesters, tree huggers and other holistic thinkers who insist we are not reducible to mere biological machines would get out of the way and let the bona fide establishment scientists prepare our future in their clinically rational test tubes, who knows what kind of fair new world we’d soon be living in.

  2. HankBarnes Says:

    I saw the Stossel episode, too, on Friday night. It was great! A little too timid, though, in my view.

    Enjoyed the elephant/mouse stunt, though. Not that it was important, but because it shows how silly ideas get imbedded in the culture thru pop media, that are flat out wrong.

    Hank B

  3. truthseeker Says:

    “How about re-opening US nuclear test sites and let people pay a small fee to picnic in the vicinity on test days? ”

    Good idea. This would bring them up out of the mines, so we could charge extra.

    Thank you for reminding us not to post so long, Claus, and to try and keep our flights of fancy witty and relevant. But your comment seems to be entirely a long string of sarcasms, based on the exact assumptions that were undermined by John Stossel’s investigation. We believe we deserve better.

    What good is it if our reply to his contradictions is simply to embroider the much beloved assumptions we cherish, having held them so long that they have become family, perhaps. This is precisely the behavior that Stossel makes fun of. It is also the behavior of most of the victims of HIV?AIDS. Trying to prise them loose from their beliefs is like trying to separate a kid from his Teddy bear. The toy may have a ticking plastic bomb inside, but the HIV?AIDS patient will still cling to it as if it was his only source of love.

    We prefer to be guided by science, even the sometimes questionable science we have to put up with today, with half the scientists who produce it wearing suits as expensive as their patent lawyers. This is not to say, however, we don’t appreciate the work of the many praiseworthy scientists in HIV?AIDS who are honest enough to publish findings which continually demonstrate that the paradigm is wrong about HIV killing T-cells, about heterosexual transmission of positive status, etc, findings which have enabled us to conclude using mainstream papers that the likelihood of HIV causing AIDS is about the same as Bob Gallo accepting it doesn’t, ie zero.

    We must say however that we are amazed that having contemplated the points at such length you can still resist their import. Why don’t you look into the matter of radiation, instead of laughing at it as prima facie absurd? Perhaps you can prove this wrong, but as far as we know he is right and Chernobyl was not the disaster we, like you, assumed. Read Jim Hogan’s book, Kicking the Sacred Cow, why don’t you? If you can return here to counter Hogan’s hard headed, independent minded exposition with new facts and references we would appreciate the contribution, particularly from someone who has enough time to look into it deeply, as your discursive essay implies you do. Meanwhile, those mice in front of John Stossel’s camera sure had glossy coats.

    We grant you, when you write that

    “Once, wild-eyed scientists, like Peter Duesberg, claimed that all the hundreds of thousands of HIV positives on HAART would die from liver failure. Today we know the number is not nearly that high, and that many of the patients even seem to benefit from treatment’ . . .”

    that it certainly seems that the less-than-wild eyed independent scientists in HIV?AIDS like Peter Duesberg have to explain why the gay men who swallow HAART drugs so trustfully have managed to avoid dying from liver failure, if that is in fact true.

    The problem, however, is that, on the contrary, they are dying of liver failure. Nearly half of the deaths of HIV?AIDS patients in recent years have been due to that non-HIV?AIDS symptom.

    That is why the not-very-wild eyed Duesberg and colleagues conclude that it is the drugs are killing them.

    What do you conclude? Or do you simply feel that anything that contradicts what you already believe must be wrong?

    Welcome to the real world, inhabited by the often misguided human race. Let us embrace each other, and work together to replace fantasy with fact.

  4. Claus Jensen Says:

    Truthseeker. You’re right, my comment does ‘seem to be entirely a long string of sarcasms’, to the extent, I now realize, that I drown my serious points. Since you’ve been kind enough to take me seriously anyway, even answer at length, please allow a couple of days and I will seek to explain my positions more directly AND more briefly, you’ll no doubt be relieved to hear.
    In the meantime, I’m entirely on your side with regard to Duesberg as a first class, courageous scientist, and the AIDS paradigm as more than doubtful – actually much of the information I have on the subject I’ve gotten from your postings and following up on them.

  5. Truthseeker Says:

    We look forward to your post, Claus, though we are slightly worried that you have left behind the phase where you had copious time to address the point as fully as you may wish, and we hurry to say that we have nothing at all against long posts, in fact we encourage them as more likely to be helpful, only that we are anxious to understand what you are saying.

    In fact, if you mean that you think Stossel is too much a creature of certain industries who must love his stuff, we anticipate you will be supported by others here. But we like to think that he is an honest fellow, who is paid enough to be free of such bias.

  6. Henry H. Bauer Says:

    Your recent post about radiation harm or benefits reminded me of the attached article that appeared in the Journal of
    Scientific Exploration. Its author, Joel Kauffman, is an organic chemist who tests many common beliefs against reality by
    digging into the original scientific literature. He has just published an excellent book that reports on some of his
    investigations, MALIGNANT MEDICAL MYTHS.

    That health may benefit from small doses of radiation, or small doses of chemicals that are poisonous at high doses, has a
    plausible explanation. The small doses stimulate the immune system, which “over-reacts”, getting ready for a greater
    challenge. While so stimulated, it is better able to fight off everyday challenges, and one gets fewer colds, say. This
    benefitting from small doses of what may be harmful at higher levels is called hormesis.

    It may be that the temporary benefit some AIDS sufferers get from the toxic substances used as anti-retrovirals could be
    the effect of hormesis. That would explain why those benefits seem to be only temporary and the drugs “lose their
    effectiveness” after prolonged use.

  7. HankBarnes Says:

    Henry Bauer,

    This benefitting from small doses of what may be harmful at higher levels is called hormesis.

    That’s right. Tom Bethell has a chapter on this in his great book, The Politically Correct Guide to Science.

    HBarnes

  8. Chris Scheuermann Says:

    Truthseeker et al.,

    Just wanted to bring everyone up to date on a different aspect of HIV?AIDS that you might find interesting yet no less agregious. Now, while the science of HIV/AIDS is enough to make any rational person take pause and question, on the service side, the reautherization of the Ryan White Act is up and currently going through Congress. Now, while I will spare you the rather mundane politiking that makes this reautherization process pathetic, as it has been since the creation of the Act, I wish to draw your attention to the financial mismanagement that characterizes HIV/AIDS funding.

    Now, of course, this site has discussed at length about wanting to see tangible results from our over 150 billion spent. However, for the moment, suspend disbelief, and assume everything about HIV?AIDS is correct. Now lets discuss the reality of how the money is partitioned for treatment and care. It has been quite obvious from the outset that the actual numbers have been no where near the the numbers predicted. However, under the new version of the authorization, which just passed the Senate HELP commitee, funding will only be given for services to those people that have recieved an “AIDS” diagnosis within the last five years. Now, take a state like New Jersey, which, bar none, has the best track record in the country, for its administration of Ryan White, including the most accurate counts of “infected” persons. Now, this new reauthorization, will essentially penalize New Jersey almost 2 million in federal funds; and leave many people who were previously entitled to help, no longer qualified.

    Now, the true shame of it all. Enter California, Massachusetts, and New York. Since the beginning of Ryan White, they have had a clause called “Hold Harmless”. This means that since the beggining, they have been counting, and continue to count everyone who has EVER been infected. In essence, THEY ARE COUNTING DEAD PEOPLE!! Now, These states were supposed to get their acts together by the time of this newest reauthorization. Now, They are fiercely advocating extending “Hold Harmless” for another four years. And, in fact, the bill that just got out of commitee, does indeed do just that! And still, California is up in arms because they wanted it extended for another five. In essence ladies and gentlemen, states like New Jersey, with “living” people to care for, will lose money to states like California which will recieve funds for people who are deceased.

    It is a gross mismanagement of funds that I wanted to appraise everyone of. And, by all means check it out for yourselves.

    Chris

  9. truthseeker Says:

    “That’s right. Tom Bethell has a chapter on this in his great book, The Politically Correct Guide to Science.”

    Surprised your enthusiasm is unalloyed, Hank, given that Bethell chickened out of debunking HIV diectly.

    Also, doesn’t he seem to go a little overboard on evolution, without coming clean about his own religiosity?

  10. Claus Jensen Says:

    He-he Truthseeker, you’re right that I have had less than copious amounts of time on my hands the last couple of days. However, I’m now back to my usual life of leisure and indulgence. I’ll immediately take you up on your word and deliver, as promised, a very
    l-o-n-g post, which will hopefully explain my first post.

    “Read Jim Hogan’s book, Kicking the Sacred Cow, why don’t you? If you can return here to counter Hogan’s hard headed, independent minded exposition with new facts and references we would appreciate the contribution” (quote Truthseeker)

    I don’t dispute (most of) the scientific information. Although I could perhaps find other sources saying something different, this would in all probability lead to an inconclusive result. Besides I have no reason to believe I’m better at digging up facts and references than you are.
    So for now, if you don’t mind, I’d like to stay with the contents of this article and examine how the information is presented here, rather than simply countering it with other ‘facts and references’, because that to me is equally revealing. If you should think contributions of this kind might be appreciated here, I’ll certainly consider doing more in the future on suggested topics.

    “In fact, if you mean that you think Stossel is too much a creature of certain industries who must love his stuff, we anticipate you will be supported by others here. But we like to think that he is an honest fellow, who is paid enough to be free of such bias” (Quote Truthseeker)

    I don’t mind that Stossel, like you and me and everybody else, has certain beliefs, affiliations or preferences. What I DO object to, is a common form of manipulative argument where the reader or listener is made to think that, by accepting a tiny bit of ‘objective scientific information’, he has via some obscure logical connection also conceded a larger, much more complex point.

    “Take for instance the general issue of radiation – which apparently equals the issue of nuclear power plants” (Quote Claus)

    My point is this, the objective, myth busting piece of scientific information goes (ought to go) something like this: ‘We are subjected to low level background radiation all the time. Low level radiation is usually not found to be harmful.’ PERIOD!

    The issue of nuclear power plants is a very different one, much larger, much more complex, in many respects hardly even related to the issue of the relative harmlessness of low level radiation.

    The agenda: We’re exposed to radiation from thousands of sources, why such focus on nuclear power plants? For instance, what does the Chernobyl disaster have to do with the snippet of ‘objective science’ which formed the initial proposition? The answer is ‘none really.’

    Your own wording of the scientific proposition and the mention of Chernobyl within context was this:

    “First is the myth/reality of the dangers of radiation, where it appears that at low levels radiation is much less dangerous than thought, and may even be beneficial. Chernobyl claimed only 56 lives, for example, not hundreds of thousands as some people tell Stossel. The 20/20 segment included happy bathers in pools in Europe filled with mildly radioactive water, and mines in the US with seats where customers sit and absorb the benefits, saying they feel quite invigorated afterwards.” (quote Truthseeker)

    Grammatically, the full stop between ‘beneficial’ and ‘Chernobyl’, might just as well have been a colon, that’s how closely you connect the two statements by use of the words ‘for example’.
    Be that as it may, the full quote taken to its logical extent certainly justifies the reader’s inference that public health was possibly improved by exposure to low level radiation from the ChernobyI disaster, although this is not specifically claimed. Hence my jocular remarks about re-opening nuclear test sites for improvement of public health.

    But that would still not explain the focus on Chernobyl and other plants in this context. To justify linking them together, the scientific proposition should have sounded something like this: ‘New studies have shown that even massive doses of radiation, are not as dangerous as previously thought’. Or ‘the level of harmful radiation produced by a nuclear reactor meltdown is much less than previously thought.’

    These, in fact, are typical of hidden propositions which are often smuggled in when the supposedly neutral experts expand on their supposedly objective science. The examples and inferences far exceed the initial proposition. In the present case, the use of Chernobyl as a worst case example in an article about the harmlessness of low level radiation, cuddled up snuggly among those other happy-funny examples, smuggles in such hidden propositions or suggestions about nuclear power in general.

    Whether in this case it was intended or not, I don’t know. But when the segment continues with an even more irrelevant story about a reformed environmental activist, one cannot help but wonder. . .

    My ‘mix-up’ in speaking of Patrick More, as if he were a reformed HAART opponent instead of environmental activist was an attempt to illustrate what a transparent piece of propaganda most of us would in all probability have viewed the inclusion of his story as had the issue been low level AZT instead of low level radiation.

    But there’s a subtler point to the story about Mr. More. The story makes it sound like More, whose function clearly is to represent the archetypal protester, switched sides on the issue of nuclear power merely because he became educated in the scientific effects of low level radiation, making the two issues appear one and the same.
    The implication is that all protesters with half a brain will (ought to) follow the example of Mr. More (who was once a leader among them!) as soon as they too have been informed about the harmlessness of low level radiation – as if that were the only valid reason for being opposed to nuclear power.
    I’m not going to tire anybody with an exploration of the many other layers, dimensions, facets, perspectives the issue of atomic energy contains apart from the effects of low level radiation; suffice to say the whole affair amounts to an insult to the people who, mistakenly or not, articulately or not, at least care enough to engage in such matters.

    The argument about carcinogens, pesticides and organic produce is constructed on more or less the same lines: People are ridiculed for choosing organic foods on the basis of an ‘objective, scientific’ carcinogen count, featuring a silly mushroom eating stunt by the chosen representative of respectable science (hardly in the same league as Peter Duesberg’s HIV-self-infection challenge, you’d agree). This too is grossly over-simplified and grossly insulting for the reasons stated above.

    The issue of pesticides then gets lumped together with that of radiation; and once again nuclear protesters at large, together with the media, get a solid hiding. This time over irradiated vegetables.

    In fact, the carcinogen count seems to be the first AND one of the very last bits of reasonably solid science we get out of Stossel and his expert on organic veggies. In the excerpt given by Truthseeker, I find almost exclusively, ‘Ames said this, the guy opposed said that.’ Even when some Indian study is referred to, Stossel apparently phones to ask the author what it says, instead of quoting from and critically analyzing the study itself.
    As to the answer Stossel receives from his Indian connection, well what kind of answer would I get if I phoned Gallo and asked him if it’s true what Truthseeker claims, that he (Gallo) disproved the theory that HIV causes AIDS back in 1984?
    Not only does Stossel’s approach make the book useless for serious study, it represents the kind of thing we usually object to as ‘lazy research’ when it comes to HIV-AIDS (I haven’t seen the entire book; perhaps Stossel saves all the real investigation and real discussion for appendixes and footnotes in which case my critique of this point may not be so damaging, though still valid).

    We also note that the myth about chemical pollutants and cancer is so persistent that the diligent gentlemen Stossel and Ames have to explode it not once, but three times within the first chapter.

    1. “MYTH: Pesticide residues in food cause cancer and other diseases.

    TRUTH: The residues are largely harmless.”

    And again:

    2. “MYTH: Chemical pollution is the cause of the cancer epidemic!

    TRUTH: There is no cancer epidemic.”

    And again:

    3. “MYTH: DDT causes all kinds of cancers, and nearly wiped out every bird in the world.

    TRUTH: DDT saves lives.”

    The logic of chemical myth buster nr. 2 is especially impressive:

    ‘Myth: Chemical pollution is the cause of the cancer epidemic

    Truth: There is no cancer epidemic’

    Conclusion: Chemical pollutants and radiation cannot be the cause of cancer.

    Here’s a real test of your convictions: Try to take that argument to an introductory course in formal logic; that would show some courage. In the meantime I invite anybody to read the relevant section and ascertain for him/herself that this, if any, is the actual form and substance of the argument.

    By the way, ‘epidemic’ is usually a term used of a contagious disease, and so we might think the real reason why there is no cancer epidemic is that, as our friend Peter no-last-name-required has shown, all cancers are not caused by a virus.

    In fine, if anybody ever needed a textbook example of the practice of setting up and shooting down a straw man, he need look no further.

    The story about Ames’ scientific discovery of the harmlessness of pesticides goes like this:

    “People started using our test,” he told me, “and finding mutagens everywhere-in cups of coffee, on the outside of bread, and when you fry your hamburger!”
    This made him wonder if his tests were too sensitive, and led him to question the very bans he’d advocated. A few years later, when I went to a supermarket with him, he certainly didn’t send out any danger signals.” (Quote Stossel)

    The question of interest, what happened between the time Dr. Ames started to doubt his own test and the time of his trip to the supermarket with Stossel, is left hanging in the air (although I’m sure the answer can be found elsewhere, but that’s not the point). The account of scientific discovery is skipped almost entirely in favour of the mushroom stunt. I can only conclude Stossel feels real science is too heavy a diet (pun intended) for his MTV attention span readers.
    What remains is no more than another variant over the redemption theme: Dr. Ames, like Patrick More, began to question his own data, saw the light, switched sides. . .

    The central point I made in the first mail is this:

    “It turns out DDT itself wasn’t the problem-the problem was that much too much was sprayed. That’s often true with chemicals; it’s the dose that matters. We need water, for example, but six feet of it will kill us.’” (quote Dr. Ames)

    “Thus rings the voice of true science. If only all the paranoid protesters had known this secret of Nature, that it’s primarily a matter of quantity if something kills us, we could have let the pesticide producers, like the pharmaceuticals, get on with their business of saving our lives long ago.” (quote Claus).

    Ok. DDT is not a problem, only the dose is a problem – actually DDT is just like water in this respect.
    Such an argument, as Dr. Ames himself kindly informs us, can be made for ANY substance, hence it’s completely EMPTY. But this is all his myth buster boils down to.
    The 3 ‘truths‘ listed above about chemicals are highly ambiguous, because they do not specify that all Dr. Ames has is an argument based on the quantity of each of the Man-made carcinogenic chemicals relative to those occurring naturally in certain specified products, such as coffee, alcohol and mushrooms.
    Again suggestions are smuggled in, I guess because Dr. Ames is not really sure if they are supported by the scientific facts on which they are based. The wording, ‘DDT is not a problem’ suggests to us that there is nothing about the quality of DDT which makes it any more harmful than pure tap water. However, it’s immediately followed by an admission that large doses can be a problem. But elsewhere we’re told that even obscene amounts of DDT have never been shown to be harmful to humans:

    “Despite this overuse, there was no surge in cancer or any other human injury. Scientists found no evidence that spraying DDT seriously hurt people. It did cause some harm: It threatened bird populations by thinning the shells of their eggs.” (quote Dr. Ames)

    I don’t know which studies Dr. Ames refers to, but I do recognize the qualification ‘seriously’, from numerous pharmaceutical drug trials. Perhaps that is why he still thinks the dose could be a problem and therefore stops short of committing himself to a qualitative argument, merely suggests it.- Or is it just that he’s worried about the birds?

    All in all there is no argument in this whatsoever for not remaining suspicious of the effects of extra, ‘unnatural’ chemicals in food and trying the best we can to avoid them; or to stop opposing an industry that wants to push them on us in as large amounts as possible. I think this sums up the position of most people who support organic produce a little more fairly than,

    “Even so, we remain entirely convinced that organic food tastes better, as long as it is correctly “framed”, ie labeled “Organic”.” (quote Truthseeker)

    The point about price gouging is also more of the same: Price gouging is part of an intricate system called ‘capitalism’. Capitalism is based on greed as its principal motivational force, accumulation of capital as its highest value. This is usually freely admitted. However, proponents of capitalism sometimes perceives the need to justify themselves morally, which means a corresponding need to dress up naked Greed in some less direct terms. According to this tactic, economists come up with such isolated issues as ‘price gouging’, then proceed to show the important equilibrating function it serves bringing demand in line with supply, which is ‘good’. The demonstration of these marvelous, self-regulating mechanisms within the economic system is usually so dazzling that we forget to ask the question, ‘good? – good for what precisely?
    The honest answer is, ‘good precisely as a regulating function within the capitalistic system viewed as an isolated entity. No more no less.’

    There is nothing moral, human or ‘good’ about price gouging other than this function within the system it’s part of. That is, to the extent a society is not already shaped in the image of capitalism, price gouging might just as well jeopardize its functioning as benefit it. Thus, if you don’t agree with fascism style worshipping of the capitalistic System for the system’s own sake, or if you happen to believe that capitalism is only one constituent part of our society, maybe not even the most important one, it is irrelevant to the principal issue whether its priests can come up with examples of price gouging, exploitation, military invasions etc. having some good effects in practice.

    This leads us to the dishonest answer to the question as to what price gouging is good for. It is presented by Nobel Prize-winning economists Gary Becker, Vernon Smith and Milton Friedman, who, according to Stossel, say price gouging is ‘good’. Not merely good for this or that mind you, just overall good.

    If these very accomplished economists feel they are competent in other areas as well, such as moral philosophy and psychology. They should at least be aware what a large claim they are making in telling us what is ‘good’. Since Socrates, who considered the Idea (or Form) of the Good the most important, most majestic of all Ideas – that on which all other Ideas depend – the problem of defining the Good has remained unsolved – until now that is, when the economists in question apparently have found some secret formula within their own discipline that enables them to pronounce price gouging, and by extension capitalism, good across the board.

    Perhaps someone may feel I’m overstating the case a bit here, referring to the Idea of the Good and everything. But that is not the case; the economists want to claim precisely what I’ve said, that they are able to generalize about what is good from an isolated example taken within the narrow context of their own discipline.
    Neither do I believe the imprecision in the language (if we choose to view it as such) is unintended, because the omission of the qualification good ‘on its own terms’, ‘within its own system’, ‘from a certain perspective’ is what is designed to convince us that by admitting price gouging can have some beneficial effects, we have conceded a larger point about the inherent benevolent properties of the capitalistic system.

    And what exactly is it that’s supposed to have all those benevolent effects were it only allowed to operate freely? That’s right, our good pal Greed.

    “Shepperson and his family live in Kentucky. They watched news reports about Katrina and learned that people desperately needed things. Shepperson thought he could help and make some money, too. . .’ (quote Stossel)

    What some economists wants us to concede, based on a few appealing examples (such as the above) of greed ostensibly in the company of benevolence, is that their discipline is able to demonstrate objectively that greed in its various euphemistic incarnations, ‘profit motive’, ‘entrepeneurship’ etc. is inherently good. But that’s not all. They further claim that of all human motivators greed is, and must of necessity be, supreme because it will never be in scarce supply (so we’d better thank God who in his infinite wisdom has thought to made it inherently benevolent!). If these two claims taken together doesn’t immediately strike any intelligent being as patent nonsense, I don’t know if I can help it. But here’s the quote again and my immediate response:

    “People want to live in a world, where love is what motivates people to help others. And love does that. But there isn’t enough love to go around. And love for strangers isn’t gonna motivate enough people to get in their trucks, to load ’em up with generators, and take ’em down to help people who are cold and hungry,” (NB! In my first mail I mistakenly attributed this quote to Hood. The author of this pathetic piece of rubbish dressed up as a practical view of the world is of course Roberts)

    “These eminently quote-worthy words emanate from the economist Russ Roberts much like invigorating rays of low level radiation from Chernobyl. We recognize immediately the worldly wisdom of a man initiated into the laws of economics when Roberts with infallible certainty distinguishes between the world we all want to live in, and the harsh realities of the actual, finite universe to which we are confined.
    In the real world, Love, like crude oil, is a limited resource. Love for strangers, like gasoline, is an even rarer commodity. There simply isn’t enough for everybody don’t you know?” (quote Claus)

    In Stossel’s piece, the meddlesome law makers, whose anti-gouging initiatives apparently were to blame for the disastrous result of the 1970s gas crisis, don’t really get their say. Perhaps I can be their voice: As opposed to some economists’ rosy views on greed, our laws reflect a sense that if we want to continue living in a civilized, humane society based on law, greed, of which price gouging is a function, has to be somehow disciplined and kept in check or the larger implications will be very unpleasant indeed.
    Hence we can all agree that the example in question (Katrina and power generators), may demonstrate excessive rigidity in our society of laws, but that does NOT commit us to hailing Shepperson as a hero, or price gouging and the system it’s a part of as inherently good.

    “In fact, if you mean that you think Stossel is too much a creature of certain industries who must love his stuff, we anticipate you will be supported by others here. But we like to think that he is an honest fellow, who is paid enough to be free of such bias.” (quote Truthseeker)

    I’m sorry, I don’t know Stossel (being actually from the country and city of Kierkegaard), but on background of the above, it’s difficult for me to think very highly of his critical attitude, or believe him to be an unbiased researcher. Since my analysis is based entirely on your article, I could be wrong.

  11. Martin Kessler Says:

    Out of curiousity, I perused John Stossel’s new book, “Myths, Lies, and Downright Stupidity”. I looked up in the index AIDS. What Stossel commented on was about the cost of AIDS drugs (with my presumtion that Stossel believed the current AIDS drugs were good drugs). There was no questioning the AIDS paradigm or much less the danger or ineffectiveness of AIDS drugs. But I commend Stossel, he had done a ground breaking progam on addictions called “Help me, I Can’t Help Myself”. He had psychologist Dr. Jeffrey Schaler on the show who also owns a website called http://www.szasz.com. Thomas Szasz, who has written many books, is mostly famous for his book “The Myth of Mental Illness”. I count Szasz and Duesberg as heros and iconoclasts willing to contradict lies supported by the government and industry.

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