Climate Change's Carnival Atmosphere

by Steve Milloy
February 6, 2007, FOXNews.com

The global warming carnival hits its full stride this week in preparation for the release of the long-awaited and much-hyped United Nations report on global warming. It’s unfortunate for the climateers that this week’s climate science doesn’t live up to all the hoopla. Continue reading Climate Change's Carnival Atmosphere

Asbestos Fireproofing Might Have Prevented World Trade Center Collapse

By Steven Milloy
January 18, 2007, FoxNews.com

In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, I suggested in this column on Sept. 14, 2001 that many lives could have been saved if asbestos fireproofing been used in the World Trade Center. Continue reading Asbestos Fireproofing Might Have Prevented World Trade Center Collapse

Eco-Intimidation Bypasses Scientific Debate

By Steven Milloy
January 11, 2007, FoxNews.com

Junk science traditionally has been pretty much of an in-your-face phenomenon. Activist-generated scary headlines that are followed by a hysterical rush to adopt new laws and regulations is standard fare.

But that may be changing. Consider the more insidious and subtle tactics of the San Francisco-based As You Sow Foundation. Continue reading Eco-Intimidation Bypasses Scientific Debate

New York City Bans Science

By Steve Milloy
December 07, 2006, FoxNews.com

The New York City Board of Health this week banned the use of trans fats by restaurants. The decision is directly traceable back to the “research” of Harvard University’s Alberto Ascherio and Walter Willett, the promoters-in-chief of trans fats hysteria.

Now that the Board has deemed their dubious trans fats research suitable for dictating public policy, New Yorkers ought to hope that Ascherio and Willett don’t press the Board to implement some of their other published research that is similar in “quality” to their trans fats work.

New Yorkers could, for example, see restaurants banned from serving potatoes, peas, peanuts, beans, lentils, orange juice and grapefruit juice. Ascherio-Willett reported an increase in the risk of heart disease among consumers of these foods in the Annals of Internal Medicine (June 2001). Although none of those slight correlations were statistically meaningful — and, in all probability, were simply meaningless chance occurrences — a similar shortcoming didn’t seem to matter to the Board when it came to their trans fats research.

Indian restaurants could be banned from cooking with sunflower oil. Ascherio-Willett once found that consumers of Indian food cooked in sunflower oil were up to 3 times more likely to suffer heart attacks than consumers of Indian food cooked in mustard oil (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, April 2004).

Sure it was only one study and even they acknowledged the need for more research — but that didn’t stop Ascherio-Willett from recommending the switch in cooking oils.

Red meat might disappear, too.

Ascherio-Willett reported a 63 percent increase in the risk of type 2 diabetes associated with iron intake from red meat (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Jan. 2004). They didn’t bother to verify how much iron from red meat any of the study subjects consumed and, therefore, don’t actually have a firm basis for linking red meat consumption with the disease – but what the heck, they don’t really know the quantity of trans fats consumed by any of those study subjects either.

It’s not looking good for dairy products either. Ascherio-Willett reported in the Annals of Neurology (Dec. 2002) that consumption of dairy products was associated with an 80 percent increase in the risk of Parkinson’s Disease among men. Although they concluded at the time that the finding needed further evaluation, why should the Board wait for more research? That could take forever. If the inconsistent and contradictory trans fats research doesn’t require further evaluation, I can’t imagine why it would be necessary for dairy products.

Regular (sugar-sweetened) soft drinks ought to be history as well. Willett linked them with weight gain and diabetes in women (Journal of the American Medical Association, Aug. 25, 2004). It didn’t even matter that the same study also inexplicably linked diet soft drinks with a similar risk of diabetes.

It’s really odd that when their research inadvertently debunks itself and other food myths, almost no one learns of it. And that’s true for their trans fats research, as well.

The Board’s notice of its decision to ban trans fats tries to bolster its case by playing on popular misconceptions about saturated fat. The notice states that, “trans fat appears even worse than saturated fat.” The Board apparently isn’t familiar with the several Ascherio-Willett studies that fail to link saturated fat with heart disease and stroke.

The public’s 30-year long fear of saturated fat and the Board’s statement is, in fact, without a scientific basis. It’s simply astounding that the Board can get away with exploiting one debunked myth to help propagate another.

Just to show that not all the Ascherio-Willett research is about simply banning foods – after all, it is possible that at some point the public will tire of being nannied – the Board may want to consider requiring restaurant patrons to order caffeinated coffee with every meal. One Ascherio-Willett study reported that the risk of type 2 diabetes was reduced by a statistically significant 54 percent among men who consumed 6 or more cups of coffee per day (Annals of Internal Medicine, Jan. 6, 2004).

The Board might also want to mandate the daily consumption of pizza by men. Ascherio-Willett reported that men who consume more than 10 servings of pizza per week reduce their risk of prostate cancer by one-third (Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Dec. 1995).

It’s not that either coffee or pizza is a proven “health” food – far from it – but the Board should consider their great distraction potential. Just as the ancient Roman emperors distracted citizens with bread and circuses while taking away their freedoms, the Board could easily distract New Yorkers with coffee and pizza as it dismantles consumer choice in restaurants bit by bit.

Come to think of it, why is the Board’s trans fats ban limited to restaurants? What about grocery stores and convenience shops? If trans fats are so bad, why should you be able to purchase food in a store that is too dangerous to be served in a restaurant?

The Board’s trans fats ban has dramatically lowered the bar for scientific proof. It’s such a sad spectacle that the Board of Health ought to be renamed the Bored of Science.

Steven Milloy publishes JunkScience.com and CSRWatch.com. He is a junk science expert , an advocate of free enterprise and an adjunct scholar at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Cranberry Health Claims: A Thanksgiving Turkey?

By Steven Milloy
November 22, 2006, FoxNews.com

“Research shows benefits of cranberries” proclaimed an Associated Press headline this week – a gentle nudge, I suppose, just in case you forgot to make cranberries part of your Thanksgiving dinner. Continue reading Cranberry Health Claims: A Thanksgiving Turkey?

Day of Reckoning for DDT Foes?

By Steven Milloy
September 21, 2006, FoxNews.com

Last week’s announcement that the World Health Organization lifted its nearly 30-year ban on the insecticide DDT is perhaps the most promising development in global public health since… well, 1943 when DDT was first used to combat insect-borne diseases like typhus and malaria. Continue reading Day of Reckoning for DDT Foes?

Bald Eagle-DDT Myth Still Flying High

By Steven Milloy
July 6, 2006, FoxNews.com

Pennsylvania officials just announced success with their program to re-establish the state’s bald eagle population. But it’s a shame that such welcome news is being tainted by oft-repeated myths about the great bird’s near extinction. Continue reading Bald Eagle-DDT Myth Still Flying High

FDA May Make Breathing Difficult for Asthmatics

By Steven Milloy
January 26, 2006, FoxNews.com

The government may tell asthmatics to “take a hit” for the environment. But that “hit” won’t be from their inhalers, which might be taken away.

A Food and Drug Administration advisory panel voted this week to recommend removing the “essential use” status that permits inexpensive, nonprescription asthma inhalers, like Primatene Mist, to remain on sale.

Powered by chlorofluorcarbon (CFC) propellants, the inhalers shoot epinephrine into the lungs of asthmatics, allowing them to breathe during potentially life-threatening asthma attacks. But environmentalists labeled CFCs a threat to the ozone layer in the 1980s, leading to an international phase-out of CFCs under the 1987 Montreal Protocol.

Nonprescription inhalers – and millions of asthmatics – have so far survived the Montreal Protocol because CFC use in inhalers is deemed to be “essential” and, therefore, exempt from the ban. Wyeth Consumer Healthcare estimates that 3 million Americans use its Primatene for mild or intermittent asthma and about 700,000 use Primatene alone because they can’t get prescriptions or lack health insurance, according to the Seattle Times (Jan. 25). Wyeth says that substitute non-CFC inhalers won’t be ready until 2009 or 2010 – and probably at a much higher cost.

But the FDA panel was apparently swayed by arguments that CFC-inhaler use threatens the ozone layer and public health. The hypothesis-of-hysteria is that CFCs thin the stratospheric ozone layer which, in turn, allows more solar ultraviolet (UV) radiation to reach the Earth’s surface which, in turn, increases the risk of skin cancer, cataracts and other health problems.
But asthmatics should not have to gasp for air because of this guesswork.

First, accepting for argument’s sake that ozone depletion alarmism is justified, only a trivial amount of CFCs would be released into the atmosphere due to inhaler use. No detectable damage to the ozone layer would likely result.

Global CFC production peaked pre-ban at over 1 million metric tons. But in 1999, for example, the U.S. requested an “essential use” exemption of only about 4,000 metric tons for inhalers – hardly a return to the old days when CFCs were used in a wide range of consumer and industrial products.

Back to the real world, however, the ozone depletion hypothesis has a great big hole of its own.

No one disputes the basic chemistry of ozone depletion – chlorine atoms from CFCs released into the environment can find their way into the stratosphere where they can chemically react with and “destroy” ozone.

It should be noted, however, that CFCs aren’t the only source of chlorine atoms in the stratosphere – Mother Nature, in fact, may supply most of them. Also, ozone is also continually being created so we won’t ever run out of ozone.

In any event, none of the alleged environmental and public health horrors of CFC-induced ozone “destruction” have ever been observed despite extensive study – one of the best kept secrets of environmentalism.

While overexposure to UV is a risk factor for some types of skin cancer and cataracts, no scientific study has ever demonstrated a link between ozone depletion and such overexposure or any health effects.

A December 2003 article in the journal Photochemical & Photobiological Sciences, for example, would only go so far as to say that “The potential health effects of elevated levels of ambient UV-B radiation are diverse, and it is difficult to quantify the risks.”

The absence of evidence linking ozone layer thinning with health effects isn’t surprising because the phenomenon was never thought (by experts, anyway) to lead to more than a trivial (10 percent) increase in UV radiation reaching the Earth’s surface.

As there is about a 5000 percent increase in UV radiation moving from the poles to the equator, a 10 percent increase in the mid-latitudes equates to a move 60 miles to the south – “hardly a source for health concerns,” says physicist Dr. S. Fred Singer of the Science and Environmental Policy Project.

It’s not even clear that ozone depletion, in its pre-phaseout heyday, ever increased the amount of UV radiation hitting the Earth’s surface. “There has been, of course, a determined search for a secular increase in [UV radiation] to match the presumed depletion of ozone. But no such trends had been observed,” says Dr. Singer.

And a little common sense about UV radiation goes a long way. Life flourishes in the tropics where UV radiation levels are far higher than in the quite inhospitable polar regions.

Yes, there is an “ozone hole,” but that label is more appropriately applied to the Montreal Protocol than the ever-changing thickness of the ozone layer over the Antarctic polar region.

Former Vice President “Ozone Al” Gore acknowledged in a recent presentation I attended that the real value of the Montreal Protocol was that it demonstrated the global political power of the environmental movement.

But while getting a junk science-fueled international treaty signed may have been a valuable political exercise for environmentalists, the Montreal Protocol can hardly be considered a success if it winds up needlessly depriving asthmatics of available, affordable and effective medication.

Steven Milloy publishes JunkScience.com and CSRwatch.com, and is an adjunct scholar at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

No Fizz in Soda Scare

By Steven Milloy
July 16, 2005, FoxNews.com

The food police filed a petition this week with the federal government to require that regular (non-diet) soft drinks carry health warning labels. But scientific data, including a new study published this week, expose such soda scaremongering for what it is — junk science-fueled nanny-ism.

Anti-fun food activists at the self-proclaimed “Center for Science in the Public Interest” called on the Food and Drug Administration to require a series of rotating health notices on containers of most non-diet soft drinks.

Warnings suggested by CSPI include: “The U.S. Government recommends that you drink less (non-diet) soda to help prevent weight gain, tooth decay and other health problems”; “To help protect your waistline and your teeth, consider drinking diet sodas or water”; “Drinking soft drinks instead of milk or calcium-fortified beverages may increase your risk of brittle bones (osteoporosis)”; and “This drink contains caffeine, which is a mildly addictive stimulant drug. Not appropriate for children.”

Ironically, the day after the CSPI news conference calling for the warning labels, a study published in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet undercut CSPI’s claims concerning weight gain.

Researchers studied the role of physical activity in relation to changes in bodyweight in about 2,300 adolescent girls for 10 years from ages 9-19 and reported that exercise, rather than eating, was key.

“These results suggest that habitual activity plays an important role in weight gain, with no parallel evidence that energy intake had a similar role,” concluded the researchers.

This new study is consistent with what scientists know about sugar intake and weight. “There is no clear and consistent association between increased intake of added sugars and [weight],” stated a 2002 report from the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine titled, “Dietary Reference Intakes on Macronutrients.”

And let’s not forget about the more recent 15,000-child study spotlighted last fall in this column in which Harvard University researchers concluded that, “although snack foods may have low nutritional value, they were not an important independent determinant of weight gain among children and adolescents.”

While consumption of dietary sugars has been linked with dental caries (search), it’s not a simple relationship that merits a special warning label on soft drinks.

“Many factors in addition to sugars affect the caries process, including the form of food or fluid, the duration of the exposure, nutrient composition, sequence of eating, salivary flow, presence of buffers, and oral hygiene,” wrote researchers in a 2003 article entitled “Sugars and Dental Caries” published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Emphasizing the complexity of the issue, the researchers noted, “Since the introduction of fluoride, the incidence of caries worldwide has decreased, despite increases in sugar consumption.”

The researchers also noted a study linking white bread with caries. Will CSPI also demand that consumers be warned about the risk of tooth decay that might be posed by sandwich bread, French bread and pizza?

CSPI’s suggested warning about soft drinks increasing the risk of osteoporosis is also without merit. As discussed in an earlier column, there simply is no evidence that soft drinks are replacing milk in the diet of children and adolescents. That same column spotlighted a CSPI-inspired researcher who previously attempted to link cola consumption with bone fractures in high school girls; but her statistics were weak and she had no credible explanation for how cola consumption could lead to bone fractures.

By the way, while CSPI ostensibly worries about soft drinks replacing milk, it actively campaigns against the consumption of whole milk and 2 percent milk, advocating consumption of only 1 percent milk and skim milk. CSPI accuses the dairy industry of “putting profits ahead of the hearts of American’s school-aged children,” even though the activist group can’t point to a single child whose heart health has been compromised in the slightest by milk.

As to caffeine and children, a 2002 review of the science in Food and Chemical Toxicology concluded, “Overall, the effects of caffeine in children seem to be modest and typically innocuous.”

Of course children should avoid overconsumption of caffeine — that’s just common sense — but they can safely consume the typical amounts found in soft drinks.

CSPI attempted to legitimize its petition by having it endorsed by folks like New York University’s Marion Nestle, Harvard School of Public Health’s Walter Willett, and Harvard Medical School’s JoAnn Manson — all individuals well-known to readers of this column as having anti-food industry and anti-soft drink biases. Their goals seem to be the demonization of the food industry and of its products, and to dictate what we eat and drink. Placing scary warning labels on soft drinks would certainly further that twisted agenda.

The bottom line on soft drinks is that, like virtually everything else in life, moderation is the key. Soft drinks can be part of a healthy lifestyle — along with a balanced diet, plenty of exercise, sufficient sleep, good oral hygiene and other common sense lifestyle habits. If consumers need to be waned about anything, it should be CSPI’s alarmist antics.

Steven Milloy publishes JunkScience.com and CSRwatch.com, is adjunct scholar at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and is the author of Junk Science Judo: Self-defense Against Health Scares and Scams (Cato Institute, 2001).