We call such tripe "junk science."
Over the past two years, the Council has published major peer-reviewed studies on three important topics: agricultural biotechnology (genetically modified organisms used for agriculture, commonly referred to as "GMOs"); harm reduction related to our nation's #1 public health problem, smoking; and hydraulic shale fracturing to harvest the huge volume of cleaner natural gas to replace coal, commonly known as "fracking."
Based on responses from media, environmental activists opposed to legitimate studies, and supporters, it's now possible to create a Junk Science Report Card.
Class #1: Frankenfood
There is a controversy about GMOs but why is something of a psychological mystery because this area of food science is possibly the most scientifically clear-cut of the topics. The lack of health threat underlying this technology is obvious to anyone with an open mind, even if they don't understand genetics: microscopically precise gene-transfer is orders of magnitude more predictable than the age-old process of plant breeding and far better than the legacy genetic modification used by Europeans, mutagenesis. After 20 years of planting, harvesting and even consuming genetically-engineered food and products derived there have been no instances of GMO-related harm to man nor beast.
Score: C- For Junk Science efforts
The good news: Anti-science groups like Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) have lost this battle, almost all the mainstream media have acquiesced in the consensus endorsed by every authoritative scientific body: GMO products are safe, for humans, animals and the environment.
The bad news: NRDC and others are heavily-funded by Big Organic and they have gathered a stubbornly Luddite group of media "experts" (New York Times scribe Mark Bittman and a certain TV doctor-pitchman named Dr. Oz come to mind) and they have in turn persuaded a significant number of Americans that GMOs are not to be trusted. They warn of insidious health effects from GMOs (covered up by Big Ag and a USDA-FDA conspiracy), animal species destruction and super-weed overgrowth. When those don't work, they resort to simple-minded "anti-Monsanto" rhetoric. The Frankenfood mantra has maintained traction in much of Europe (except when it comes to feeding animals with GMOs) but in America concerns are wide but not deep - unless they are prompted to be worried about GMOs, only 7 percent of Americans are concerned about them, a pittance compared to people concerned about gluten or pesticides. That might have changed somewhat if the "Just Label It" movement had won any of the three statewide referenda (they didn't), and now the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, which replaces patchwork state efforts, may eliminate efforts to create a skull-and-crossbones message.
Class #2: E-cigarettes are harm reduction or a "gateway" to smoking?
Another phony controversy turned out to be "e-cigarettes" and efforts to include vapor products as tobacco even though they clearly have no tobacco or smoke. Three-quarters of our nation's 43 million smokers say they wish to quit but only a tiny fraction succeed; almost half a million die prematurely, over half of all regular smokers succumb from smoking-related ailments. FDA-approved cessation aids — patches, gum and drugs — fail 9 times out of 10, yet despite that the use of low-risk nicotine-delivery products — e-cigarettes and vapor devices — have been routinely demonized by an entrenched "tobacco control industry" working hand-in-hand with politicians raking in billions of dollars in cigarette taxes and academic centers and NGOs who are getting funded by pharmaceutical companies selling competing smoking cessation products.
Score: B+ For Junk Science efforts
Thanks to confusion (e-cigarettes are a terrible name) the FDA, the CDC and NGOs have all denounced these harm reduction products, and proposed FDA regulations would devastate the nascent industry if enacted.
Among the public, things look more promising. Sales of e-cigarettes and vapor products continue to escalate while cigarette sales continue to decline. The exaggerated concerns of detractors have been shown to be baseless, especially the "gateway to smoking" myth, as teen smoking has plummeted to levels never before recorded. If they escape hyper-regulation, these products will underwrite a major improvement in public health. Even if the FDA and the EU's regulatory maze tries to impede progress in this area, smokers worldwide have gotten the message: there is no need to get your nicotine mixed with deadly addictive smoke.
Class #3: Natural gas and fracking. Is it dangerous in New York?
Hydraulic fracturing - fracking - is the reason behind the "shale gas revolution." Though emissions are not an urgent public health issue like smoking, the distortion of science in service to political ideology is representative here as in so many other issues ACSH takes on.
Thanks to the exploitation of the vast quantities of natural gas (and other fossil fuels) previously trapped within two-mile deep shale deposits, our nation now produces more natural gas than anyone else except Russia — and we will soon surpass them too. While the geopolitical benefits of loosening the hold dictatorships have had on our economy for decades are indirect to most people, the economic benefits in terms of resurrecting downtrodden rust belts and rural regions have been far more noticeable.
But not everywhere.
Score: C For Junk Science efforts
Fracking has clearly won, so it seems odd to give junk science efforts a C rather than an F, but anti-science groups have gotten New York State's leadership to ban hydraulic shale fracturing within its borders. The governor and an elitist base stand in the way of progress and economics, basing (to a large degree) their regressive stance on imaginary health concerns. These were dutifully reported by a predictable Commissioner of Health, who invoked the precautionary principle at every opportunity as pseudo-justification, and then the matter was recently settled by the NRDC's contribution to New York's environmental oversight - Joe Martens - who signed the ban and then went back to turning the areas near their wealthy donors into "protected" wilderness for them.
Yet neighboring Pennsylvania will be the big winner in all of this. New York has had no choice but to buy energy from next door in order to avoid Manhattan brown-outs during the hot summer months. And no harm will come to them.
The recently-released EPA report absolving fracking of groundwater contamination — the big concern voiced by "fractavists" — comports nicely with our ACSH publication on "Fracking and Health", which documents the use of vague anecdotes of water contamination rather than any actual findings in any of the states (in the northeast Marcellus shale region) where fracking is going on.
The Bottom Line: Activists continue to rail against a spectrum of allegedly deadly chemicals in our environment, that is how they raise money to pay the bills, and warning us about imminent doom is a great way for the media to stay relevant, but there has been slow and steady progress in several areas of science-based public health policy.
The American people — the consumer if you will — has caught on at last to the "sky is falling" manipulations of the scaremongers and seems to be paying less and less attention to the repetitive alarms emanating from well-known "consumer" groups. Nevertheless, one thing is certain: they will not go away — not as long as there is publicity to be garnered from science-free press releases and donations to be collected from frightened folks demanding to be led to "safety" in a chemical- and risk-free world, that will never exist.
Dr. Gil Ross is Senior Director of Medicine and Public Health at the American Council on Science and Health. Republished in slightly different form and with permission from the American Council on Science and Health. Read the original here.