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The Top 10 Junk Science Claims of 2005

Thursday, December 29, 2005
By Steven Milloy

It’s that time of year again when we at reflect on all the dubious achievements and irresponsible claims made by the junk science community throughout the year.

These “lowlights” have a lot in common — namely exaggeration and hidden agendas — but they cover a diverse range of scientific themes, from child development to embryonic stem cell research to everyday radiation exposure to trying to lay blame for hurricanes.

Although virtually the entire “Top 10” could easily consist of global warming items — climate hysteria being the most important junk science issue of our time — in the interest of diversity,’s Top 10 for 2005 are:

1. Obese Statistics Get Liposuction. After years of alarming the American public with ever-scarier estimates of obesity-related deaths, the Centers for Disease Control finally backed away from its exaggerated 2004 claim of 400,000 deaths annually and made a 93 percent downward adjustment to just 25,814 deaths. It’s not clear that even that number can stand up to scrutiny. Read more...

2. Cruelty to Students. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) was permitted to incorporate its radical animal rights school curriculum throughout America via its “education” arm known as TeachKind. PETA’s “learning materials” claim that such innocuous behavior as drinking milk is an example of “animal cruelty,” which their Web site repeatedly claims is an unmistakable predictor of future adult psychopathy. Read more

3. U.N.-natural disasters? In a bid to blame alleged global warming for hurricanes and tsunamis and, ultimately, to force the deep-pocket U.S. government, businesses and taxpayers to pick up the tab for damages from such climatic phenomena, the United Nations conspicuously dropped the word “natural” from the title of its annual conference on natural disasters. Read more

4. Burger Baloney. Researchers from the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society, looking into whether beef consumption could be linked to increased risk of colon cancer, published a study in January with apparently alarming conclusions. Closer examination, however, revealed more creative slicing and dicing of data by a few researchers at the NCI who seem to have a history of publishing anti-meat research. Read more

5. Franken-movie, not Franken-food. An anti-biotech “crockumentary” entitled “The Future of Food” opened in small movie theaters around the country, resuscitating environmentalists’ long-discredited claims about the “dangers” of biotech crops, one of the most thoroughly tested and regulated technologies ever developed.

Tragically, the Green’s anti-biotech mania continues to doom millions in the Third World to blindness caused by nutritional deficiency. Read more

6. Afraid-iation? In July, a National Academy of Sciences research panel ominously announced that there is no safe exposure to radiation. While this may sound intuitively plausible, the panel ignored a host of facts, including that 82 percent of the average person’s exposure to ionizing radiation is natural and unavoidable – coming at low levels from the universe and the ground ­– and that, other than slightly higher cancer rates among the Japanese atomic bomb survivors, there are no data to support the idea that typical exposures are dangerous. Read more

7. Warning: This Label Based on Junk Science. In July, the Center for Science in the Public Interest petitioned the FDA to require warning labels on soft drinks. It seems the “food police,” who have no credible scientific data on which to base their petition, are out to demonize just about every food other than soy milk and bulgar wheat. Read more

8. Stem Cell Fast-One. August headlines touted the latest breakthrough in stem cell research – Harvard researchers announced they had discovered a way to fuse adult skin cells with embryonic stem cells, effectively bypassing the ethical concerns surrounding stem cell research by not having to produce or destroy human embryos.

In reality, the hype was not only premature — since the new cells were still contaminated with embryonic genetic material — it appears to have been an exercise in political science as the Senate neared consideration of a bill that would circumvent President Bush’s funding limitations for embryonic stem cell research. Read more

9. The Lone-Tree Theory. It nearly took an act of Congress to get the researcher behind the notorious “hockey stick” graph, which purports to show a steep rise in global temperature in the 20th century following a millennium of stable temperatures, to release his publicly funded data and computer code. Among other dubious presumptions, the graph is derived from data that bases climate estimates for the entire 15th century on the tree ring measurements of a single tree. Read more

10. Baby Bottle Battle. In introducing a bill to ban toys and child care articles made with the chemical bisphenol-A (BPA), California State Assemblywoman Wilma Chan fell prey to an environmentalist-perpetuated myth that had long ago been debunked. The “endocrine disruptor” scare has been perpetuated by the unsubstantiated and irreproducible scientific claims of an activist-researcher long-determined to frighten the public away from perfectly safe products. Read more

So fasten your safety belts for 2006. No doubt the future holds many more not-so-great “junk science” moments for us all.

Steven Milloy publishes and, is adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute and the Competitive Enterprise Institute.


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