Our Stolen Future

How They Are Insulting Our Intelligence

Theo Colburn, Dianne Dumanoski, and
John Peterson Myers. Dutton Publishing 1996

March 1996 saw the release of Our Stolen Future: Are We Threatening Our Fertility, Intelligence and Survival A Scientific Detective Story(Dutton Publishing) authored by Theo Colburn, Dianne Dumanoski and John Peterson Myers. The Foreword is by Vice President Al Gore.

Our Stolen Future is a preposterous tall tale about how manmade chemicals are disrupting normal hormonal processes to cause everything from breast and prostate cancer to declining sperm counts to attention deficit disorder to lesbian birds.

None of the authors is a real scientist who conducts scientific research or publishes peer-reviewed studies. For this reason, I debated whether or not to include Our Stolen Future in the Junk Science Home Page. It's closer to just plain "junk" than junk science.

Still, in the tongue-in-cheek tradition of Science Without Sense,Our Stolen Future contains just enough pseudo facts and mock science to invite abuse. It would be rude not to accept this invitation. So here goes...

The basic "theory" of Our Stolen Future is that manmade chemicals, like PCBs, dioxins, pesticides and others that may be found in our food, water or elsewhere, compete with our natural hormones and interfere with our normal hormonal processes thereby disrupting our development and functionality, the authors claim.

To support this "theory," the authors have twisted, distorted,manipulated and misrepresented just about every piece of anecdotal data that they could lay their hands on. For example, the book starts out with nine "omens" that are supposed to foreshadow all the bad things to come because of manmade chemicals.

Birdbrains?! A banker in the 1950s estimates (on his own, of course) that 80 percent of Florida's bald eagles had fertility problems because of manmade chemicals. What's next? Will bird watchers start predicting interest rates?

This dog won't hunt.When English hunters (and their dogs) ran out of otters to pursue, a pesticide was blamed. No evidence was presented that the pesticide caused the population decline. It must not have occurred to the authors that dead otters don't reproduce very well.

Sperm counts are falling!Sperm counts are falling! At least that's what one Danish researcher says. Of course, the authors never mention the plethora of studies that contradict this claim. But I guess the cry "Sperm counts are the same!Sperm counts are the same!" doesn't sell as many books.
But these "omens" are only the start of the wackiness. For example:

Squeaky and leaky? The book relies heavily on a series of experiments designed to find out why some female mice are more aggressive than others. The researcher claimed the aggressive females were sandwiched in the womb between two males. When the testes of the males began to secrete testosterone, the sandwiched females were then "bathed" in testosterone. It must not have ever occurred to the researcher that the testes are located inside male mice andinside is where the testosterone is secreted.

Fame has no shame.Of course the authors couldn't help but exploit the thalidomide and diethylstilbestrol(DES) tragedies. Remember? Thalidomide and DES were medical treatments given to pregnant women in the 1950s and early 1960s. About 8,000 thalidomide babies were born with physical disabilities. Many DES babies were plagued with a whole host of health problems. But our authors decided not to distinguish between drugs delivered in relatively high doses in readily usable forms and low-levels of manmade chemicals bound up in the environment.

Pave the planet!Our Stolen Future claims plants defend themselves by sterilizing predators. In fact, plants "logically" target female predators because they know that females are the limiting fertility factor. Can plants think? Can the authors? How can we save ourselves from the plants? (I think I can offer a concrete solution.)

Actually, the authors raised a good, but one-sided, point about the plants.Plants produce substances that act like estrogens. These plant estrogens could theoretically interfere with our own hormonal processes. The authors,of course, make the logical leap that manmade chemicals may also act like estrogens and be problematic.

What do our the authors fail to reveal? The ratio of plant estrogens to synthetic estrogens is about 40 million to 1. Additionally, since we eat plant estrogens every day, they are readily available; synthetic estrogens tend to get stored away in fat. So even if our hormonal processes are being interfered with (doubtful), more than likely the culprits are plant estrogens.

Few and far between.The authors chronicle the "losses" they attribute to manmade chemicals in the environment. After scouring several thousand scientific articles,all they could come with is fewer than 15 "incidents" over the last 50 years. And they haven't even really linked these incidents to manmade chemicals. Scientists estimate that there are about 13 million species of wildlife. Can fewer than 15 questionable incidents over the last half a century in a population of 13 million species amount to a hill of beans?

Cancer. Our Stolen Future attributes the apparent rise in breast and prostate cancer rates to, what else, manmade chemicals. I guess in scouring the scientific literature,they overlooked that even the National Cancer Institute acknowledges this increase in cancer rates stems from better diagnoses, improved detection techniques and from longer life spans. (Cancer is largely a disease of aging.People have been living longer and longer. So there's more cancer. Surprise,surprise!)

What do the authors recommend that we do? You won't believe it!

    Don't drink tap water.It's polluted, you know. Forget about bottled water. It comes in plastic and plastic is made with... (gulp!)... chemicals.

    Women: Don't eat meat or dairy products. Particularly from birth through the end of your childbearing years. Meat and dairy products have animal fat and manmade chemicals hide in fat. By the way, don't even think about fish. They're polluted too. Vegetarians are out of luck also. Remember the plants are out to sterilize us!

    No breastfeeding.Breast milk contains fat and manmade chemicals. The authors actually have the chutzpah to tell the story of a woman who stopped breastfeeding and substituted a mixture of water and Coffeemate. If she had left out the water,she would have been okay?

    Wash your hands frequently.Those evil chemicals are everywhere. The authors followed their own advice;at least they have washed their hands of the truth.

Our Stolen Future is likely to have a major impact with the public,Congress and the federal agencies. In a nutshell, which is where the authors of this book belong, we can expect this sequence of events:

    The public will get scared and put pressure on Congress.

    Congress will get scared of the public and direct the agencies to spend more money on endocrine disrupter research.

    The agencies hand out more money to researchers whose mission will be to validate Our Stolen Future.

    Go back to step 1.

Of course, I could be wrong. The public could just say "Bleh!"

Material presented on this home page constitutes opinion of the author.

Copyright © 1996 Steven J. Milloy. All rights reserved. Site developed and hosted by WestLake Solutions, Inc.