NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Beware Advocacy "Science"

April 2, 1999

Objective experts are beginning to make a few things clear about the "scientific" claims being advanced by advocacy groups to support their agendas. The claims are frequently as irresponsible as the reporting of them by some gullible members of the media, critics charge.

The latest example is an article in the March 22 edition of Time magazine -- for which the publishers have since apologized. The article, by Time writer Jeffrey Kluger, stated" the chemicals which make up many plastics may migrate out of the material and into foods and fluids, ending up in your body. Once there they could make you very sick indeed."

Among the chemicals cited was polyvinyl chloride, which makes plastics soft and pliable, and is used in plastic wraps and medical devices.

Where did Kluger get his information?

  • From an environmental coalition group called Health Care Without Harm, comprised of organizations ranging from the Chemical Impact Project to Greenpeace, which leads an environmentalist war against chlorine-based chemicals, including plastic softeners.
  • From Consumers Union, an advocacy group that aided the Alar scare of 1989 and has recently launched another scare concerning pesticides and produce.
  • From Peter Orris, identified only as a "professor of internal medicine at Cook County Hospital in Chicago" -- an individual who has stated that chlorine-containing chemicals "should be considered guilty until proven innocent."
  • For "balance," Kluger cited a flyer from Abbott Laboratories, which he identified as a "polyvinyl chloride maker."

While Abbott uses PVC in some of its products, it is not a PVC maker. Abbott says PVC has "a superlative 40-year record of safe and effective use in the health-care industry."

Time said it "regrets that our report on concerns about plastics did not include the observations of scientists and public health groups that have found no significant risk of human health effects from the use of plastic softeners. We should have made it clear that the fears about ill effects are countered by strong evidence to the contrary."

Source: Michael Fumento (Hudson Institute), "Soft Plastics, Softer Science," Wall Street Journal, April 2, 1999.


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