NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

"Junk Science," The Media And Politics

February 18, 1999

Political activists and authors of "scientific" junk were roundly condemned at a conference sponsored by the Independent Women's Forum. Prominent figures in the scientific community acted as panelists and took aim at such health scares as electromagnetic fields, radon, pesticides, chlorination, PCBs, olestra and Alar.

Among the points discussed:

  • "Many reports are trivial, many more are just plain wrong... and a lot of what we're told is inconsistent," said Dr. Marcia Angell, executive editor of the New England Journal of Medicine.
  • "Fear is a prelude to the sale of snake oil, and it's widespread," noted Paul Gross, professor emeritus of life sciences at the University of Virginia -- who added that what is new is "the participation of academic intellectuals in the subversion of science, all of whom come from a particular political point of view."
  • Elizabeth Whelan, president of the American Council on Science and Health, scorned "some self-appointed feminists who are now discouraging women from using estrogen- replacement therapy" because of concerns it might cause breast cancer -- adding that post-menopausal women "need to balance" what she described as a "small risk of cancer against the serious risk of osteoporosis."
  • "We're naive if we don't think the government is vulnerable to politics" in formulating health policy, Dr. Angell warned.

As examples, she cited the National Institute of Health's creation of an office of alternative medicine at the urging of Sen. Tom Harken (D-Iowa), who claims he was cured of allergies by taking capsules of bee pollen; the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's decision to pull silicone breast implants off the market despite the lack of scientific evidence that they are harmful; and the federal law that exempts diet supplements from FDA purview, passed after a massive letter-writing campaign.

Source: Joyce Howard Price, "Politicized Science Found Bad for Health," Washington Times, February 18, 1999.


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