FOLLOW THE MONEY - Industry shill Elizabeth Whelan claims
mercury fears unfounded
compiled by Nancy Hokkanen, Minneapolis:
FOLLOW THE MONEY
Another misleading web article in the mercury disinformation
campaign, from the grand dame of faux public interest front
"A Look Back at the Great (Unfounded) Health Scares of 2004"
by Dr. Elizabeth Whelan, 12/29/04
Dr. Elizabeth M. Whelan is president of the American Council
on Science and Health.
Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
See "false claim" #6: Mercury in seafood threatens health.
See "false claim" #1: Childhood vaccines cause autism.
The sponsoring website, Tech Central Station, is owned by a
conglomerate -- DCI Group, L.L.C.
On its website TCS states that it is sponsored by Merck and
PhRMA, among others:
"Tech Central Station is supported by sponsoring
corporations that share our faith in technology and free
markets. Smart application of technology - combined with pro
free market, science-based public policy - has the ability
to help us solve many of the world's problems, and so we are
grateful to AT&T, Avue Technologies, The Coca-Cola Company,
ExxonMobil, General Motors Corporation, Intel, McDonalds,
Merck, Microsoft, Nasdaq, PhRMA, and Qualcomm for their
Dr. Elizabeth M. Whelan resume, circa 1986 - from tobacco
Whelan supporting pharmaceutical companies & attacking
former NEJM editor Marcia Angell
Whelan asking "Who says PCBs cause cancer?"
Whelan defending the use of trans fats in fast food
Whelan founds first of the "public interest pretender" front
A Look Back at the Great (Unfounded) Health Scares of 2004
By Dr. Elizabeth M. Whelan
Perhaps we are a society that relishes bad news. Or maybe by
definition bad news is news. Whatever the explanation, 2004
was full of headlines about modern living allegedly making
The top 10 health scares of the last 12 months -- described
below -- have some common characteristics: some of these
reports overlook the basic toxicological principle that "the
dose makes the poison" and assume that if a lot of something
is bad then a little is risky too; some rely on a single,
often unpublished study that means little out of the context
of other literature in the field; and many swallow whole the
baseless mantra "if it causes cancer in a lab animal, it
must be assumed to pose a human cancer risk."
The top 10 unfounded scares for 2004 are:
1. Childhood vaccines cause autism.
This claim has been around for a while, but it received
enormous press exposure this year, with emphasis on the
claim that thimerosal, a vaccine preservative, is the
culprit. Coverage ranged from blatant scaremongering and
dismissal of scientific evidence to fairly unbiased
assessments of the data. The bottom line: to date, all the
evidence supports the view that there is no link between
thimerosal-containing vaccines and autism, or between any
vaccines and autism. This is the conclusion supported by the
body of published peer-reviewed scientific studies.
2. Farmed salmon causes cancer.
Last year, the Environmental Working Group launched this
scare, releasing a study of seven farmed salmon that they
said had measurable levels of PCBs -- industrial chemicals.
This year, an article in Science presented data showing that
farmed salmon had higher levels of PCBs than wild salmon.
But the warnings that found their way into the press were
exaggerated fears based on the assumption that because PCBs
are animal carcinogens they must pose a human cancer risk
even at trace levels. Indeed there is no evidence--even at
high levels -- that PCBs cause human cancer. Many synthetic
and natural chemicals in food cause cancer in high doses in
rodents--and those findings have no direct relevance for
human cancer risk.
3. Cell phones cause brain tumors.
Another oldie-but-goody made a comeback in 2004 when
researchers at an institute in Sweden released a study
supporting a link between cell phone use and acoustic
neuromas. Even the authors pointed out their study was small
and had never been replicated. Further, the study involved
analog cell phones, not the digital phones that are the vast
majority of those used today. But the story was widely
covered nonetheless. The mainstream scientific view is that
the health effects of using cell phones are negligible.
4. Nightlights cause leukemia.
In September 2004, scientists at a conference in Britain
suggested that increased light at night (not nightlights
specifically) may contribute to leukemia in children. Media
reports understandably caused anxiety in parents of young
children. But, while the rise in childhood leukemia
justifies legitimate research, there is currently no reason
to believe that nightlights pose any danger to children
(unless, of course, the bulb is really hot or they eat it).
5. Chemicals in cosmetics pose a heath hazard.
In June of 2004, the Environmental Working Group released
yet another report accusing a variety of cosmetic
manufacturers of using ingredients that increase the risk of
pregnancy problems or cancer. Once again, this scare was
based on the assumption that things that pose cancer in high
doses in rodents must pose a risk of human cancer, a claim
that has no basis whatsoever in scientific reality.
6. Mercury in seafood threatens health.
Mercury is a toxic metal, and at high levels it can indeed
pose a serious threat to human health. But again, media
reports overlooked the "dose makes the poison" rule. The
government has strict tolerance levels for mercury in fish,
and at the levels found in fish, mercury does not pose a
health hazard to humans.
7. Cheeseburgers cause heart disease.
When former President Bill Clinton announced just before
Labor Day that he had been diagnosed with severely blocked
coronary arteries and needed bypass surgery, the media had a
field day blaming his condition on his diet -- particularly
his penchant for fast food burgers and fries. Frequent film
footage showing the former President in front of McDonald's
and Burger King filled the nightly news. While it is true
that lifestyle factors such as smoking, inactivity, and
obesity can raise the risk of a heart attack, so can a
family history of predisposition toward high "bad"
cholesterol, low "good" cholesterol, and high blood
pressure. For preventing heart disease, medications that
control blood pressure and cholesterol levels are more
important than avoiding cheeseburgers or any other specific
8. Antibiotics cause breast cancer.
A flurry of media coverage followed a February article in
the Journal of the American Medical Association finding that
prescriptions for antibiotics had been more common among
women who had been diagnosed with breast cancer. But as an
editorial accompanying the article noted, "this study
provides many (or more) questions than answers" -- and did
little to further our understanding of the causes of breast
9. Teflon causes health problems.
This health scare was a spin-off of some wrangling between
Teflon's manufacturer, DuPont, and the EPA, which wanted
more data on the presence (in the environment and in blood)
of chemicals used in producing Teflon. It really had nothing
to do with scientific evidence of harm to health, as some
media announced. There is no convincing scientific evidence
that the chemical harms human health, nor that it is present
in Teflon itself.
10. Soda causes esophageal cancer.
Saving the worst for last, this scare came on the scene when
scientists from India reported a correlation between a rise
in per capita consumption of soda in the U.S. and the
occurrence of esophageal cancer--which media interpreted as
a causal connection. Since this "study" did not have any
scientific findings about cancer risk--simply showing that
both soda consumption and esophageal cancer became more
prevalent over the same time period -- it is remarkable that
the mainstream media even reported it at all.
With a little luck, this round-up of 2004's worst unfounded
health scares will encourage you to be more skeptical the
next time you read about a new, supposedly dire, health
"threat," and let's hope it will cause editors and
journalists to more seriously consider whether a story
really deserves coverage.
Elizabeth Whelan, Sc.D., M.P.H., is president of the
American Council on Science and Health.