Health News Digest

December 26, 2011

Your Year-End Chill Out

Chill out

By  Michael D. Shaw

Perhaps the earliest example of broadcast media hype occurred on October 30, 1938. This was the famous “Mercury Theatre on the Air” Halloween radio adaptation of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds—led by Orson Welles. Even though there were numerous disclaimers throughout the production, many listeners panicked as they heard such soundbites as…

A humped shape is rising out of the pit. I can make out a small beam of light against a mirror. What’s that? There’s a jet of flame springing from the mirror, and it leaps right at the advancing men. It strikes them head on! Good Lord, they’re turning into flame!

Ladies and gentlemen, I have just been handed a message that came in from Grovers Mill by telephone. Just one moment please. At least forty people, including six state troopers, lie dead in a field east of the village of Grovers Mill, their bodies burned and distorted beyond all possible recognition.

Although we will never know if the audience’s extreme reaction to the overblown narrative were intended, we do know that Welles’ career took off soon after the broadcast. From that point on, sensationalism became the tool of choice for boosting ratings. And, given the competition, it would not be unusual for media outlets to try to out-sensationalize each other.

I have a feeling, though, that the media’s penchant for portraying nearly everything as a crisis is starting to produce diminishing returns. Indeed, this would be predicted by Aesop’s fable “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” Let us end the year by retreating from the hype. Set yourself free!

One popular Internet-based health writer (you know who you are) titles nearly all his columns with some sort of dire warning. This warning usually states that a common food you consume regularly could cause grave harm. Invariably, these warnings are hyped to the max, and more often than not, are based on preliminary findings from dubious institutions. But, hey, he got you to click, and that helps him promote even more questionable research.

One classic hype that never seems to disappear is on BPA, a widely used chemical that has been the subject of more than 6,000 studies. However, no matter how many times it has been deemed safe, or the fact that it plays an essential role in preserving canned foods, you can count on the fear entrepreneurs to raise up the BPA boogeyman anytime they need a fund-raising icon. Readers, you have my permission to chill out. Just say no to the BPA hype.

Aren’t people getting tired of the constant barrage of “critical” bulletins describing how you must make this or that change to your diet? Has anyone stopped to think that the human race could hardly have survived as long as it has if our diets had to be so exquisitely managed? Surely, many of us are consuming too many calories, but within reasonable limits, we omnivores can enjoy all sorts of foods.

There may well be subtle differences between sucrose, high fructose corn syrup, and other sweeteners, but as one iconoclastic health authority put it—reacting to the notion that fructose is somehow “poison”—”Oh, then why are there enzymes for it?” Readers, you have my permission to chill out! Just say no to the constantly-perfect-your-diet hype.

Private fear entrepreneurs are bad enough, but when the government gets into the act, its pronouncements tend to have a bit more gravitas. Plus, they can directly affect your bottom line.

Sadly, our own EPA has gone off the deep end some time ago. As I have noted in past columns, the agency tackled—and solved—essentially all of our major environmental issues by about 1985. In the process, though, it had crafted a formidable bureaucracy, as well as having spawned dozens of so-called environmental lobbying groups, consultants, and law firms. Clearly, these entities and the cushy lifestyles they support won’t go away on their own, even if most of the real work has been completed.

Moreover, the agency has unofficially encouraged these groups to sue various industries—or the EPA itself—in a flagrant attempt to jump-start “grassroots” movements purporting to address environmental concerns. I have personally been involved in dockets in which EPA was attempting to set ambient air control levels for chemical compounds to be less than their naturally-occurring concentrations.

To make matters worse, these control levels were based, at least in part, on modeling algorithms produced by expensive Beltway Bandit consulting firms, forever in pursuit of the next non-competitive contract.

In short, the environmental regulatory process has become completely corrupted. How else can we explain EPA’s obsession with mercury—except as it pertains to compact fluorescent lamps? Readers, you have my permission to chill out! Just say no to the self-serving hype coming from EPA and its cadre of rent-seekers.

Best wishes for a blessed and stress-reduced New Year.