July 10, 2017
ACSH And The Little Black Book Of Junk Science
By Michael D. Shaw
The American Council on Science and Health was founded in 1978 by the late Dr. Elizabeth M. Whelan, and from the outset has been dedicated to publicly advocating and supporting evidence-based science and medicine.
Surfing through the website, you will encounter a wealth of content, including videos; daily articles (linked from the homepage and various sidebar widgets); and downloadable publications. I admire ACSH for being able to use restraint in the face of truly idiotic viewpoints from fear entrepreneurs or junk scientists. Dr. Lila Abassi’s muted monograph on dietary salt is a good example. Of course, ACSH’s Dr. Josh Bloom, a friend of this column, can deal out the snark with the best of them.
Less than two weeks ago, ACSH introduced what might just be one of its best efforts yet: The Little Black Book of Junk Science [free download]. Author Alex Berezow, Ph.D., the society’s Senior Fellow of Biomedical Science, describes the work:
“In one handy little volume…we provide an A to Z (okay, A to Y) guide to the most common myths and misunderstandings surrounding health fads, diets, chemicals, and other pseudoscience. We hope it provides a small dose of sanity in a world full of junk science.”
The book covers more than 200 topics–from “Absolute Risk” to “Yucca Mountain.” 98 references, most of which are linked, are provided. Here are but a few highlights (with commentary at no extra charge)…
Talcum (Baby) Powder: “Unscrupulous lawyers have used junk science speculation to convince juries to award jackpot $70 million verdicts over the notion that baby powder causes ovarian cancer.” Yeah. Tens of millions of women use powder, and some of them get ovarian cancer. Thus, by this “logic” powder is “linked” to cancer. Perhaps one of the worst junk science claims of all time.
Silent Spring: Berezow rightly trashes Rachel Carson’s execrable non-scientific work, but is a bit too genteel in giving her credit for heightening public awareness about the environment.
Data Dredging: “…examining thousands of different variables to determine if one of them is linked to a bad health outcome.” “This is a common strategy for desperate researchers to get papers published, and it is partially to blame for the current reproducibility crisis in biomedical science and psychology.”
Autism: The entry starts off well enough–“Vaccines, GMOs, and ‘refrigerator mothers’ (mom did not hug you enough) do not cause autism.” But then, Berezow gets defeated by his own devotion to scientific orthodoxy–“Genetics is the most likely explanation.” So, a condition goes from 1:1000 to more than 1:100 in a generation because of genetics? Never mind that in virtually all of these cases, a normally developing child suddenly deteriorates. An epidemic of a medical disease would be a much more likely explanation, even if that runs counter to the “treat them for life” autism industry.
Prediabetes: Berezow politely destroys this absurd concept. I only wish that more in the medical establishment would follow suit.
Paul Ehrlich: “Paul Ehrlich is America’s foremost doomsday prophet and the Father of Junk Science.” Bravo! His Stanford credentials got him lots of mileage, and bad as he is, don’t forget the thousands of academic acolytes that believed every word in his nonsensical 1968 work The Population Bomb. This miserable mountebank is still unrepentant, even though virtually none of his predictions ever came true.
Alternative Medicine: “If alternative medicine worked it would just be called medicine. Instead, the vast majority of practices that fall under the alternative label lack scientific evidence.” A bit too facile for my taste. For one thing, a whole lot of allopathic medicine also lacks scientific evidence, even if clinical trials might exist. For another, any breakthrough treatment would first be “alternative,” wouldn’t it?
Fracking: Excellent job on this one. The Greenies who used to love natural gas came out against fracking, and peddle illogical rubbish in trying to attack it.
Politicization Of Science: One of the best entries. “When science meets politics, the result is often junk science. Neither Left nor Right has a monopoly on scientific disinformation; politicians from both sides of the aisle happily throw science under the bus when it suits their electoral prospects.”
Kudos to ACSH for publishing this wonderful little book.