SIRC Media Watch Archive
The Pick – April 2002

Snack attack. French fry lovers and potato chip crunchers need not worry much that their favorite snack foods are "dangerous" - the blaring, alarm-sounding news reports about their supposedly cancer-causing qualities notwithstanding. Like so much of what passes for news these days, the report this week that eating chips, fries and other starchy foods cooked in oil may contribute to cancer is probably more hype than fact. Washington Times

Women really can have it all – with a little bit of help. There is an industry in scary books. Not thrillers, but real-life scares: eat less salt or you'll get brain disease; why a new plague is coming out of Africa any time now; how the songbirds are disappearing. The only ones to take notice of are the ones that chime with life, the ones that report on something you'd noticed but not articulated already. And this is true of Baby Hunger by Sylvia Ann Hewlett, currently scaring the hell out of American women, and to be published in Britain next month. Guardian.

 Anti-technology rhetoric won't help feed world. "It's Earth Day and once again we are discussing ways of saving the environment. In the new millennium, feeding the hungry has been added to the agenda as if the anti-technology rhetoric of past Earth Days, when the poor were forgotten, can somehow accommodate this newly discovered concern … The anti-technology rhetoric continues as those who have been so spectacularly wrong in the past have now risen up in opposition to biotechnology in agriculture with particular vehemence, including various forms of ecoterrorism, against genetically modified or transgenic crops … Never in all the causes in which I have been involved has there been such a predominance of scientists and others with knowledge and experience lined up so solidly on one side of an issue, in this case in support of the intelligent use of biotechnology in agriculture, while the opponents have somehow been able to garner the vast majority of the publicity in needlessly frightening people about what has been deemed, by the National Academy of Sciences and others, as the safest, most predictable form of plant breeding yet known." Thomas DeGregori in the Houston Chronicle.

Study observes no association between cell phone use and auditory tumors. The risk of acoustic neuroma, or auditory tumor, was unrelated to the frequency and duration of cellular telephone use, according to a study published in the April 23 issue of Neurology, the scientific journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

 Third World held back by sanctimonious greens. The United Nations Development Programme has … made it clear that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have a vital role to play in reducing poverty and infant and maternal mortality. But many of these developments are unlikely to go ahead because of opposition from powerful green campaigners in the rich, industrialised West. Sanctimonious members of Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth have never known the sensation of an empty stomach, but they seek to deny genetic technology to the world's poor because it offends against their refined sensibilities. What does it matter that children are dying in Africa so long as green campaigners can munch their organic, GMO-free muesli with a clear conscience? Yorkshire Post.

 No escape from health scares. What constitutes safe and healthy living? Across the leading western economies, life is the safest and healthiest it has been in the history of evolution. There is less disease and we are better fed and protected. But health and safety are, of course, relative terms. We may have seen off malnutrition. But this has only opened up a torrent of new dangers and risks. With every week comes a fresh crop of health warnings and fearful conclusions from vague research…But obsession with health scares could itself be construed as harmful to good living. It might be safer not to get out of bed – were it not for the risks of prolonged inactivity in a horizontal position. Scotsman

Ecstasy link to damage of the brain 'misleading' the public. Research claiming to prove that ecstasy damages the brain is fundamentally flawed and has misled politicians and the public, independent scientists say today. An inquiry by New Scientist magazine concluded that many of the findings published in respected journals that purported to show long or short-term damage could not be trusted. It puts this down to two principal reasons: huge variations in experimental results and the fact that scientific journals are unwilling to publish "null" results in which research shows no difference between ecstasy users and non-users. Indpendent.

Do you suffer from London 'Disease'? Do you constantly have a cold, eczema, psoriasis, flu or yeast overgrowth? If so, according to one body of opinion, you have "London Disease" (LD), a degradation of the immune system caused by London life. It's the latest in a long line of "lifestyle syndromes" and, like chronic fatigue, burn-out, attention deficit disorder and stress, many medics believe the condition is non-existent…Dr Gillian McKeith, a London-based nutritionist specialising in problems with the immune system, has " identified" LD and claims one in two of us has it…Dr Richard Smith, editor of the British Medical Journal [says]: "LD sounds like utter nonsense…If it exists, it's a problem that results from city life. By saying those problems are illnesses, people like McKeith scare the public and play havoc with the health service." Evening Standard

Toxicologists Label GM Foods Safe. A study group appointed by the 5,200-member Society of Toxicology, based in Reston, Va., recently issued a draft position paper affirming the safety of foods made from genetically modified (GM) crops. If approved by the society's full membership and council, the report should make biotech enthusiasts happy: It supports key principles governing federal regulatory policy and nixes pet arguments made by the technology's critics. The Scientist.

Burnt offerings. Soaking up the sun's rays can put you at risk of skin cancer, but the latest research suggests that too little sun may be just as harmful…bearing in mind what we are learning about the effects of sunlight on other forms of cancer, then my belief is that the medical establishment's party line about the hazards of the sun needs some tempering. While exposing unprotected skin to the hot sun and burning ourselves to a crisp is certainly not advised, the evidence does suggest that, as long as we are sensible about it, getting out in the sun is likely to do us more good than harm. I, for one, won't be hesitating to get my fair share of sun this summer. Observer

Diet for a Small Pleasure. The only true blasphemy is refusing joy. Vanity kills. Happiness produces endorphins that keep you healthy. And even if laughter wasn’t the best medicine, I would still rather live 10 years in a bowl of ice cream than a hundred in a bag of rice cakes. The truth of it is that you can eat right, drink your bottled water, take your vitamins, and get plenty of sleep and still be outlived by the glutton next to you who didn’t step in front of that bus. Utne Reader

Fruit and veg advice is enough to drive you nuts. "Last week, we were advised we no longer need worry about something that, in the past, we have been told we should be worrying about. This is so unusual – indeed, it is possibly unique – as to merit further comment. Five years ago, a newly founded quango called the Food Standards Agency advised that all fruit and vegetables should be washed and peeled prior to consumption, in order to rid them of harmful pesticide residues. But now we learn that the risk turns out to be so low that "washing is not required as a protection" … the reason that the FSA has been forced to reconsider the alleged pesticides hazard turns out to be, predictably, political expediency as it creates difficulties with the implementation of a new Government initiative to give every primary school child a portion of fruit each day." James Le Fanu in the Telegraph. (See also SIRC's Great Unwashed article of two weeks ago.

Science Fiction. After spending half a billion taxpayer dollars, alternative medicine gurus still can't prove their methods work – how convenient … For all the money, studies, and attention given to [complementary and alternative medicine], in many cases we're still not much closer to knowing what works and what doesn't, what will heal and what will hurt. The observation of Marcia Angell and Jerome P. Kassirer in the New England Journal of Medicine still applies: "There cannot be two kinds of medicine – conventional and alternative. There is only medicine that has been adequately tested and medicine that has not, medicine that works and medicine that may or may not work … If it is found to be reasonably safe and effective, it will be accepted." And if it's found to be otherwise, it should be rejected. By everyone. Washington Monthly.

Why Brazil shouldn't be 'GM-free'. The commercial cultivation of GM food has been prohibited in Brazil, after the Brazilian authorities capitulated to demands from NGOs and others to put precaution before scientific development. As a result, many impoverished Brazilian farmers are missing out on new technologies that could potentially reduce their dependence on traditional forms of agriculture, increase their productivity, and improve their standards of living … We need to challenge today's risk-averse climate and put the case for scientific development that puts potential human benefits centre stage, as well as considering human and environmental safety. Spiked!

MMR fear holds up autism research. Research into autism has been held up by a year by the need for studies to investigate alleged links with the triple MMR vaccine, an expert in the condition said yesterday. Dr Paul Gringas, a consultant in paediatric neurodisability, said thousands of pounds had been spent on the studies which would not otherwise have been done. Scotsman.

Nature backs off GM crop claims. Britain's premier scientific journal, Nature, has disowned a paper it published last year that offered evidence supporting the argument by the green lobby that genes from GM crops could hop over to non-GM plants. In an unprecedented and highly embarrassing statement last night, Nature said: "In the light of criticisms and advice from referees [scientists who had been consulted], Nature has concluded that the evidence available is not sufficient to justify its publication of the original paper." Guardian

Organic food 'isn't always healthier'. Consumers are buying some organic food wrongly believing it is healthier for them than the standard and cheaper alternatives, a study has found. Organic products cost on average 40% more and the report in the consumer magazine Which? suggests many people assume they are better for them. However, in a number of cases processed organic products such as cakes and cereal contain more fat and sugar than the same food in the standard range. Ananova.

Don't Trust These Trendy Diets. It's touted as a breakthrough programme for dieting…Not only does its creator Dr Peter D'Adamo say that his "individualized diet solution" is key to losing weight, he also claims it fights allergies, increases energy and even combats serious illnesses, such as cancer…Does D'Adamo's theory have any basis in scientific fact? None whatsoever say haematologists. "Pure fantasy," is the verdict of Dr Geoff Daniels of the International Blood Group Reference Laboratory in Bristol…Anyone who is looking for an excuse for being on the tubby side would have been thrilled to read about The False Fat Diet in the Daily Mail recently to discover that they could blame all those extra pounds not on overeating, but on allergies…"Dangerous hogwash!" says Tom Sanders, Professor of Nutrition at King's College London. "This is some of the worst garbage I have read in years. Lucy Wildman in Reader's Digest