Are We Scaring Ourselves to Death?: How Pessismism, Paranoia, and a Misguided Media are Leading Us Toward Disaster
In this highly enjoyable, appropriately cynical compendium, Cohl examines and critiques cyanide in Chilean grapes, the scourge of herpes, killer hamburgers, and other media scare stories. The point isn't that such stories are constructed of whole cloth but that the kernels of disturbing truth in them are touted disproportionately and repeated ad infinitum; for example, in the case of the Chilean grapes, two grapes were found to contain nonlethal amounts of cyanide. But the media-spawned legend, rather than the truth, had passed into public consciousness, and eventually the FDA pulled all Chilean fruit from U.S. markets. Why does this kind of thing happen, over and over? The section titles in the chapter "Media Madness" offer clues: "Front-Page Fever," "Journalists Aren't Scientists," "The Complications of Simplification," etc. Cohl's book is such a cornucopia for the responsibly well informed that he should consider making it the first in a series of similar exposes.~~Mike Tribby
Are We Scaring Ourselves to Death?
TO YOUR HEALTH!
HEALTHY, WEALTHY, AND WISE (?)
Tylenol poisonings. AIDS. Rare killer viruses with no cures. Hamburgers that kill children and old people. Beef that makes you mad. Salmonellacontaminated chicken in the local grocery store. Pesticides on fruits and vegetables. Toxic shellfish. Milk pumped up with bovine growth hormones. Mexican food, Italian food, Chinese food, movie theater popcorn. According to media stories over the past few years, all of these are "harmful to your health"!
To add to the confusion, sometimes one piece of health news is followed within weeks by another that directly contradicts the first.
• In February 1995, the Centers for Disease Control told us that any kind of exercise improved life expectancy, even sporadic modest exercise. Then, two months later, a Harvard University study announced that only people who exercised strenuously and regularly enjoyed longer lives.
• A Danish study, published in the 6 May 1995 issue of the British Medical Journal, encourages the drinking of wine. According to the ten-year study, people who drink three to five glasses of wine a day live longer. However, other studies point out that the benefits of alcohol might not outweigh the risks.
• One study finds that eating fish doesn't prevent heart disease, as it is widely believed to do. Another study reports that reducing dietary fat to 30 percent of calorie intake doesn't help reduce the risk of heart disease--in spite of dozens of news stories to the contrary.
It's difficult to know what to embrace and what to fear. Questions cloud our attempts to apply the results of scientific research to our lives. We learn that food irradiation can kill potentially harmful bacteria, such as E. coli in beef and pork, and salmonella in chicken. But does irradiation carry unforeseen cancer risks?