What Can Broccoli and Bikinis tell us About Environmental Threats?


Broccoli is known as an exceptionally healthy food that may help prevent cancer. At the same time, however, broccoli contains carcinogens: ingredients that, if taken in “large enough doses” and over an extended period of time will cause cancer. Does that mean we should avoid broccoli to avoid this cancer risk? The answer is, of course, no. We know how ridiculous it would be to fear the carcinogens in broccoli. We know the risk of being exposed to “large enough doses” is infinitesimally small.

Would you feel the same way if we were talking about “genetically modified” broccoli or some man-made substitute? It’s very likely we’d demand protection form this “unsafe” product even if the risks of being exposed to “large enough doses” were lower than natural broccoli.

Did you know that drinking clean water in “large enough does” can kill you? It’s called hyponatremia. Young women are 25 times more likely to die from this than men of any age, yet we know how ridiculous it would be to demand protection from clean drinking water.

The actual risks posed by many of today’s sensationalized environmental threats are as unreasonable as fearing broccoli or clean water.

Bikinis and Bad Science

There are thousands upon thousands of medical studies warning of the dangers posed by a wide variety of environmental exposures. The vast majority of these studies are based on one common denominator: statistics.

We all know that it’s not wise to trust statistics. “There are three kinds of lies, lies, damned lies, and statistics.” A more colorful expression indicates: “Bikinis are like statistics, what they reveal is intriguing, but what they hide is critical!

In too many cases, studies of environmental risks, even those carried out by “independent” medical organizations, are established with a predetermined goal: to find a problem.

Read the article “An Epidemic of False Claims” by Professor John Ioannidis. The article describes an explosion of false and exaggerated scientific findings in today’s peer-reviewed science. Professor Ioannidis indicates that a great deal of today’s research is not being pursued to find the truth. Many so-called independent studies are far from independent. The research may be well-intentioned, but conflicts of interests and underlying biases often corrupt the study from start to finish. Two additional articles on the subject of bad science are worth mentioning: Lies, Damned Lies, and Medical Science by David H. Freedman and How Facts Backfire by Joe Keohane. The titles speak for themselves; the latest scientific research is often biased and wrong.