• Media Hype

      When new environmental concerns appear, the media routinely cover them without context.

      in my syndicated column this week, I look at the consequences of scare stories about things like genetically modified foods:

      Reporters and environmental activists have incentives to leave out details that might make the story boring. It's useful if you think you're in danger.

      "It's a great way to get attention," says Bjorn Lomborg, statistician and author of "The Skeptical Environmentalist," "but it focuses you on the wrong solutions." Instead of doing something that really fights cancer, like quitting smoking, people devote their energy to banning things like GM foods.

      GM foods require less water, need fewer pesticides and grow where other crops will not survive.

      By forcing farmers to stick to the old-fashioned corn, activists and regulators force customers to pay higher prices for food.

      Reporters sleep with clear consciences because we (usually) don't say anything completely false. We tell ourselves that we may save lives and draw attention to important issues -- and so what if people err on the side of safety?

      But the answer to "so what?" is that people waste time, money and emotional energy, and we are less safe, because we worry about the wrong things.

      Americans also worry about perfectly safe baby bottles and soup cans that contain a chemical called BPA. It helps prevent the growth of deadly bacteria. But Campbell's soup will soon stop using it because of the bad publicity.

      Chemicals called phthalates, which keep school supplies like backpacks soft, are accused of damaging kids' livers and kidneys and causing asthma.

      If these stories were true, who could blame parents for being frightened? Who can blame reporters for telling the story?

      Julie Gunlock, from the Independent Women's Forum, blames them. She points out that the activists scare mothers needlessly, because "over 1,000 studies, independent studies, have said that BPA is perfectly safe."

      She knows how the scare stories work: "BPA is easily vilified. I mean, it's invisible. And people tend to say: ‘Chemicals, it's scary. I'll just trust what some activist organization or consumer rights organization says and avoid it.'"

      The rest of my column here.

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      Environment
      Media
      Syndicated Column