Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Dubious Data 2007

Just stumbled across this article for the The Worst Science Stories of 2007: STATS Dubious Data Awards. I'll post one of the stories here, but they're all fairly entertaining.


Phthalatophobia, a subcategory of chemophobia (the fear of chemicals), led the media to make all sorts of remarkable claims in 2007, none more ballsy, perhaps, than Time magazine’s decision to advance puberty beyond the bounds of biological plausibility with the claim, in September, that inhaling phthalates from air fresheners could decrease sperm levels in infants.

Perhaps, Time was demonstrating that the mere act of reporting on toxic chemicals can cause mental derangement, as a) infants don’t produce sperm and b), the author of the study on phthalates in air fresheners, Dr. Gina Solomon of the Natural Resources Defense Council, admitted that had no “clear cut evidence here for health effects.” [...] Some phthalates have been shown at very high levels to harm laboratory animals, but then you can make rodents sick if you give them too much of anything. One study has drawn a statistical association between exposure to some phthalates in the womb and borderline changes in genital development. But contrary to the way the media have reported this study, the children were all healthy and had normal reproductive functioning. Even the Guardian newspaper, which is ardently pro green, concluded in its “Bad Science” column (written by an actual doctor) that the data on phthalates was being “overstated.”

As for air fresheners, the NRDC only measured the presence of phthalates inside the product. As to how much evaporated into the air and was likely to be absorbed by a passing human, there was nothing. The Environmental Protection Agency has since turned down the NRDC’s petition to examine the safety of air fresheners, although the agency does note that they are highly flammable – and will likely kill you if you eat one.

So, um, don’t eat air fresheners.

(from the STATS Dubious Data Awards 2007)

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