Friday, September 16, 2011

THIS is Why Junk Science is Bad

Since the beginning of this year, I've added a ~10 minute section to the beginning of the Anime Mythbusters talk I've been giving, explaining the motivation behind why I bother debunking cartoons: Aside from being fun, it's practice for good critical thinking when something comes along that actually matters, like your health. The main example I've included has been the anti-vax movement.

It's a stark contrast to the light and fun talk that follows, but many people have said it's a real eye-opener, so I keep including it. At several of the talks, I've also tossed in current examples of bad science in the media such as the ET bacteria reported this spring, the arsenic bacteria this summer, but there's a new example I'll switch in that I think fills the gap between the heaviness of the anti-vax movement, which is literally killing people, and the anime fluff.

Apparently some TV quack called Dr. Oz has been going around claiming that apple juice has toxic levels of arsenic which has caused schools to pull it from their lunch menus.

What Oz failed to take into account is that there's a difference between the free floating, inorganic arsenic and the organic kind that's bound into the actual molecules of the food. The former is deadly. The latter isn't.

The killer is that Oz knew this. He, or at least his producer, was sent a letter informing him of the difference a full week before his show aired.

But that didn't stop him from causing panics over nothing. And of course, most consumers don't know enough science to be able to debunk this on their own.

The good news is that the media seems to be responding fairly intelligently. They've been commenting on the FDA response and those of other doctors pointing out Oz's failure. But they're still giving Oz the time of day. He's dodging the substance of the points others are making, tossing up smokescreens of "we don't know enough so I'm concerned", moving goalposts, making inappropriate comparisons (more arsenic is in apple juice than drinking water?! *gasp* Of course that can't have anything to do with the fact we drink an order of magnitude more water than juice!) and displaying the best hallmarks of pseudoscience.


Stephen Uitti said...

I personally know hundreds of people who eat apples and have retained their health.

This is similar to the argument that, since cosmic rays strike the Earth all the time, and with energies far exceeding anything that the Large Hadron Collider produces, the LHC must be safe.

One concludes that apples and the LHC are safe. At least as long as you don't get a helium leak in an apple.

William Crook said...

The claim I keep hearing is that apple _juice_ is not that good for you, because it has more sugar and no fiber. Eating apples is not the problem. I'm not sure how I feel yet. I haven't seen enough information from sources I trust.