Sunday, April 17, 2005

I Hate Crap Journalism and Junk Science

Well- Maybe this science isn't junk, but read how they wrote this outrageous fear-mongering report on The Killer in Your Toothpaste!

Before you resign yourself to smelly mouth, hold your bloomers, Betty.
This is tabloidism from the European school of All-Chemicals-Are-Bad (Just don't forget to send over U.S. pharmaceuticals at cut-rates)

This yellow journalistic call for action is unburdened by excess detail, but notice the big quoted bits coming from Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund? Raise questions for anybody else?

The Evening Standard "investigation" went so far as to find that there are dozens of products on the shelf with the chemical triclosan. Well, duh. It's a very popular antibacterial that's been used by millions of people for years. I'm sure it's sitting- no lurking- in almost every civilized pantry and medicine chest. In the spirit of investigative jounalism, the ES sent some Cambridge kid with a notepad to the grocery store to look at labels and jot down brand names until he gave himself palpitations. But where, you may ask, in their zeal did they mislay the data (ANY data) showing attributable increases in any of the diseases they're threatening? After all, with millions of people and years of use, there'd be billions of exposures, right? But that kind of corroboration is Missing In Action here.

Even as a pathetic appeasement to fairness, how about competing statements from the various medical and review boards who've found these products safe in common use? That's Nowhere to be found, however, we do have plenty of environmentally sensitive folks to imply that technological advancement is killing you.

Drop your antibacterials, ya'll, and get back to the caves. And, if I may elaborate the warning, please forget that poor sanitation and hygiene (which might be improved by airlifting tons of these products when boycotted to the Third World) cause the majority of killer diseases in developing and impoverished nations. BUT IT'S NOT WORTH THE RISK. As societies, we've been fabulously reactive about protecting poor, ignorant folks from the dangers of DDT already. I feel so progressively humane as the thousands upon thousands die of malaria yearly so that one statistically possible loser (SPL) who accidentally gets a hundred times the recommended exposure can avoid the hint of a chance of emphysema.

Here at home in the First World, I am SO TIRED of the Statistically Possible Loser being the bad apple that spoils my barrels of fun. He's not even a real apple! He's just a theoretical apple that might someday turn rotten... maybe! When I think of all the time and money spent regulating us from things that normal people can decide for themselves because the SPL might get hurt... Anyway, back on topic.

Here's a telling quote, the bolding's mine: "Researchers have discovered that triclosan, a chemical in the products, can react with water to produce chloroform gas. If inhaled in large enough quantities, chloroform can cause depression, liver problems and, in some cases, cancer."

Here's where, if we were provided concrete facts and figures, we could whittle down the scare in favor of likelihood. Answers to the following would, I believe keep slivering down the probabilities of bad outcomes until we reached what's probable, but probably also quite rare.

1) How often and under what conditions does triclosan actually react with water to produce chloroform gas?
2) In the instances when chloroform gas is produced, how much of it is released, say, while using a normal globlet of toothpaste or glug of mouthwash?
3) How big are the "large enough quantities" you refer to compared to that number?
4) Does a potentially hazardous level of exposure occur at one-time, or is the effect cumulative over many exposures? (That seems quite relevant here, doncha think?)
5) If I do incur the "large enough"-to-produce-hazards level of exposure, then how likely is my incidence of depression, liver disease, and cancer?
6) How do my "chloroform" risks for these things stack up against the risks from my normal melancholic, hard-partying, carcinogen-snacking lifestyle?

Sure a couple of scaredy-cat Euro retail chains have buckled under and will "look for alternatives", but the only scientist quoted here is the guy from Virginia Tech who did the original research. Unlike most ethical labcoaters who'll say something on the order of, "This is only preliminary. We're going to need a lot more research and review before we make conclusions," this guy is so wowed by his new, as yet unduplicated findings, that he goes straight for the money shot, bolding again mine:

Professor Peter Vikesland, of Virginia Tech University, who carried out the research, said: "This is the first work that we know of that suggests that consumer products, such as antimicrobial soap, can produce significant quantities of chloroform." (That fact alone would moderate many of us reasoners when interviewed.- Henway) He has called for governments around the world to regulate the chemical more closely.

When confronted by a hardly-likely occurence represented by underscrutinized data from a single source, modern journalism rarely questions. Citizens become mere spectators to the footrace between regulation and litigation. The lawyers are lining up already... "Ma'am, have you ever felt depressed. Do you use soap or brush your teeth?"

Most depressed people I've known exhibit a marked lack of hygiene, but so what? Who needs your tort reform noooooowwww?

We've come to expect insubstantial factual support and an anti-chemistry (unless it's wrinkle cream) agenda from much of the fourth estate. However, perhaps I'm cynical in assuming that this researcher supports company-bankrupting, job-destroying, disease-promulgating lawsuits and legislation because of his premature screech for protection.

Perhaps Dr. Vikesland is simply bucking for the Chair's job in a newly-formed and amply-funded TIRD, the Triclosan Inquisitory and Regulatory Department.

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