Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Polar Bears Are Not Disappearing- The Rest of the Story

Jack Dini
Livermore, CA
December 14, 2007

Abstract- There are a number of facts about polar bears that Al Gore and other alarmists haven't shared with us. Polar bears are not disappearing, are very mobile, and have survived through much warmer periods thana we are experiencing today.

Al Gore- “The melting of the ice represents bad news for creatures like polar bears. A new scientific study shows that, for the first time, polar bears have been drowning in significant numbers.”

Marlo Lewis- “I found the study. The study found four drowned polar bears in one month of one year after an abrupt windstorm. Have been drowning—that suggests an ongoing problem. Significant numbers suggests that it’s enough to affect the overall population dynamic. That’s an exaggeration.” Also, the sighting occurred in an area where polar bear numbers are increasing.

We’ve all seen the heartrending photo of a lonely bear apparently stranded on a melting ice floe. It’s become the poster centerpiece for environmentalists and the media. Time magazine chose this mammal as the cover boy for one if its issues (April l3, 2006) declaring: “Be Worried. Be Very Worried,” and Al Gore offered a computer-generated bear flailing about for icy salvation in his movie.

In April 2007 Time added, “With sea ice vanishing, polar bears—prodigious swimmers but not inexhaustible ones are starting to turn up drowned.” “There will be no polar ice by 2060,” says Larry Schweiger, president of the National Wildlife Federation. “Somewhere along that path, the polar bear drops out.”

Let’s look at some facts that Al Gore and Time either missed or conveniently forgot to share with us. It’s true in Baffin Bay, one or possibly two subpopulations of polar bears out of twenty are declining. However, here’s the rest of the story-- more than half are known to be stable, and two subpopulations are actually increasing around the Beaufort Sea. In addition, the overall bear population has increased from about five thousand in the 1960s to twenty-five thousand today. But here’s the real kicker that you haven’t heard from our doomsayers—the two populations in decline come from areas where it has actually been getting colder over the past fifty years, whereas the two increasing populations reside in areas where it is getting warmer.

Here are some more facts about the region where bears are ‘declining.’ The best studied polar bear population, living on the western coast of Hudson Bay has seen its population decline 17 percent, from 1,200 in 1987 to under 500 in 2004. This is the group that has gotten most of the press. Yet, have you heard that the population of this group was only 500 in 1981 and that 300 to 500 bears are shot each year?

And speaking of shooting polar bears, in the Davis Strait of Nunavit, this topic is on the agenda because of too many bears. Nunavit is home to 12 of Canada’s 13 polar bear populations totaling an estimated 14,780. Dr. Mitch Taylor reports, “There are maybe even too many bears now. That’s not theory. That’s not based on a model. That’s observation of reality.” With this increase, folks could be looking at the possibility of increasing hunting quotas.

Talk to some Churchill, Manitoba residents, the so-called Polar Bear Capital of the World, and you also get a different view than Al Gore and Time present. These folks base their opinions on personal experience rather than fancy charts and computer models put out by scaremongers. And getting back to famous photograph mentioned earlier of the polar bear teetering precariously on an Arctic ice-floe in the depths of winter. Seems that the doomsayers forgot to mention that it was taken three years ago during the height of summer. Clearly, when the rest of the story is examined, the relationship between polar bear populations and temperature is the opposite of what we’ve been hearing.

Polar bears are also known to be very mobile. They wander thousands of miles every year on paths in enormous private northern arcs. At least one bear has been tracked pacing the ice 3,000 miles from Alaska to Greenland, then back. So, if one part of their territory is changing, they are quite capable of changing their routes and moving elsewhere.

One last item. Recent discovery of what may be the oldest known remains of a polar bear have been discovered in the Arctic. Professor Olafur Ingolfsson from the University of Iceland says this confirms that the polar bear was a morphologically distinct species at least 100,000 years ago. Between then and now there’s been at least one interglacial period (Eeemian) and it was much warmer than our present Holocene. Existence of polar bears today is proof that they survived long periods of time when the climate of the Arctic was much warmer than at present. So why didn’t they go extinct? A World Climate Reports suggests the most likely explanation is that they modified their behavior to adapt to the changing conditions, probably by spending more time on land foraging, hunting, and denning. There is evidence that these are precisely the kinds of adaptations that bears are making to best cope with today’s warmer climate. So instead of perishing, polar bears will be quite capable of adapting.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Double the Fun at the Honolulu Marathon

Jack Dini
Livermore, CA
December 11, 2007

I was alone, ahead of the pack for 11 miles during the Honolulu Marathon. How was this possible for someone whose pace is one mile in 20 minutes? Easy. Start early! Knowing that it was going to take me 9-10 hours to cover the course (new metal knee), I decided to avoid the masses at the start and begin the race at 2 AM, three hours before the official start time.

What fun! Along the way I passed many parties—after all it was still in the wee hours of the morning. A number of street folks (homeless) were kind enough to wish me well after asking when the race would start, and not a one panhandled me (quite different from what would have happened to me at 2-3 AM in San Francisco). Some folks on Ala Moana Blvd were waiting at different bus stops. I didn’t think they would ever see The Bus; at least I didn’t for 2 miles (40 minutes). Many volunteers were getting instructions and setting up their stations in a flurry of activity. And, of course, there were many police persons at the various intersections. Once, when a heavy rain stated falling, I was able to duck into one of the porta-potties and sit out the storm. After all, no one else was waiting to use my selected toilet since the other runners hadn’t yet started.

Around mile 10.5 the first wheel chair racer passed by in what looked like a high-speed chase to me. He was preceded by two bicyclists with flashing lights and bells and followed by two other folks on bicycles. I later learned that this was Masazumi Soejima of Japan who finished the race course in 1:33. That’s about a 17 mph pace, so no wonder I was impressed with the speed. Three other wheel chair racers passed before the first runners appeared. They were a group of four who seemed to just glide along. They were so close to one another that if one fell they all were going down. Very quite, effortlessly cruising along, they made it look much easier than it really is (to me, at least.). These four were well ahead of the rest of the pack but after another 30 minutes or so, the mob had caught up to me. From then on, the race seemed like a typical marathon—folks passing me left and right. Before I finished, just short of 10 hours, I’m sure most of the folks who didn’t start until 3 hours after I did had passed me by. So what? I had a great time, both at the front end and at the back.

Thanks Honolulu and all your volunteers for another great race.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Superfund Sites Yield New Drugs/Tourist Attractions/Physics Laboratory

Superfund Sites Yield New Drugs/Tourist Attractions/Physics Laboratory

Jack Dini
Livermore, California

In 1993 Travel and Leisure Magazine ran an article on the Continental Divide. It was tough on Butte, Montana: “the ugliest spot in Montana…despite a spirited historic district amid the rubble, the overall picture is desolate.” It called nearby Anaconda “a sad sack mining town dominated by a smelter smokestack.” (1) Today things are somewhat different for these two sites.

Butte, Montana- Lake Berkeley

Edwin Dobb reports, “At one time Butte provided a third of the copper used in the United States—all from a mining district only four miles square. Eventually open-pit mining was used and the pit became the world’s largest truck operated mine, along the way displacing some Italian and Serbo-Croatian neighborhoods. Mining came to a halt in the early 1980s, as did the pumps that had been sucking groundwater out of the mines for a century. The flooding began.”(2)

The 1.5 mile wide, 1,800 foot deep pit, part of the nation’s largest Superfund site, has been filling for the last 20 years with a poisonous broth laced with heavy metals—a legacy of Butte’s copper mining days. When mining officials abandoned the pit and stopped the pumps that kept it dry, they opened the spigots to about 3 millions gallons of water per day. Today, the lake is about 850 foot deep and contains more than 3 billion cubic feet of water. (3)

Lake Berkeley, also known as The Berkeley Pit, covers almost 700 acres of the former open-pit copper mine. It holds some 30 billion gallons of highly acidic, metal-laden water. It’s the country’s largest and most unusual body of contaminated water, with a pH of 2.6 and metals such as aluminum, arsenic, cadmium, copper, iron, manganese, zinc, and others. (1) Yet, as New Scientist reports, “Every cloud has a silver lining.” The contaminated lake designated hazardous is turning out to be a source of novel chemicals that could help fight migraines and cancer. (4)

In recent years more than 40 small organisms have been discovered in the lake and these hold much potential for agriculture and medicine. It’s even thought that some of these organisms can be employed to reclaim the lake and other similar contaminated waters by neutralizing acidity and absorbing dissolved metals.

Andrea and Don Stierle and their colleagues have found a strain of the pithomyces fungi producing a compound that bonds to a receptor that causes migraines and could block headaches, while a strain of penicillium fungi makes a different compound that inhibits the growth of cancer cells. In July 2006 the Stierle team revealed that a novel Berkeley Lake compound called berkelic acid from another new strain of penicillium fungus reduces the rate of ovarian cancer cell growth by 50 percent. (5)

How is this possible? Essentially, some organisms actually flourish in the presence of acidity and make use of some of the dissolved metals in the lake. These are called extremophiles (liking extremes), because they not only tolerate, but even thrive in extreme conditions. Extremophiles can tolerate heat, very cold climates, high pressure, and low pH and high pH solutions. Japanese scientist Koki Horikoshi has found a variety of chemically tolerant extremophiles in the deepest parts of the ocean; some of them can even degrade hydrocarbons while thriving in water containing up to 50% solutes such as toluene, benzene, or kerosene. (6)

Why do extremophiles show new antibiotic and anticarcinogenic activities? Best guess is that some of them have evolved powerful toxins to attack an enzyme associated with a particular fungal growth phase. Another possibility is that they are particularly adept at sticking tightly to surfaces and this is one of the attributes researchers look for in anti-cancer drugs. (7)

Anaconda, Montana—The Old Works Golf Course

Twenty-five miles down the road from Lake Berkeley is the town of Anaconda, another Superfund site. The Anaconda smelter was once one of the shining stars of the American mining industry employing thousands of people. The facility first began copper smelting operations in 1884 and the smelter rose quickly to national prominence because of its noticeable annual copper production. However, this all came at a price to the environment. The land was left gouged with mines and extensively contaminated with heavy metals. The Anaconda smelter was demolished after its closure in 1981. However, the smelter stack, the tallest and possibly largest free-standing masonry structure in the world, remains standing. The site is now a Montana State Park. (8)

And speaking of parks and tourism, these days the town of Anaconda has redefined itself turning to tourism and recreational pursuits to attract visitors and provide jobs for its citizens. A major attraction is the Old Works Golf Course built on the site of the copper smelter. Jack Nicklaus, hired to design the course, reportedly called the site the ugliest he had ever see. One of the most expensive golf course reclamation projects ever undertaken, the $15 million project included capping the entire area with crushed rock, clay, and topsoil. Lakes were created to catch and filter water, and plastic liners were installed to protect trees, greens, and bunkers. (9)

The course includes capped slag and tailing pipes and some of the landscape’s century old flues and smelting ovens. Sand traps are black, a clever use for more than 14,000 cubic yards of inert smelting slag ground to the texture of sand. Massive stone furnace walls line some of the fairways. For the non-golfer, a historic hiking trail highlighting Anaconda’s smelting heritage and giving hikers an insight into copper mining techniques of years past winds its way around the course.

Some Other Sites

The Homestake Gold Mine in South Dakota, site of a spill of six to seven tons of cyanide-laced tailings into a creek in 1998, has been selected as the preferred site for a $500 million Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory. (10) Because of the up to 8000 foot depth in the mine, this would make it the best shielded laboratory in the world for neutrino studies and a major advance in sensitivity in the search for proton decay.

An artificial lake in El Salvador brimming with sewage and industrial waste is mystifying scientists by attracting thousands of migratory and sea birds. Built in 1974 to drive El Salvador’s biggest hydroelectric project, the 33,360 acre Cerron Grande reservoir collects some 3,800 tons of excrement each year from sewage pipes, as well as factory run-off and traces of heavy metals like chromium and lead. What surprises scientists is the fact that some 150,000 seabirds from more than 130 species have chosen to make the reservoir their home. At least 90 of the species are migratory birds arriving from as far away as Alaska. (11) Birds do not survive in Lake Berkeley. So what’s the difference between the two lakes? Could it be the 3,800 tons of excrement?


1. Florence Williams, “Butte, Montana, seeks a new life,” High Country News, Volume 25, November 29, 1993
2. Edwin Dobb, “New Life in a Death Trap,” Discover, 21, 86, December 2000
3. Mark Matthews, “Could a Toxic Lake Yield Life-Saving Microbes?” The Washington Post, March 8, 1999, Page A09
4. “Dirty old mine has rich seam of drugs,” New Scientist, 191, 19, July 15, 2006
5. Andrea A. Stierle, Donald B. Stierle, and Kal Kelly, “Berkelic Acid, A Novel Spiroketal With Selective Anticancer Activity From an Acid Mine Waste Fungal Extremophile, J. Org. Chem., 71, 5357, June 10, 2006
6. Carol Stone, “Extremophiles, Life at the Edge,” ChemMatters, 17, 14, December 1999
7. Michael R. Taylor, Dark Life, (New York, Scribner, 1999), 119
8. “Anaconda Smelter Stack,”
9. Alex Markels, “The Greening of America,” Audubon, July-August 1998, Page 42
10. Geoff Brumfiel, “Deep science strikes gold after latest site is named,” Nature , 448, 232, July 19, 2007
11. Alberto Barrera, “Contaminated Salvador Lake is Mystery Brid Magnet,”, May 21, 2007

Friday, November 23, 2007



Jack Dini

Free to choose what we believe, Americans choose myth over reality every time, says Dayton Duncan. (1) He adds, “Americans are dreamers, and a myth after all, is merely a dream of the past rather than the future. Our national dreams have always edited out any nightmarish realities and rewritten popular history whenever our actions fall short of our ideals.”

Some examples: In the movie, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), Senator Ranse Stoddard (Jimmy Stewart) returns to the city of Shinbone in the Wild West to go to the funeral of his friend, Tom Doniphon (John Wayne). Stoddard is something of a celebrity in this town having spent time there before eventually moving to Washington. When talking to some journalists, who are wondering what the senator is doing in Shinbone, he reminds them how his career started as ‘the man who shot Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin).” He goes on to tell the press that it was John Wayne who really shot and killed Liberty Valance. The press folks say- we will never report this- you’ve become a legend and when the legend becomes fact, print the legend.

We’re all familiar with the image of the wild west during the years of the cattle boom. Gunfights, lawlessness, and so on, gave places like Dodge City its fame and this lives in our memories. Much of this is a myth. In all the years of the cattle boom, fewer people were shot or stabbed in Dodge City then died violently in New York City in three days. There were 15 homicides in Dodge City during the years of the cattle boom; about 5 people a day died of violence in New York City in 1987, the year Ian Frazier reported these facts. (2) One reason Dodge City got its fame was the fact that the town had several weekly newspapers chronicling each gunfight and its aftermath in detail. This was then picked up by other media in the rest of the country. Eventually, Hollywood got into the act, and as Paul Harvey would say, ‘that’s the rest of the story.’

Another myth that has become accepted wisdom is that we should drink at least eight glasses of water a day. This universal advice that has made guzzling water a national pastime is more urban myth than medical dogma and lacks scientific proof, reports Joel Best.(3) The 8 x 8 rule is lavishly followed. Everywhere, people carry bottles of water, constantly sipping from them; it is acceptable to drink water anywhere, anytime. A pamphlet distributed at one southern California University even counsels its students to “carry a water bottle with you. Drink often while sitting in class.” This had its origin in an analysis that did, in fact, recommend the eight glasses level of water intake. But the analysis also noted that most of this water would ordinarily come from food (bread, for example, is 35 percent water), and meats and vegetables contain even higher proportions of water. However, the notion that food contained most of the water needed for good health was soon forgotten, in favor of urging people to consume the entire amount through drinking. (3)

Myths, if they die at all, die slowly, stubbornly, clinging tenaciously to life even in the face of incontrovertible facts. We see and hear a lot of this today in the areas of health and environment. High doses in animal testing provide myths about the so-called dangers of foods. When rodents are tested for exposure to chemicals and food additives they are often given very high doses, averaging 380,000 times the dose humans would be given. A person would have to drink 800 cans of diet soda in a day to equal the saccharin dose given to rats, or a 155 pound person would have to eat 82,600 slices of bread every day for a lifetime to be exposed to a dose of furfural comparable to that which causes cancer in rodent tests. One could go on and on with many of these types of examples, and I have in a previous column. (4)

The beloved ‘good old days,’ a pristine pre-human landscape, frozen in time and space as a sort of base point from which to measure change is as good a myth about the environment as you can find. (5) This pastoral idea, embodying the belief that a simple life, without technology, commerce, or industry, was man’s natural state, ensuring peace, health and happiness, and that it had existed in a Golden Age from which society had deteriorated, simply never existed. (6) The ‘good old days’ simply weren’t that good. The past world was in no way spared the problems we consider horrendously our own, such as pollution, addiction, or urban blight. This subject alone could cover an entire book. For a shortened version see my column in the June 1998 issue of this journal. (7)

Another example of an environmental myth is the tropical rain forest. As Philip Stott reports, “Tropical ran forest does not exist as an object: it is a human construct and is thus subject to myth making on a grand scale.”(8) He adds, “Our attachment to the tropical rain forest has grown over the past hundred years from a minority colonial pursuit to mainstream environmental obsession. The tropical rain forest has variously been assumed to be the world’s largest repository of biological diversity and the lungs of the planet.” (9)

Stott and others say there is not one shred of recent scientific evidence to support the powerful historic and mythic language employed about ‘rain forests.’ Bjorn Lomborg observes that we will not lose 50 percent of all species as claimed by many, but more like 0.7 percent. (10) James Trefil adds, “For the record, I think it would be truly astonishing if something as far-reaching as the effect of human activity on the planet didn’t drive some species to extinction. Whether the rate of extinction is truly unprecedented, however, is not so clear. I have to confess that I have this sneaking suspicion that animals have probably been becoming extinct at a high rate for hundreds of millions of years. After all, an animal so specialized that it can only survive on one part of one kind of tree is not a good bet to win the Darwinian sweepstakes. And, of course, since we have no idea how fast they became extinct in the past, we have no way of knowing whether their extinction rate is going up or down today.” (11)

The ‘lungs of the planet’ claim is also mythical. Lomborg explains that plants produce oxygen by means of photosynthesis, but when they die and decompose, precisely the same amount of oxygen is consumed. Therefore, forests in equilibrium neither produce nor consume oxygen in net terms. (10)

More from Stott; “The Northern environmentalists conception of the tropical rain forest is far removed from the ecological realities of the places it purports to denote. Most of the ‘million year old forest’ to which environmentalists sentimentally refer turns out to have existed for less than 20,000 years. During the last ice age the tropics were colder and drier than today and probably more closely resembled the savanna grasslands of East Africa. (9)

Yet, here’s an example where the statement about “millions of years old forest” is used. It’s from a 1992 textbook by Chris Park, Tropical Rainforests, which is widely employed in schools and colleges throughout the UK.
“Tropical rainforests are the most complex ecosystems on earth. Rainforests (better known to many people as jungles) have been the dominant form of vegetation in the tropics for literally millions of years and beneath their high canopy lives a diversity of species which is unrivaled anywhere else on earth.” (12)

E. F. Bruenig, Emeritus Professor of Forestry, Hamburg University, says this, “Knowledge of ecology and forestry is poor among the public and understanding of ecosystem properties is almost absent while myths abound especially with respect to tropical rain forests and their peoples. There is a certain unwillingness to bridge the knowledge gap and abandon inherited or newly developed myths if they serve self-interests.” (13)


1. Dayton Duncan, Out West, (New York, Penguin Books, 1987), 55

2. Ian Frazier, Great Plains, (New York, Penguin Books, 1989), 151

3. Joel Best, More Damned Lies and Statistics, (Berkeley, CA, University of California Press, 2004), 20

4. Jack W. Dini, “Of Mice and Men,” Plating & Surface Finishing, 91, 30, September 2004

5. Steven F. Hayward, Index of Leading Environmental Indicators 2005, (San Francisco, Pacific Research Institute), 9

6. John Lenihan, The Crumbs of Creation, (New York, Adam Hilger, 1988), 30

7. Jack W. Dini, “The Good Old Days,” Plating & Surface Finishing, 85, 88, June 1998

8. Philip Stott, Tropical Rain Forest, (Lancing, West Sussex, Great Britain, Hartington Fine Arts Limited, 1999), 8

9. Philip Stott, Tropical Rain Forest, 4

10. Bjorn Lomborg, The Skeptical Environmentalist, (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2001), 115

11. James Trefil, Human Nature, (New York, Times Books, 2001), 122

12. Chris C. Park, Tropical Rainforests, (London & New York, Routledge, 1992), 1

13. E. F. Bruenig, Paper presented at Oxford University, May 15, 1998

Is Environmentalism Dead?

Jack Dini
Livermore, CA

An April 20, 2004 Gallup poll showed that only 1 percent of Americans believe the environment is the most important problem facing the nation today. That finding followed a 2000 poll reporting that 41 percent of Americans believe environmental activists are ‘extremists,’ up from 32 percent in 1996. (1)

A recent online report, The Death of Environmentalism, by Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus offers some thoughts about the reasons for the American public’s declining support for environmental activism. They say activist groups today are too extremist, too polarizing, and too lacking in credibility to achieve the broad-based support of the American people. “The institutions that define what environmentalism means boast large professional staffs and receive tens of million of dollars every year from foundations and individuals. Given these rewards it’s no surprise that most environmental leaders neither craft nor support proposals that could be tagged ‘non-environmental.’ Doing otherwise would do more than threaten their status; it would undermine their brand.” (2)

In reviewing the report, Orson Aquilar agreed, ‘Environmentalists give ‘I Have A Nightmare’ speeches and offer technical proposals far removed from the lives of ordinary Americans.” (3) Rick Johnson, executive director of the Idaho Conservation League, added, “While our movement does much good, and conservation measures actually did well in the recent elections, we should be mindful of our failings, be they real or perceptions increasingly held by the public. Environmentalists are often viewed as detached from the lives of regular people, and in a public interest movement, this is very bad news. Most people wake up in the morning trying to reduce what they have to worry about. Environmentalists wake up trying to increase it.” (4)

The Gallup results mentioned earlier closely tracked a BBC poll in Britain, where respondents ranked global warming last among a list of issues including health care, crime, and education. (5) A tie-in with this is The Copenhagen Solution (Consensus) which was developed by Danish statistician Bjorn Lomborg. The Consensus is an attempt by leading economists (including three Nobelists) to set priorities for spending using traditional cost-benefit analysis. The group explored opportunities for addressing ten of the most serious challenges facing the world today: climate change, communicable diseases, conflicts, access to education, financial instability, governance and corruption, malnutrition and hunger, migration, sanitation and access to clean water, and subsidies and trade barriers. They were asked to address these challenge areas and answer the question, ‘What would be the best ways of advancing global welfare, and particularly the welfare of developing countries, supposing that an additional $50 billion of resources were at governments’ disposal?’ Challenge papers, commissioned from acknowledged authorities in each area of policy, set out more than thirty proposals in descending order of desirability. In ordering the proposals, the panel was guided predominantly by consideration of economic costs and benefits. (6)

The results? Compared to other opportunities such as communicable diseases, malnutrition and hunger, sanitation and water, and the rest, climate change ranked last on the list. (7) Vernon Smith, Professor of Economics and Law at George Mason University, provided this summation, “It is clear from both the science and the economics of intervention that those of us who care about the environment are not well advised to favor initiating a costly attempt to reduce greenhouse gases build-up in the atmosphere in the near future based on available information. Although the ultimate danger may turn out to prompt action, the current evidence indicates that it is much too soon to act relative to the many other important and pressing opportunities that demand immediate attention. (8) (Note, the italics are Smith’s, not mine.)

Back to The Death of Environmentalism report. As might be expected this caused considerable uproar among the environmental movement community. Carl Pope, the Sierra Club’s executive director, was ‘deeply disturbed and angered by it.’ (9) Other leader of environmental groups also expressed varying degrees of dyspepsia over the fracas. (5)

An interesting point is that both Shellenberger and Nordhaus run consulting businesses that ‘strategize for foundations’ and ‘craft strategic initiatives aimed at reframing old debates.’ William Tucker notes, “It is not insignificant that The Death of Environmentalism was released at the retreat of the environmental Grantmakers Association in Kauai last October [2004]. What’ really at stake here is the millions of dollars that liberal foundations hand out each year in search of a cleaner environment. Far from re-examining the purposes of environmentalism, Shellenberger and Nordhaus are making their own pitch.” (10) Here’s some of what they offer in the report:
“One tool we have to offer is the research we are doing as part of our Strategic Values Project, which is adapting corporate marketing research for use by the progressive community…Readers of this report who are interested in learning more about Strategic Values Project…should feel welcome to contact us.” (11)

So is environmentalism dead?

A famous quote of Mark Twain sums up my view. “The report of my death is greatly exaggerated.” I surely don’t think environmentalism is dead. The international environmental movement is now a $6 billion per year industry and it will not just fade away. (12)

The major upset for the movement at present is that global warming, to them the mother of all environmental scares, hasn’t been taken more seriously. As The Wall Street Journal has noted, “Adopting the Kyoto Protocol to curb carbon dioxide emissions, for instance, might reduce warming to 6.1 degrees C by the year 2300, compared with an anticipated 7.3 degrees warming if nothing is done. This ‘achievement’—a world that is on average 1.2 degrees cooler than it otherwise would be in 300 years—comes with a price tag of about $94 trillion (in 1990 dollars). The benefits of tackling climate change are far into the future and the substantial costs are up front and immediate. The uncertainties associated with both the projections and the consequences of change cannot compete with other urgent issues we confront. (13) Obviously, one could help a lot of hungry folks with poor sanitation for $94 trillion 1990 dollars rather than spend is on something that may or may not be a problem many years down the road.

I’m encouraged that some folks in the movement seem open to change. Being green is no longer as simple as it used to be. Some major conservation groups are beginning to realize that the old hard-line protectionist approach simply doesn’t work. (14) One example; the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Greenpeace apparently have reversed their long standing opposition to the use of DDT to fight malaria. (15)

Fred Pearce notes, “The WWF is just one among many science based environment groups that are engaged in a savage reappraisal of their philosophy. In their self imposed task of saving everything from rainforests and medicinal plants to elephants and whales, they are coming to a heretical conclusion: conservation- at least in its hard line forms- is its own worst enemy. Far from saving endangered species and their habitats, it often accelerates their destruction, because it alienates local people and forces trade underground. You would never guess this upheaval was going on when you read the organizations’ promotional literature on the fight to preserve the planet’s last wilderness. But the truth is they are beginning to think that banning hunting and fishing, erecting fences around the forests to keep out poachers, and outlawing trade in endangered species are about the least effective ways of saving threatened species. Sometimes the best way forward is to dismantle existing protection laws and start again.” (14) So, we get mixed messages from these organizations. I wish I could be more optimistic about the directions of the environmental movement, but I still have a lot of doubt. Regardless, environmentalism isn’t dead.


1. James M. Taylor, “Death of Environmentalism Essay Ignites Dissent,” Environment & Climate News, 8, 13, June 2005

2. Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus, “The Death of Environmentalism,” September 29, 2004, page 11. This report can be downloaded at;

3. Orson Aquilar, “Why I am not an environmentalist,” San Francisco Chronicle, May 19, 2005, Page B9

4. Rick Johnson, “The Death of Environmentalism,” ONEList online, December 7, 2004

5. Steven F. Hayward, Index of Leading Environmental Indicators 2005, (San Francisco, Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy, 2005), 16

6. Global Crises, Global Solutions, Bjorn Lomborg, Editor, (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2004), 605

7. Global Crises, Global Solutions, Bjorn Lomborg, Editor, 606

8. Global Crises, Global Solutions, Bjorn Lomborg, Editor, 635


10. William Tucker, “Environmentalism’s Nervous Breakdown,” The American Enterprise online,, April 19, 2005

11. Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus, The Death of Environmentalism, 7

12. Paul Driessen, Eco-Imperialism, (Bellevue, Washington, Free Enterprise Press, 2003), 134

13. “The Copenhagen Solution,” Opinion Journal from The Wall Street Journal editorial page, June 11, 2005

14. Fred Pearce, “A greyer shade of green,” New Scientist, 177, 41, June 2003

15. Nicholas D. Kristof, “It’s Time to Spray DDT,” New York Times, January 8, 2005

A Strong Antiseptic that Became a Famous Mouthwash

Jack Dini
Livermore, CA

An antiseptic that could only be used with great care lest it damage the surrounding tissue went on to become America’s must advertised mouthwash. It all stared when physician Joseph Lister realized that fractures that broke through the skin would often become infected, whereas those that did not pierce the skin healed nicely. He also became aware of Louis Pasteur’s work which had shown that rotting and fermentation could occur in the absence of oxygen as along as microorganisms were present. Heat killed the microorganisms but Lister knew that heating a patient was not a viable approach, so he tried some phenol (carbolic acid). It worked, and soon Lister was washing his instruments with phenol. He also developed a sprayer which allowed him to disinfect his operating room. The results were immediate: the mortality rate from amputations dropped from 50 to 15 percent.(1)

However, Lister’s discovery of antisepsis was initially ignored in both England and the United States, in part because he was a doctor working in Glasgow and England and was felt to have a limited outlook. This aspect of science was considered outside his field of expertise. Lister wasn’t the first person to be treated this way by the scientific community. As Broad and Wade report, “George Ohm, the nineteenth-century German who discovered the law of electrical resistance, was a math teacher at the Jesuit Gymnasium in Cologne; his ideas were ignored by scientists at German universities. Mendel’s genetic laws were ignored by professionals in his field for thirty-five years, in part because, as an abbe’ with an experimental plot in his backyard, he seemed to be a mere amatuer, and Louis Pasteur met with violent resistance from doctors when he advanced his germ theory of disease; they regarded him as a mere chemist poaching on their scientific preserves.” (2) So, it took time to convince others. Pasteur and Lister eventually won the battle, persuading the medical profession that germs really did exist.

In the United States, Jordan Wheat Lambert, synthesized a less powerful version and asked Lister if he could use the already famous name, Lister, for the product. Lister agreed and Lambert added the “ine’ suffix which he felt made the product sound more scientific. (3)

Lambert’s Listerine was used for much more than minor surgical procedures. It was a good floor cleaner, an after-shave, a nasal douche, a cure for gonorrhea, and even a scalp treatment for dandruff and baldness. Eventually it was discovered that Listerine was also good at killing oral germs. In 1895 it was marketed to the dental profession and in 1914 became one of the first prescription products to be sold over the counter. But there was no hint for use as a mouth deodorant because at that time there was no such thing as bad breath. Certainly at that time people had various diseases, bad teeth, unpleasant mouth odor, but as advertising scholar James Twitchell points out, “It was not considered socially offensive.” He adds, “Recall that until the 1920s, most Americans bathed only once a week (on Saturday night in anticipation of the Sabbath), and that hair was rarely washed. Soap, still made of animal fats, often smelled worse than body odor!” (4)

Enter Gerard Lambert, one of Jordan’s sons. This marketing genius was looking for an advertising hook, so he asked his company chemist if Listerine was good for bad breath. The chemist showed him a clipping from the medical journal, British Lancet, that discussed halitosis. Gerard asked; what is halitosis? He was told that this was the medical term for bad breath. A light went off in Gerard’s head. “This is something we can hang our hat on!” From Twitchell, “As it turned out, he hung more than his hat on halitosis. He hung the entire company on it. He poured money into putting halitosis into every American mouth. Lambert made a pledge to increase his advertising each month by the same percentage as the increase of his sales. He claimed he would stop this only when sales leveled off. For as long as he owned the company, they never did. From 1922 to 1929 earnings rose form $115,000 to more than $8 million. By the time of the stack market crash, Listerine was one of the largest buyers of magazine and newspaper space, spending more than $5 million –almost the exact amount of yearly profits. In all that time the product’s price, package, and formula had not changed a whit.” (3)

The ad campaign was particularly inventive. “If You Want the Truth- Go to a Child,” Twitchell asks the question,“Has there ever been an ad so deliriously nasty as this? Like a baby robin, the youngster looks up to her caregiver for tenderness and gets a whiff of foul breath instead. The body copy makes clear that here is yet another case of ‘a young woman, who in spite of her personal charm and beauty never seemed to hold men friends.’ The quizzical child, however appears determined to confront whether spinster aunt is ashamed of: Auntie is ‘broadcasting bad breath.’ No wonder men stay away. Dreaded halitosis has gotten in the way of love.” (5) Other ads took this similar tack; “Often a Bridesmaid but Never a Bride,” Halitosis Makes You Unpopular,” Could I be happy with him in spite of that?”

This was one of the first times that advertising really did create a ‘cure.’ But you couldn’t cure something unless you had a disease. “Listerine did not make mouthwash as much as it made halitosis.”(5)

So there you have it- from a potent antiseptic (phenol) to a product (Original Listerine) that an unprecedented 99% of all mouthwash users have tried. One final footnote to this saga; phenol would save thousands of lives, but it would also end many, for scientists quickly discovered that phenol could be converted into the potent explosive trinitrophenol (TNT). (1) Gargle on this thought.


1. Joe Schwarcz, Radar, Hula Hoops, and Playful Pigs, (Toronto, ECW Press, 1999), 58

2. William Broad and Nicholas Wade, Betrayers of the Truth, (New York, Simon & Schuster, 1982), 136

3. James B. Twitchell, Twenty Ads That Shook the World, (New York, Three Rivers Press, 2000), 62

4. James B. Twitchell, Twenty Ads That Shook the World, 63

5. James B. Twitchell, Twenty Ads That Shook the World, 60


Thursday, November 22, 2007

George Dantzig- Mathematical Genius and Urban Legend Hero

Jack Dini, Livermore, CA

Imagine you’re a graduate student taking a mathematics course at the University of California, Berkeley. One day you oversleep and are late for class, so late that everyone has gone. However, there are two problems on the blackboard. You assume these are homework problems and you copy them down. The problems are harder than usual and it takes you quite a while to finish them. When finished, you take them to your professor to see if he still wants the work. He tells you to throw it on his desk and you do so reluctantly because the desk is covered with a heap of papers. You fear that your homework will be lost forever. About six weeks later, on a Sunday morning you are awakened by someone banging on your front door. It’s your math professor with papers in hand, all excited. “I’ve just written an introduction to one of your papers. Read it so I can send it our right away for publication.” You initially have no idea what he is talking about. It turns out the problems on the blackboard which you had solved thinking they were a homework assignment were, in fact, two famous previously unsolved problems in statistics. (1)

This sounds like an urban folklore legend, and some folks have promoted it as such. It’s also been used by ministers in sermons, most famously by the Reverend Robert Schuller of the Crystal Cathedral and television fame. Schuller embellished the story by claiming the problems were part of a final exam and that the high scorer in the test would get a job in the math department. (These were the depression years and jobs were very coveted and hard to come by). Schuller also reported that even Einstein had been unable to crack the problems. (2)

The story has also been used as the setup of the plot in the 1997 movie Good Will Hunting, as well as in one of the early scenes in the 1999 film Rushmore showing the main character daydreaming about solving the impossible question and winning approbation from all. (3)

Well, the young graduate student who solved the problems was George Dantzig. The unintended consequences of this action was that besides showing that it was possible to do the ‘impossible,’ the problems also led to his Ph.D. in statistics. When he was searching for a thesis topic, his advisor, Jerzy Newman, told him to wrap the two problems in a binder and he would accept them as his thesis. (1)

Dantzig went on to have an illustrious career in mathematics. He created the field of linear programming from his ‘simplex method,’ an algorithm for solving complex problems that revolutionized scientific computation. Here’s what the Stanford Magazine reported after his death in May 2005, “Combined with the calculating power of today’s computers, Dantzig’s algorithm is a tool that allows businesses and governments to identify optimal solutions to problems involving many variables. Linear programming applies to thousands of diverse applications—from pricing products, scheduling shipments and workers, assigning personnel, rotating crops and targeting weapons. Professor of management science and engineering Arthur R. Veinott, Jr. calls Dantzig’s simplex method the single most widely used algorithm originated in the last six decades.” (4) The iron and steel industry has used a Dantzig programming method to evaluate iron ores, explore the addition of coke ovens, and select products. The Federal Energy Administration is using his method to evaluate energy policy alternatives, and linear programming has also been used or suggested for controlling water and air pollution. (5)

His 1963 book, Linear Programming and Extensions, which explains his methods, is still in print 43 years later. He also co-wrote Compact City: A Plan for a Livable Urban Environment, and after retiring from Stanford in 1997, completed two volumes on linear programming and wrote a science fiction novel. In 1975, President Gerald Ford awarded him the National Medal of Science.

Besides his math legacy he leaves us with some key motivational help. Because no one had told him that it couldn’t be done, he did it. He probably would not have thought positively if he had known the two problems were famous unsolved works. A person is limited only by the thoughts that he or she chooses.


1.More Mathematical People, Donald J. Albers, Gerald L. Alexanderson and Constance Reid, Editors, (New York, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1990), 67

2.The First Christian News, Volume 53, Issue 31, August 3, 2005

3.“Way Out Research on Obscure Topics,” Flat; accessed December 18, 2005

4.“Math Whiz Transformed Resource Management,” Stanford Magazine, September/October 2005

5.“INFORMS Mourns Death of OR Pioneer George B. Dantzig,” accessed December 18, 2005

Poison or Medicine—Toxin or Drug?

Jack W. Dini
Livermore, California

“Poison surrounds us. It’s not just too much of a bad thing like arsenic that can cause trouble, it’s too much of nearly anything. Too much vitamin A, hypervitaminosis A, can cause liver damage. Too much vitamin D can damage the kidneys. Too much water can result in hyponatremia, a dilution of the blood’s salt content, which disrupts brain, heart, and muscle function,” reports Cathy Newman. (1)

However, more and more research studies are revealing that a little bit of some poisons can be quite helpful to human health. Examples include botulinum, carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide, and epibatidine, the toxic that native Indians use to make poison darts.


Botulinum is one of the most poisonous substances known (see Table 1 for comparisons). A gram of botulinum toxin, if dispersed and ingested could kill 20 million people (1). Yet, do you know anyone who has had Botox treatment to remove wrinkles? This is botulinum in extremely dilute form. Other applications include relief of migraines, a cure for crossed eyes, and a treatment for the spastic conditions of multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy. Researchers in Britain report that the combination of botulinum, and a protein from the Mediterranean coral tree could provide a treatment for the chronic pain that afflicts millions of people, including cancer patients. (2)

Leon Fleisher, one of the world’s premier concert pianists became afflicted with focal dystonia, a misfiring of the brain that causes muscles to contract into abnormal, and sometimes painful positions. This career threatening disorder often strikes those who depend on small motor skills: musicians, writers, and surgeons. After treatments with botulinum toxin, Fleisher is performing and touring again, and recently released his first two-handed recording in 40 years. (1)

Table 1- Hold a nickel in your hand. Here’s how many lethal doses
equal that nickel’s weight*

Thallium 5
1080 Rat Poison 7
Cyanide 25
Strychnine 50
Nicotine 111
Botulinum 100,000,000
Anthrax 500,000,000

*Cathy Newman, “12 Toxic Tales,” National Geographic, 207, 2, May 2005

Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide is an example of a ‘pollutant’ that is important for human existence. This deadly gas that kills thousands each year offers potential help for a number of medical conditions. (3)

Although carbon monoxide inhalation can be lethal, our bodies make the molecules naturally in small amounts when an enzyme called heme-oxygenase-1 (HO-1) breaks down a portion of the blood protein hemoglobin. (4) Ventilator-induced lung injury (VILI) is a major cause of morbidity and mortality in intensive care units. The stress-inducible gene product, HO-1 and carbon monoxide, a major by product of the oxygenase catalysis of heme, have been shown to confer potent anti-inflammatory effects in models of tissue and cellular injury. Tomas Dolinay notes, “The data from this work leads to a tempting speculation that inhaled CO might be useful in minimizing VILI.” (5)

Small amounts of carbon monoxide might alleviate symptoms of multiple sclerosis, a study in mice suggests. The finding may offer a treatment for MS, which strikes when a person’s immune system damages the fatty sheaths that protect nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord. (4)

Other studies of laboratory animals suggest that carbon monoxide in small doses can prevent injury to blood vessels caused by surgery. In this study, rats that inhaled carbon monoxide-laced air for 1 hour before angioplasty had much less subsequent artery blockage than did rats not receiving the gas. Rats that underwent a vessel transplant also fared significantly better if given carbon monoxide before and after the surgery. (6)

Hydrogen Sulfide

Hydrogen sulfide, the compound that gives rotten eggs their odor, can be lethal at high concentrations. Yet researchers in Seattle reported that exposure to hydrogen sulfide gas can lower the heart rate, metabolism, and body temperature in lab mice. (7) Mice in the study revived and appeared healthy when exposure to the gas ended. This is one step in helping researchers understand about hibernation and torpor in animals. (8)

Why is this of interest? Some animals regularly slow down their metabolic rates, or the speed at which their bodies function. Every day, certain types of hummingbirds go into a state called torpor where their heart rate drops, breathing slows, and body temperature plunges. Bears go into a similar type of hibernation for entire seasons. This type of suspended animation could offer protection for humans after a heart attack or stroke, and it could help people survive while waiting for an organ transplant. (9)


Epibatidine is the toxic chemical which a tropical frog arms itself against its predators. Not only is epibatidine very toxic, and the reason it is used by native Indians to make poison, but it also turns out to be a superb painkiller. Its two hundred times stronger than morphine.(10)

The chemical formula for epibatidine is C11H13N2Cl. Notice that it contains chlorine, which makes it an organochlorine compound. Bad stuff, let’s get rid of it, say many environmentalists. Jonathan Adler notes, “The campaign to phase out the use of chlorine, a staple of modern industrial chemistry, perhaps best illustrates environmental groups’ absolutist approach to risk assessment and their success at building political support. The anti-chloride crusade was a fringe campaign initiated by Greenpeace, but it has attracted adherents from throughout the environmental community.” It’s endorsed by varying degrees by the National Wildlife Federation, Environmental Defense Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, US Public Interest Research Group, National Audubon Society, Citizens for a Better Environment in Chicago, and World Wildlife fund.” (11)

Since epibatidine comes from frogs, what do you do to get rid of this chlorine product? As John Emsley points out, “Epibatidine is an organochlorine compound, which confounds somewhat environmental activists’ belief that organochlorines are entirely manufactured chemicals that cause disease and damage the environment. Epibatidine is highly dangerous, but it is perfectly natural. It would seem a little unfair on the frogs to eradicate them because they are making a dangerous organochlorine molecule.” (10)

The epibatidine story is only just starting. As Emsley notes, “It might well end a better painkiller, or a pill that smokers can take if they want to stop smoking. It might even result in a pill that will enhance learning or improve our enjoyment of intellectual pursuits.” (10)


Edward Calabrese of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst is a strong proponent of hormesis, a scientific term that means low doses help and high doses hurt. He’s concerned that if researchers don’t begin regularly probing the effects of agents at very low doses, scientists will continue to miss important health impacts—both good and bad of pollutants, drugs, and other agents. Janet Raloff points out that regulatory agencies don’t require scientists to evaluate a poison at exposures below that at which no harm is apparent. This dose is referred to as the NOAEL, for ‘no observable adverse effects level.’ (11)

Two obvious benefits can accrue from testing effects at low doses: 1- medical help might be found from material otherwise known to be toxic and 2- if traces of certain pollutants are not as dangerous as previous estimates had suggested, perhaps some overly stringent regulations could be changed. Dream on…


1. Cathy Newman, “12 Toxic Tales,” National Geographic, 207, 2, May 2005

2. James Randerson, “Botulinum toxin soothes chronic pain,” New Scientist, 178, 14, April 19, 2003

3. Liz Geltcher, “Life’s a Gas,” New Scientist, 172, 39, November 24, 2001

4. Nathan Seppa, “Good Poison?” Science News, 171, 53, January 27, 2007

5. Tamas Dolinay, et al., “Inhaled Carbon Monoxide Confers Antiinflammatory Effects Against Ventilator-Induced Lung Injury,” American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, 171, 1318, 2005

6. Nathan Seppa, “Carbon monoxide may limit vascular damage,” Science News, 163, 126, February 22, 2003

7. Eric Blackstone, Mike Morrison, and Mark B, Roth, “H2S Induces a Suspended Animation-Like State in Mice,” Science, 308, 518, April 22, 2005

8. “Putting a Mouse on Pause,”

9. Ben Harder, “Perchance to Hibernate,” Science News, 171, 56, January 27, 2007

10. John Emsley, Molecules at an Exhibition, (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1998), 84

11. Janet Raloff, “Counterintuitive Toxicity,” Science News, 171, 40, January 20, 2007

Friday, August 10, 2007

Change the Health Rules- Scare the People

Jack W. Dini
Livermore, California

(This appeared in of the American Council on Science and Health, August 13, 2007,

Be cautious when you hear that some disease has all of a sudden increased in numbers. Someone may have changed the rules. Examples include Alzheimer’s, blood pressure, diabetes, autism, and obesity.

The National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) substantially changed the data for many causes of death in 1999. One was Alzheimer’s which jumped by at least 55 percent above the level reported in 1998. This increase did not reflect a sudden surge in mortality but a change in classification which has a substantial bearing on the epidemiology of the disease. (1)

According to Marcia Angell, high blood pressure was defined for many years as above 140/90. An expert panel then introduced something called prehypertension in 2003, which is something between 120/80 and 140/90. Overnight people with blood pressure in this range found they had a medical condition. (2)

While on the subject of heart disease, Robert Ehrlich notes that a so-called epidemic of heart disease was said to have occurred after World War II in the US. Since this was also a period when meat became increasingly available it might appear to have supported the heart-diet theory. But as Ehrlich notes, “there was no epidemic at all. The risk of dying from heart disease was unchanged for any given age group. The real change was that people were living longer to the age when they were more likely to die from diseases of old age such as coronary heart disease.” What also happened was that physicians in the post-war era began to catch on to the new terminology and were more likely than before to write coronary heart disease on death certificates. In one single year, 1948 to 1949, the addition of the term ‘arteriosclerotic heart disease’ to the International Classification of Disease had the effect of raising the CHD death rate by 20 percent in white males and 35 percent in white females. (3)

Fast forward to the present and a July 21, 2007 report in the British Medical Journal (BMJ). Julia Hippisley-Cox and her colleagues concluded that misdiagnosis of heart disease has led to massive over-prescribing of drugs. (4) Flaws in the way doctors routinely calculate risk led to misinforming patients they were in danger of developing life-threatening heart diseases. The researchers tracked 1.28 million healthy men and women aged between 35 and 74 over a period of 12 years to April 2007. As Polly Curtis reports, “The traditional way of calculating risk from heart disease involves a score based on smoking, blood pressure, and ‘good’ and ‘bad’ cholesterol, along with age and sex. The BMJ study compared this measure against a new, more sophisticated test, which also takes into account social deprivation, genetic factors and weight. It found that the former over-predicted the number of people at high risk of developing cardiovascular diseases by 35%. It concludes that 3.2 million adults under the age of 75 are at risk of developing cardiovascular illnesses compared with the 4.7 million previously estimated.” (5) This indicates that anti-cholesterol drug statins are massively and needlessly over-prescribed in the UK.

Another ailment that’s up in the last last twenty years is diabetes. Aggressive educational programs designed to encourage more testing, and mass screenings of millions of Americans have contributed to the increase. However, most importantly, the definition of diabetes has been changed from a fasting blood sugar of 140 to a blood sugar of 126. So, just like with some of the previous health issues, millions of Americans became diabetic overnight. (6)

Why is Autism on the rise? Scott Lilienfeld and Hal Arkowitz suggest changes in diagnostic and legal practices have played a key role. For decades it was 1 in 2,500, then from 1993 to 2003, a 756% increase occurred. Now it is 1 in 166. In 1980 the American Psychiatric Association manual listed six of six criteria that defined autism. In 1994 the manual required any eight of sixteen criteria. In addition, the 1980 version contained only 2 diagnoses relevant to autism while the 1994 version contains 5 such diagnoses. Legal changes cited by Lilienfeld and Arkowitz relate to an amended version of the Individuals With Disabilities Act, passed by Congress in 1991. This required school districts to provide precise counts of children with disabilities and resulted in sharp surges in the reported numbers of children with autism. Yet, these numbers are not based on careful diagnoses of autism or on representative samples of populations. They note, “As a consequence, researchers rely on ‘administrative based estimates’ which come from government data submitted by schools, and will arrive at misleading conclusions about autism’s prevalence.” (7)

If folks reading this are a representative sample of the US population, 2 out of every 3 of you are either overweight or obese. I, for one, am included in the overweight category. In my case it happened overnight in 1998. Perhaps the same thing happened to you. It wasn’t because I had gone on a binge of eating and drinking. Rather it was because a committee convened by the National Heart Institute redefined overweight to be a body mass index (BMI) of 25 or more for both men and women. (Body mass index equals your weight in kilos divided by the square of your height in meters. If you prefer to use English units, its your weight in pounds divided by the square of your height in inches, then multiplied by 703). I had a BMI of 25.8, so now I was overweight. Before 1998, a man was officially overweight with a body mass index of 27.8 and a woman at 27.3, but now the rules had changed and all of a sudden many more people were ‘overweight.’

BMI is solely a function of height and weight. It does not distinguish between men and women, between 20 year olds and 80 years olds, or between people of radically different bone structures or musculature types. Former National Football League Jerry Rice (now a famous dancer) is 6’2” and weighs 200 pounds. His 25.7 BMI puts him in the ‘overweight’ category. (At a BMI if 25.8 you can see I’m in good company). Paul Campos calculates that ‘97% of the players in the NFL are either overweight or obese. I doubt you would think of Hollywood stars such as Richard Gere, Pierce Brosnan and Kevin Costner as being overweight, yet with their respective BMI’s of 26.1, 27.1, and 29.2, Gere and Brosnan are overweight and Costner is borderline obese. George W. Bush, known for his good health, is ‘overweight’ since his BMI is 26.3. (8) One could go on and on with these kinds of examples, but I think by now you get the point.

Here are some interesting calculations. University of Virginia professor Glenn Gaesser points out that “studies have consistently failed to find any correlation between increasing BMI and higher mortality in people sixty-five and over 78% of the approximately 2.3 million annual deaths in the United States occur among people who are at least sixty-five. Thus 78% of all deaths lack even the beginning of a statistical link with BMI.” (9)

W. Wayt Gibbs reports, “Three surveys—medical measurements collected in the early 1970s, late 1970s, and early 1990s, with subjects matched against death registries nine to nineteen years later—indicate that it is much more likely that US adults who fall in the overweight category have a lower risk of premature death than do those of so-called healthy weight. The overweight segment of the ‘epidemic of overweight and obesity’ is more likely reducing death rates than boosting them.” (10)

Here’s one final bit of information on overweight. For years the Centers of Disease Control (CDC) have reported that 400,000 Americans die each year because of obesity. Guess what happened recently? The CDC changed the 400,000 number to 28,000. David Brooks sums it up quite well, “The chief moral lesson I take away from the recent CDC report is that Mother Nature is happy to tolerate marginally irresponsible behavior. She doesn’t want you to go completely to seed. If you’re truly obese and arouse hippos when you visit the zoo, you could still punch your ticket at any moment. But she does want you to eat the occasional Cinnabon, so long as it isn’t bigger than Delaware.” (11)


Many folks concerned about their health have only a ‘headline or TV news’ awareness of the issue of concern. More often than not, these headline news stories overemphasize minute risks about which little can be done and ignore those that readers can do something about. Repeated often enough, these scares eventually become myths and most people never hear the full story. Sometimes the rules for diagnosing diseases are changed but this gets lost in all the fear-mongering.

So my suggestion for you is, the next time you hear some new science or health scare fact, try to find the rest of the story. What was the sample size? Did some committee change the guidelines for an illness or disease? There are not mad cows on your block. Ebola is not lurking in your drain and you are not going to die from SARS, West Nile Virus, or bird flu. Your family is not threatened by chemical assaults. They’re threatened by people with a blood alcohol level of 0.25 driving 2 tons of steel.


1. Rodger Doyle, Scientific American, 284, 26, May 2001

2. Marcia Angell, The Truth About Drug Companies, (New York, Random
House, 2004), 85

3. Robert Ehrlich, 8 Preposterous Propositions, (Princeton, NJ,
Princeton University Press, 2003), 273

4. Julia Hippisley-Cox et al., “Derivations and validation of QRISK, a
new cardiovascular disease risk scare for the United Kingdom: prospective
open cohort study,” British Medical Journal, 335(7611), 136, July 21, 2007

5. Polly Curtis, “1.5M wrongly told they risk heart disease,”
Guardian Unlimited, July 6, 2007

6. Paul Campos, The Obesity Myth, (New York, Gotham Books, 2004), 22

7. Scott O. Lilienfeld and Hal Arkowitz, “Autism: An Epidemic?”
Scientific American Mind, 18, 82, April/May 2007

8. Paul Campos, The Obesity Myth, 132

9. Paul Campos, The Obesity Myth, 17

10. W. Wayt Gibbs, “Obesity: An Overblown Epidemic?” Scientific American,
292, 70, June 2005

11. David Brooks, “Survival of the not quite fittest,” The Times-Picayune,
New Orleans, April 26, 2005, page B-7

Friday, July 6, 2007

Food and Chemical Priorities

Jack Dini
Livermore, CA

(This appeared in Plating & Surface Finishing, 94, 27, May 2007)

Which of the following would trouble you most:

Food poisoning by unknown agents.
Animal excreta in your food.
Infinitesimal amounts of different chemicals in your body.
Infinitesimal amounts of different chemicals in your drinking water?

Here is some additional information to help you make your decision:

Food poisoning- Eric Schlosser in his book, Fast Food Nation, notes, “Every day in the US, roughly 200,000 people are sickened by a food borne disease, 900 are hospitalized and 14 die. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than a quarter of the American population suffers a bout of food poisoning each year.” (1)

Animal excreta in food- Experts at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) decide on how much contamination is to be allowed in foods sold for human consumption. There is no question regarding ‘how much’ since it would be impossible to produce food that had no contaminants whatsoever. Here are FDA guidelines for maximum levels of certain ‘impurities’ in some foods: Brussels sprouts- 10 aphids per ounce, Shelled peanuts- 1 insect per 5 pounds, Golden raisins- 20 whole or equivalent insects per pound, Tomato juice- 3 fly eggs per ounce, Whole pepper- 1 mg or more mammalian excreta per pound, Popcorn- 2 rodent hairs per pound, Fig paste- 4 insect heads per ounce, Peanut butter- 9 insect fragments per ounce, Sesame seeds- 5 mg or more mammalian excreta per pound, Cocoa beans- 10 mg or more mammalian excreta per pound. (A Whole insect includes separate head, or body portions with head attached. (2)

With chemicals, we talk about a few parts per million, parts per billion, or even parts per trillion. With animal excreta, note that 10 mg per pound is equivalent to 20 parts per million. Serious parts per million!

Infinitesimal amounts of different chemicals in your body- Now that new lab techniques allow us to find compounds that occur in mind-bendingly tiny amounts, advocacy groups assert a whole new array of doubts. This, coupled with the fact that the media, unaware of the fact that it is common scientific knowledge that traces of environmental chemicals, both synthetic and natural make their way into our bodies, enter the spin zone of the advocacy groups and present the information as if were new shocking news. (3)

Infinitesimal amounts of different chemicals in your drinking water- As new technology enables detection of infinitesimally smaller doses of chemicals in the environment, Southern California water quality officials have learned that an array of hardy pharmaceuticals are defying even the most sophisticated sewage treatments in use. Although the amounts discovered are in the parts per trillion range (equivalent to one second in 32,000 years) folks still get concerned. “The contamination raises questions about the safety of reclaimed water consumed by the public and the health of wild creatures that inhabit waterways,” says the Los Angeles Times. (4)

So what would you be most concerned about? Would you ignore the food poisoning which clearly is documented as a real issue, or body parts and turds in food, and accept the present scare tactics that deem that any amount of any newly discovered chemical in food or water is a real problem. If so, I feel sorry for you, since as scientists get more and more clever, you’re going to find more and more to worry about. Your ‘chemophobia’ will continue to raise itself to new levels.

Every piece of food we eat, every breath we take, every move we make results in the ingestion of a chemical of some sort. Every chemical has the ability to kill, but only if the quantities are high enough. As the Swiss physician Paracelsus stated: “What is not poison? All things are poison and nothing is without poison. It is only the dose that makes a thing a poison.”

Perhaps the simplest answer to chemophobia is this. It is based on a misperception. Everything is made up of chemicals. A report by the National Research Council noted that about 5,000,000 different chemical substances are known to exist. Of those 5 million, less than 30 have been definitely linked to cancer in humans, 1,500 have been found to be carcinogenic in tests on animals and about 7,000 have been tested for carcinogenicity. Again, if you missed those number, less than 30 out of five million known chemical substances have been definitely linked to cancer in humans. (5)


1. Eric Shlosser, Fast Food Nation, (New York, Perennial Press, 2002), 195

2. The Food Defect Action Levels, Food and Drug Administration, Washington, DC, May 1988. (See

3. Todd Seavey, “A ChemicalOver Reaction,TechCentral Station, January 20, 2003. (See,search “Todd Seavey”).

4. Maria Cone, “Traces of Prescription Drugs Found in Aquifers,” Los Angeles Times, January 30, 2006

5. John Adams, Risk, (London, University College, 1995), 45

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

The Revenge Effect of Too Much Purity

Jack Dini

(This appeared in Plating & Surface Finishing, 90, 24, November 2003)

In our zeal to remove every last bit of contaminant from everything we eat, drink, or breathe, we may be doing a disservice to our health.

Thomas DeGregori reports, “We may have been too successful in creating a more hygienic environment leading to other problems. Good hygiene makes good sense but obsessive hygienr---‘the antibacterial craze’---can be counterproductive since it is as meaningless to be free of all microorganisms, including the sometime harmful ones, as it is to be free of all ‘chemicals.’ Some researchers have found a correlation between too much hygiene and increased allergy. Studies have revealed an increased frequency of allergies, cases of asthma and eczema in persons who have been raised in an environment overly protective against mircroorganisms.” (1)

Fernando Martinez adds. “There is now convincing evidence indicating that the prevalence of allergic diseases in general, and of asthma in particular, is on the rise in high income societies. Many hypothesis have been proposed to explain these increases, but the most widely discussed and the most controversial is the so-called ‘hygiene hypothesis.’ This hypothesis was first enunciated in quite straightforward terms: the Western lifestyle has succeeded in markedly decreasing the incidence of infections in early life, and these infections may have a protective effect on the subsequent development of allergies.” (2)

Bjorn Lomborg lists the following findings that seem to support the ‘hygiene hypothesis.’ (3)

· Children who suffer many infections (and get their immune system exercised) apparently face a smaller risk of getting asthma.
· The youngest children in large families face a smaller chance of getting asthma because their older siblings have passed many infections on to them.
· A recent Italian study showed that men heavily exposed to microbes were less likely to experience respiratory allergy.
· Several other studies have also shown that exposure to measles, parasites, and tuberculosis seems to reduce the risk of getting asthma.
· Children receiving oral antibiotics by the age of 2 were more susceptible to allergies than children who had no antibiotics, and children with early and repeated viral infections seem to have a reduced risk of developing asthma.

Doctors in England have suggested that mass vaccination against chicken pox would bring on a more serious epidemic of shingles in adults. Their studies have shown that adults who don’t live with children, or who live with immunized children, are much more likely to develop shingles. (4)

These recent studies aren’t the first time that epidemiologists have found that cleanliness wasn’t the cure-all for disease prevention. In the 1920s and 1930s, cleanliness, far from combating polio, was promoting it. Edward Tenner observes, “When all infants acquired the virus in the first days of their lives, while still protected by antibodies from their mothers’ blood, paralysis was almost unknown.” (5) Tenner goes on to add that German measles only turned into a serious disease after fewer and fewer children were infected with it. He also notes, “that the more casual French attitude toward exposure to germs makes their effects less severe in late life.” And speaking of the French, you’ve undoubtedly heard or read that the French have a low incidence of heart disease. Many folks suggest this is because of the wine they drink. I wonder if it could be because of dirt and here’s why. Lynn Payer has written a fascinating book, Medicine and Culture, wherein she compares different cultural approaches to health and illness. She notes, “The English and Americans have a saying, ‘Cleanliness is next to Godliness,’ The French don’t. While Americans assume that if it’s clean it must be healthy, the French are quick to point out the health advantages of dirt, or at least the health advantages of tolerating dirt.” (6) She adds, “The French don’t get turista when they travel, according to one French doctor, because they’ve acquired the immunity at home.” The French life-style can allow exposure to certain germs, a form a natural vaccination favored by the French over man’s vaccination. (7)

Chemotherapy, which is often effective against many forms of cancer can have the undesired effect of suppressing the immune system, leading to bacterial infections that the weakened immune system cannot contain. (8) Children with leukemia experienced a significant drop in their antibody levels against measles and rubella as a result of chemotherapy. (9)

Here are some other examples where absolute purity isn’t the answer. Raphael Kazmann quotes Philip West of Louisiana State University, “Turning now to productive water, it is quite apparent that absolute purity is out of the question. If the Mississippi River, passing Baton Rouge and New Orleans consisted of distilled water, there would be no seafood industry such as we now have in Louisiana. Without copper ‘contaminating’ the water there would be no oysters. Traces of iron, manganese, cobalt, copper, and zinc are essential for the crabs, snapper, flounder, shrimp and other creatures that abound in Gulf waters. As unpleasant as it sounds, even the sewage discharges into the Missouri, Ohio, and Mississippi River systems pollute and thus ultimately nourish the water.” (10)

With animals, chemically induced hormetic (beneficial at low doses) effects have been claimed for crabs, clams, oysters, fish, insects, worms, mice, rats, ants, pigs, dogs and humans. E. J. Calabrese and his colleagues report, “The range of agents employed in such studies has been wide, including numerous antibiotics, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), ethanol, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), heavy metals, essential trace elements, pesticides, and a variety of miscellaneous agents, including chemotherapeutic agents, solvents such as carbon tetrachloride, chloroform, cyanide, sodium, and others.” (11)

Arsenic poisoning from drinking water in Bangladesh has been called the largest mass poisoning of a population in history by the World Health Organization (WHO). Rebecca Rawls notes that the poisoning may be exacerbated by the lack of certain metals in the drinking water, which, if present, might mitigate some of arsenic’s ill effects. (12) Two of these ‘missing’ metals are selenium and zinc. Selenium, which can inhibit arsenic toxicity, was not found in 92% of the water samples tested and zinc, which promotes the repair of tissues damaged by arsenic, could not be found in 18% of the samples.


1. Thomas R. DeGregori, The Environment, Our Natural Resources, and Modern Technology, (Ames, Iowa, Iowa State Press, 2002), 130
2. Fernando D. Martinez, “The coming –of-age of the hygiene hypothesis,” Respiratory Research, 2, 129, 2001
3. Bjorn Lomborg, The Skeptical Environmentalist, (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2001), 187
4. “It’s Good To Be Around Sick Kids,” Discover, 24, 35, January 2003
5. Edward Tenner, Why Things Bite Back, (New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1996), 56
6. Lynn Payer, Medicine and Culture, (New York, Henry Holt and Company, 1996), 67
7. Lynn Payer, Medicine and Culture, 69
8. Michael Shnayerson and Mark J. Plotkin, The Killers Within, (New York, Little, Brown and Company, 2002), 4
9. Anna Nilsson, “Consider reimmunizing children after chemotherapy for acute lymphoblastic leukemia,” Hem/Onc Today, 3, 10, October 2002
10. Raphael G. Kazmann, “Environmental Tyranny-A Threat to Democracy,” in Rational Readings on Environmental Concerns, Jay H. Lehr, Editor, (New York, Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1992), 311
11. E. L. Calabrese, Margaret E. McCarthy and Elaina Kenyon, “The Occurrence of Chemically Induced Hormesis,” Health Physics, 52, 531, 1987
12. Rebecca L. Rawls, “Tackling Arsenic in Bangladesh,” Chemical & Engineering News, 80, 42, October 21, 2002

A Dangerous Pollution Source

Jack Dini

(This appeared in Plating & Surface Finishing, 92, 34, May 2005)

We spend billions of dollars in an attempt to minimize pollutants such as formaldehyde, 1,4-dioxane, trichloroethylene, chloroform, cyanide, hydrochloric acid, radiation, hypochlorite, hydrogen peroxide, ozone, and nitric oxide. What do all of these have in common? One answer is that they all bring to mind scary, perhaps carcinogenic agents, created in most part by industry. Another answer is that these are all created by ourselves, within our own bodies, without any help from outside forces such as industry or the environment. They are all unintended consequences of pollution. So here’s the dilemma if you’re one of those folks who dream of a pristine place, free of industry and other pollution created by humans—you can’t get away from these contaminants. By virtue of being human you create them every day. There’s more: the average human body contains enough sulfur to kill all fleas on an average dog, carbon to make 900 pencils, potassium to fire a toy cannon, fat to make 7 bars of soap, phosphorus to make 2,200 match heads, water to fill a ten gallon tank, and enough iron to make a 3 inch nail.(1)

Science writer James Trefil sums our body pollution problems quite succinctly, “Surprisingly, the greatest number of carcinogens facing human cells do not come from outside the body, but are normal by-products of human metabolism.”(2)

As a result of metabolism, formaldehyde is present in our blood at concentrations around 3 ppm. Many organic compounds of concern to the EPA are normal byproducts of mammalian metabolism. At least 15 of these products, including 1,4-dioxane, trichloroethylene (TCE), and chloroform are on the “List of Hazardous Air Pollutants” regulated under Section 112 of the Clean Air Act. The EPA concerns itself at ambient air concentrations less than one-ten thousandth the level found in normal intestinal gases.(3) Think about this for a moment; if EPA were to regulate our metabolism we would be out of compliance by a factor of about 10,000!

Human metabolism itself is capable of providing the body with 70 mg of nitrate per day, equivalent to that coming from outside sources. Cyanide and thiocyanate are naturally present in urine and blood but this does not necessarily indicate poisoning. Courtney Young reports that potassium cyanide reacts with water and ammonia under pressure to produce adenine, which is a building block to DNA. Hydrogen cyanide promotes polypeptide formation from amino acids; polypeptides than complex to form proteins. In this regard, cyanide is necessary to all forms of life and its presence does not mean imminent illness or death.(4)

At the concentration secreted by the stomach lining, hydrochloric acid (pH less than 1) is deadly to living cells and powerful enough to dissolve zinc. This raises the question, why don’t we just corrode ourselves from the inside out? The answer isn’t really known but the acid and accompanying enzymes are kept at bay by an alkaline lining of mucous on the stomach wall. If this lining is breached, the acid and enzymes go to work on the stomach, and the result is a gastric ulcer.(5)

Each of us excretes a minimum of 1.5 grams of phosphorus per day, so that the annual input to the environment is more than one-half billion pounds as phosphorus pentoxide. It was this fact that led the Soap and Detergent Association to investigate economical treatment techniques for the removal of phosphates from sewage.(6)


Our blood contains potassium 40, from which we get an internal dose of around 30 millirems of radiation in one year. For comparison purposes, some other radiation exposures include, 40 millirems per year from annual medical X-rays, 65 millirems per year for living in the mile-high city of Denver, and 5 millirems for every transcontinental round trip by air. The yearly safe limit of radiation exposure has been set at 5000 millirems per year, so all of these exposure are not problematic. Further, as James Muckerheide notes, “the damage to cells from metabolism is millions of times more damaging than that of radiation.”(7)

Ozone is a familiar component of air in industrial and urban settings where the gas is a hazardous component of smog. Guess What? Recently, investigators at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) reported that the human body makes ozone. One hypothesis is that we do this as part of a mechanism to protect ourselves from bacteria and fungi.(8)

Lastly, nitric oxide, an industrial gas and environmental pollutant, is extremely important to our bodies. It regulates our bodily activities from our head to our toes. Every moment of our life, our body generates a constant supply of nitric oxide molecules, none of which last more than a few seconds.

So there you are. We continue to try and remove pollution from the world around us, and yet our own bodies are serious culprits in creating some of the very pollutants we strive to eliminate.


1. “The Incredible Human Body, Part 2,”; accessed September 9, 2004

2. James Trefil, Human Nature, (New York, Times Books, 2004), 99

3. Jane M. Orient, “Microorganisms, Molecules, and Environmental Risk Assessment: Assumptions and Outcomes,” Chapter 12 in Standard Handbook of Environmental Science, Health, and Technology, J. H. Lehr, Editor, (New York, McGraw-Hill, 2000), 12.50

4. Courtney A. Young, “Cyanide: Just the Facts,” in Cyanide: Social, Industrial and Economic Aspects, Courtney A. Young, Larry G. Tidwell and Corby A. Anderson, Editors, (Warrendale, Pennsylvania, The Minerals, Metals & Materials Society, 2001), 97

5. Philip Ball, Life’s Matrix: A Bibliography of Water, (New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000), 247

6. William McGucken, Lake Erie Rehabilitated, (Akron, Ohio, University of Akron Press, 2000), 75

7. James Muckerheide, “The Beneficial Effects of Low-Dose Radiation,” 23rd Annual Meeting, Doctors For Disaster Preparedness, Las Vegas, NV, July 17, 2005

8. “Scientists at The Scripps Research Institute Make Strides in Addressing Mysteries of Ozone in the Human Body,” The Scripps Research Institute, February 28, 2003,

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Fearing Frog Deformities-Media and Environmentalists Croaking in the Wind

Jack W. Dini
Livermore, California

(This appeared in Plating & Surface Finishing, 94, 37, December 2007)

Hideously deformed frogs, multiple legs sprouting from their various body parts, are the poster amphibians of the environmental movement. Their fragile eggs are supposedly poisoned by agricultural pesticides and other insidious chemical slough, exposed to global warming, and to radiation streaming through the ozone hole. Frogs are utterly defenseless against man’s corruption of the environment.

So, what’s your reaction when you hear about these deformed creatures? A lot of folks would respond the way researcher Stanley Sessions of Hartwick College did when he heard about deformed frogs in Minnesota. “Actually, when I first heard about the Minnesota situation, I immediately suspected a chemical substance,” Sessions admitted. “That’s the first thing everybody thinks of. You see a screwed-up animal in the field and that’s the conclusion you jump to.”(1) Not even Sessions, who ultimately debunked the chemical substance issue with frogs, could ultimately resist the temptation.

Following this line of thought, let’s go on an excursion into the world of frogs to see how the public consciousness has been shaped by the media and environmentalists.

Yellow-legged frogs of the High Sierra

Bonner Cohen reports, “The mountain yellow-legged frog, Rana muscosa, began disappearing from the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the first half of the twentieth century, and the amphibian’s decline has become even more pronounced in recent decades. Today, the frog is absent from almost all the Sierra Nevada’s high-altitude lakes where it once thrived. The frog’s seemingly inexplicable demise has provoked much speculation in the media and among scientists, with parasites, ultra-violet radiation, fungal disease, and especially pesticides blamed for the frog’s troubles. (2)

Pesticides and herbicides drifting into the mountains from California central valley farmlands became the favored culprit, and the media and environmentalists played it to the hilt. A minimal amount of data, generated by the US Geological Survey (USGS) was all it took to spawn the inevitable lawsuits by environmental activists. They sued the California Department of Pesticide Regulation and the EPA for failing to review the impact of pesticides on California frogs and other amphibians. Alex Avery reports, “Collectively, these lawsuits have already cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and are far from over.” (3)

However, as Paul Harvey would say, here’s the rest of the story. It turns out that the disappearance of the yellow-legged frogs has an entirely different explanation. Folks had been stocking the lakes, rivers, and streams in the West with all types of fish, starting as early as the 1880s. As part of this action, trout were introduced into the glacial lakes of the Sierra Nevada and by 1924 wildlife biologists noted that mountain yellow-bellied tadpoles and trout were rarely seen in the same lakes. This continued with thousands of fingerlings being dropped by aircraft in high altitude lakes where there had been lots of frogs but not fish at all. (4) Guess what happened? The frog populations decreased.

Vance Vredenburg of the University of California at Berkeley began removing trout from five separate High Sierra lakes in the late 1990s. He saw frog population explosions and reported, “There are at least 10,000 lakes in the High Sierra. Ninety to 95 percent of them hold introduced species of trout but no more frogs at all. And there may be plenty of lakes that have plenty of frogs, but few or no fish. So the answer is pretty straightforward, and it doesn’t get much simpler: with no trout you get an immediate and dramatic response.” (5)

Minnesota frogs

In 1995, a group of middle school pupils in Minnesota found some deformed northern leopard frogs and posted pictures of the poor creatures on the Internet. Mark Rosen observes, “The frog story had all the elements that make a newspaper reporters’ ears perk up: children—to provide excellent visuals and add just the right amount of ‘cute’ factor, a defenseless victim—the frogs, an ultimate evil—pollution, and a possible danger to everyone—the frogs could ostensibly be ‘canaries in a mineshaft.’” (6) By 1997, an alarming number of newspaper articles had been written on the topic, enough that Stanley Sessions, mentioned earlier in this article, was prompted to comment, “I have never seen a scientific or biological phenomenon grow so fast with so few publications.” Later in 1998 in a letter to Science magazine, Sessions noted that “Approximately half of the recent reports of deformed amphibians in the United States and Canada are from a single study (my own) of one site in California published in 1990.” (7)

In September 1997 the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) announced the results of tests at a press conference attended by the national media, including PBS and ABC’s “Nightline.” The MPCA officials announced that they had found water from sites where malformed frogs has been reported and it was very potent in deforming frogs in their laboratory experiment. However, they weren’t able to identify what it was in the water that had caused the problem. They then offered bottled water to families concerned about the wells in their areas. (4)

Bonner Cohen notes, “Bottled water may have eased the fears of local residents, but MCPA’s tests soon came under withering criticism from scientists with the EPA. According to EPA, it was simply a natural lack of calcium and other salts in Minnesota water that was deforming the laboratory raised African clawed frog embryos, not a chemical contaminant.” (8) As lead EPA researcher Joe Tietge put it; “You could probably take tap water from any county in Minnesota and get results like this. In science, spurious correlations happen all the time,” and they are “one of the weakest forms of evidence to support a hypothesis.” (9) Added another EPA researcher, “Results don’t mean anything if they are interpreted improperly. Anybody with a tropical fish aquarium knows that if you fill it with tap water it will kill the fish. That doesn’t mean your tap water isn’t safe to drink.” (10)

Looking for the real culprit? It appears to be a parasitic flatworm called trematodes. Two papers that appeared in Science in 1999 proposed a parasite theory. (11, 12) As Alex Avery notes, “Northern leopard frogs in the wild are afflicted at an early age by a tiny parasitic flatworm called trematodes (Ribeiroia). The parasites are shed by snails in ponds where they are picked up by frog tadpoles. Once in the tadpoles, they cause cellular dislocations that lead to deformities in adult frogs.” (3) The parasite theory was first proposed by Stanley Sessions who initially blamed chemicals. Sessions says of the trematodes, “It’s about as close to using an egg beater on the limb bud cells as you can get.” (13)

After publishing his theory, Sessions met with high skepticism. He concluded that the entire frog investigation was being manipulated and important evidence ignored in efforts to promote further research funding. He suggested that other researchers were tilting their hypothesis toward a chemical contaminant in an effort to garner more funding. (14)

More recent reports support Sessions’ findings. Pieter Johnson and colleagues noted that the extent and frequency of the frog deformities was not all that unusual. They surveyed museum frog specimens collected 100 years ago and found similar rates and kinds of deformities. (15)

Time magazine’s report on global warming’s effect on frogs in Costa Rica

Jumping on the global warming scare, Time magazine published a special report in their April 3, 2006 issue. Here’s what they say about frogs, “With habitats crashing, animals that live there are succumbing too…Last year, researchers in Costa Rica announced that two-thirds of 100 species of harlequin frogs have vanished in the past 30 years, with the severity of each season’s die off following in lockstep with the severity of that year’s warming.” (16)

Courtesy of Marlo Lewis, here are some facts Time didn’t report, “The frogs are not perishing from heat. Annual Costa Rican temperatures have remained remarkably flat during 1979 to 2005. Rather, the frogs are dying from a fungal infection carried by a class of organisms known as chytrids. Time argues global warming is increasing cloud cover, which limits the frogs exposure to sunlight—a natural disinfectant that ‘can rid the frogs of this fungus.’ However, there has been no observed change in Central American cloud cover between 1984 and 2004. So what is causing the frogs to perish in Coast Rica? According to the journal Diversity and Distribution, the chytrid fungus was most likely introduced by humans, possibly eco-tourists and, or field researchers, wrote University of Virginia climatologist Patrick Michael’s in a January 11 story in World Climate Report.” (17)

Lastly, on the topic of global warming, recent research indicates that global warming isn’t triggering a fungal disease killing off Arizona frogs. The culprit in this case also appears to be the chytrid fungus (18).

Leopard frogs and atrazine

Alex Avery describes Dr. Tyrone Hayes, a California researcher, as “the newest media darling in the supposed ‘global frog crisis.’ Over the past four years, Hayes has been profile by National Geographic magazine, Discover magazine, National Public Radio, and virtually every major newspaper in the country.” (3)

Hayes claims that traces of atrazine, one of the most widely used farm weed killers in North America, are affecting frogs from California to the Carolinas. Avery points out, “The media has run with this theory, placing it at the heart of all supposed frog ills. Hayes doesn’t’ argue that atrazine kills frogs or causes deformities. Instead he says that atrazine feminizes male frogs, chemically castrating them. Therefore, Hayes agues, atrazine ‘likely has a significant impact on amphibian populations’ and should be banned.” (3)

Contrary views: Hayes can’t explain why after 30 years of extensive atrazine use, frog populations are still thriving in the areas where it is heavily used. Nor can he provide any field evidence that atrazine has harmed a single frog anywhere. Further, and most importantly, scientists from four universities have been unable to reproduce Hayes” laboratory results. (3)


This short trip into the world of frogs provides one example of how public consciousness has been shaped by the media and environmentalists. Whether frogs are disappearing in California, Costa Rica, or Arizona, or deformed in Minnesota, the popular assumption is that a chemical or global warming is the cause. (19) When you dig deeper into this issue, other explanations backed by sound scientific evidence provide a different view.


1. William Souder, A Plague of Frogs, (Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 2002), 227

2. Bonner Cohen, The Green Wave, (Washington, DC, Capital Research Center, 2006), 114

3. Alex Avery, “Rachel Carson Syndrome: Jumping to Pesticide Conclusions in the Global Frog Crisis,” Hudson Institute, May 2007

4. Bonner Cohen, The Green Wave, 116

5. V. Vredenburg, “Reversing introduced species effects: Experimental removal of introduced fish leads to rapid recovery of a declining frog,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 101, 7646, 2004

6. Mark Rosen, “The Mysterious Vanishing Frogs of North America,” MIT Open Courseware, Writing and the Environment, Spring 2005

7. Stanley K. Sessions, Science, 279, 459, January 23, 1998, (In Letters)

8. Bonner Cohen, The Green Wave, 117

9. William Souder, A Plague of Frogs, 245

10. William Souder, A Plague of Frogs, 244

11. S. K. Sessions, R. A. Franssen and V. L. Horner, “Morphological Clues From Multi-Legged Frogs: Are Retinoids to Blame?” Science, 284, 800, April 1999

12. P. T. J. Johnson, et al., “The Effect of trematode infection on amphibian limb development and survivorship,” Science, 284, 802, April 30, 1999

13. Kristin Leutwyler, “Biologists figure out what accounts for certain side-show frogs,”, May 3, 1999

14. William Souder, A Plague of Frogs, 229

15. P. T. J. Johnson, et al., “Limb deformities as an emerging parasitic disease in amphibians: Evidence from museum specimens and resurvey data,” Conservation Biology, 17, 1724, 2003

16. Jeffrey Kluger, “The Tipping Point,” Time, 167, 28, April 3, 2006

17. Marlo Lewis, “Time’s Climate Change Issue Rife With Deception,” Environment & Climate News, 9, 11, June 2006

18. Tony Davis, “Arizona frog fungus not blamed on warming,” Arizona Daily Star, January 23, 2006

19. Bonner Cohen, The Green Wave, 118