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Rubber Ducky Rubbish, Swine Flu Hooey, and Mystery Man Boobs: Murky Media Coverage of H1N1, Phthalates and Other Possible Toxin

Posted Jan 12 2010 6:32am

Bath toys, shampoos, air fresheners poison our children and cause diseases like autism.

The H1N1 vaccine is more dangerous than the H1N1 virus itself.

Boys exposed to too much pthalates will develop large breasts.  

These are just some of the claims sussed out at STATS.org, that increasingly recognized organization devoted to setting the record straight on the erroneous facts and figures we encounter in the media.

"Slow Death by Rubber Duck".  Clever name.  Heard of this new book by two environmental activists who slathered themselves with Glade air-freshener and Scotch Guard in various attempts at "self-experimentation."  No, not a research methodology I've ever run across before.  Hope you didn't read the review in the Washington Post.  Otherwise, you might think your home is a roiling toxic waste site.  I can't stand air freshners or even most perfumes for that matter, but honestly. 

Fortunately STATS reviewed the review, including the resume of the writer, Lisa Bonos, a Jewish studies major with no apparent science background who took the crusading anti-chemical co-authors at their word.  If an institution like the Post can't get it right, is there any hope for good reporting on children's health?  I know the press/print media has it's head on a virtual  (no pun intended) platter, but really, were there no available journalists out there who might have majored in chemistry?  Biology? Or had some critical thinking skills?  What about the tons of under-employed science/health journalists and editors out there?  I've been on MediaBistro.com, I know you're out there.   And yet...

Editors with some science-smarts weren't readily available to deter bashing of the H1N1 vaccine either.  As much as it pains me because I enjoy his show from time to time, Bill Maher trashed the swine flu shot on The Huffington Post recently, a site I used to actually like back before they decided to showcase faux science (hello, David Kirby).  But back to Maher, the comedian (i.e. not a scientist) found a few doctors who thought it unsafe or unnecessary, both inaccuracies running rampant on the internet, setting me and many of my fellow mommy bloggers at opposite ends of the Swine Flu Spectrum.  

But Maher is hardly alone in his H1N1 hooey.  STATS targets The Atlantic Montly and Fox News for their reliance on medical "experts' who advise against immunization and otherwise contradict traditional advice for various reasons (e.g., vaccines are voodoo science) (Why You Should Vaccinate Your Child against H1N1). 

You and I could probably name a few other sources that featured pretty schlocky swine flu information.  ParentDish for sure where I had nearly no choice but to comment on a piece in which a pregnant mother chose her self-admitted "gut instinct" (i.e. fear of the vaccine) over medical advice.  Who was the mom?  A former reality tv star who guest hosts on The View and  has no scientific or health-related training.   

That said, I do have to hand it to our goverment officials at the CDC, NIH, and the like who put considerable effort into educating the public about H1N1 and the vaccine.  There was plenty of accurate information out there.

And inaccurate information... 

Wish I could say I was shocked by all the misinformation, but, hey, where would this blog be without so much material??

Before we get depressed, check out STATS for their take on a new study linking plastics exposure (phthalates) and the development of breasts in adolescent males (Is your teenage son going to get man boobs?).  Yeah, sounds scary.

The study appears in Pediatrics, a very good journal indeed.  The STATS folks found it a solid study, though they caution against concluding the plastics cause "man-boobs".   They also point out several flaws and limitations in the study and tell us how it could have been better and more conclusive.  For one, researchers left out many potentially important factors that might explain the link.  If you're interesting in research or in the phthalates-man-boob link, it's worth reading.  But I'm definitely not panicking or taking plastic toys away from my son.
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