January 1, 2006


A look back at some big myths of 2005 (JOHN STOSSEL, 12/31/05, Manchester Union-Leader)

LOOKING back on 2005, I realize that much of what I heard — and what the media said — turned out to be myths. Newsweek reported that U.S. interrogators had flushed a Koran down a Guantanamo Bay toilet. After Hurricane Katrina, reporters said that sharks from Lake Pontchartrain were swimming through New Orleans, and roving bands of armed gang members were attacking the helpless. Myth after myth. So to celebrate the new year, I'd like to review my top 10 list of foolish myths:

No. 10: Americans have less free time than we used to.

No. 9. Money buys happiness.

No. 8: Republicans shrink government.

No. 7: The world is getting too crowded.

No. 6. Chemicals are killing us.

No. 5: Guns are bad.

No. 4: We're drowning in garbage.

No. 3: We're destroying our forests.

No. 2: Getting cold will give you a cold.

No. 1: Life is getting worse.

He ran through these on 20/20 Friday night and, other than buying the myth that DDT harmed bald eagles, it was very good.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 1, 2006 10:21 AM

Harm from DDT is the myth that kills. From the East African last week:

Use DDT to fight malaria, experts say

120,000 kids in Uganda, the paper reports, die of malaria every year. EU rules on agricultural products are a major barrier to the use of the insecticide.

Posted by: David at January 1, 2006 10:39 AM

Yeah, it was a rerun from last year too. I didn't watch it closely, but he also seemed to accept the argument that populations are trending upwards. We're going to have more people, but birthrates are falling all over the place. Didn't matter, because he made the case that even if we just kept up at previous rates we'd still be able to deal with it easily.

Posted by: RC at January 1, 2006 1:01 PM

Money can't buy happiness, but it can rent it.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at January 1, 2006 2:26 PM

Money buys guns. And happiness is a warm gun. So money can buy happiness.

As for No. 2: I've been telling my mother that since I was four years old, but if she sees a weather report on TV predicting low temperatures she will call me and tell me to put on sweater.

As for No. 3: Why not? We need to try harder.

Posted by: Carter at January 1, 2006 2:49 PM

The world is getting too crowded, Chemicals are killing us, We're destroying our forests, Getting cold will give you a cold:

These are all contain some truth; Nebraska isn't too crowded obviously, but what exactly is this guy trying to say? Chemicals are killing us, at least the ones left in the ground by companies after they leave town; I know this as a painful, personal fact. We are destroying our forests, only 2% of the world's virgin forests still exist, and they aren't the kind of thing that just gets "born-again." Getting a cold won't necessarily give you a cold, but it could make getting one easier.
Money won't buy happiness, but it will buy freedom.
Can someone explain this fool to me? I used to like John Stossel.

Posted by: Grog at January 2, 2006 3:55 AM

"Too" is subjective.
There are certainly a lot of people in the world, and there will be a lot more before there are fewer, but if we define "too crowded" as "too many to support", then even 2050's nine billion people won't be "too crowded".

And, since most of 'em will be in urban areas, if anyone feels "too crowded", as in "population density is too high", now or in 2050, you can always move to Montana or Siberia.

There are specific instances of chemical pollution or toxic spills, but overall, most people are never affected by such. The national environment in America is in great shape.

2% may or may not be a good estimate for how much of the world's virgin forest remains, but the America of 2006 is more heavily forested than was the continent that the Pilgrims set foot on in 1620.
Most of the trees in the American Midwest, "the great inland desert", as it was once called, were planted by homesteaders.

The vast majority of tree-felling in America isn't in "virgin forests", but in commercial tree farms, where the groves are indeed "born again", every seven to twenty years, depending on species and intended usage.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at January 2, 2006 5:42 AM

Grog: The world is empty. We need a lot more people, but we're not likely to get them.

The germ-theory of disease is well established. Being cold has no effect on how likely we are to get a cold.

After 10,000 years of people using land and wood, of course we don't have much virgin forest left. But the northeast, for example, is rapidly reforesting. Massachusetts has more forest land now than it has for at least 250 years. When we go out walking in the woods around our house, we are constantly coming across stone walls running through what is now forest.

I could go on, but I see that I'm just repeating what Michael has already said.

Posted by: David Cohen at January 2, 2006 10:00 AM

Grog, the earth has been around for how long? Billions of years? You can't possibly think the forests you think of as virgin have been standing there for all those years? Surely, you must know there have been countless changes over the eons.

Sometimes your statements are so old-fashioned, I think you must have been in a coma and have recently awakened and are spouting the old party line. It's changed a lot you know. Check with the leftwing blogs to be brought up to date on current moonbattery.

Posted by: erp at January 2, 2006 3:54 PM

First of all, the myth is propaganda for softening recent Alaska oil legislation
Maybe you should go check out some left-wings blogs on the state of Americas forests. They're not that far off from what I would advocate.
Yeah, the earth is billions of years old, but the natural processes in American forests (forest fires) were intact for 99.999999999 percent of that time, and did a much better job at maintaining them, from a certain perspective, then Europeans have.
Just like rainforests, once virgin temperate forests have been cleared, through unnatural processes, there is in many cases no way for the ecosystem to recover what it lost.
However, I don't think have to say that preventing every tree from ever burning or being cut down is the answer, and controlled burning has come in to help solve that problem.
Industries love to maintain that America is more heavily forested now than it has ever been, but that is just like saying the world is under/over populated; it needs a lot more qualifiers to hold any sort of meaningful truth. Obviously, I don't think that trees that grow in the medians of interstate highways should really constitute something to be proud of. I'm gonna have to go quality over quantity on this issue, and I would even dare to say that in terms of organic mass (bigger, older trees), we are far from pre-European America. It's certainly a lot more forested than it was after the logging companies cleared the entire Northeast in the 19th century, but are the ecosystems as healthy as they were? Not even close, and there's no signs of hope that they ever will be.

David: There is lots of disagreement in the medical community about cold temperatures, and studies that go both ways. One thing for certain is that more people get sick in the winter, but this could obviously be attributed to being indoors with other people more often.
And, there are definite ways where lower temperatures could make contracting a disease more likely, but not necessarily with the common cold.
It's really easy to talk about humans beings as number, and land as well, but pragmatically speaking, the earth's resources, of energy alone. are going to be extremely strained to support 50 billion people, unless there is some kind of breakthrough soon. Every year Americans use 300 years worth of fossil fuels, and that rate is increasing exponentially.

Michael: People are never affected by the waste left by industry? I don't think I've ever heard you say something that...that...well, let's just say I strongly disagree.
Using the tree farm example is like comparing domesticated to wild animals.
I know you guys don't really care about countries outside the US, but that is where the majority of deforestation occurs, and we encourage it to happen despite regretting the deforestation of our own.

Posted by: Grog at January 3, 2006 12:27 AM
Yeah, the earth is billions of years old, but the natural processes in American forests (forest fires) were intact for 99.999999999 percent of that time
Ha. You really do need to read around more. Let's see,
  • Earth doesn't have oxygen in the atmosphere before 3000 MYA, or 35% of Earth's life span (4600MY). So fire has been around for at most 65% of Earth's existence.
  • Trees as we know them today (primarily conifers) don't dominate in large forests until 220 MYA, or at about 95% of the way through Earth's history, leaving just 5% for maintaining forest via natural processes.

Your estimate of "99.999999999%" looks a bit off. Given that the primary arguments against you here are that many of your facts are flat out false, adding this one to that pile doesn't help your case much.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at January 3, 2006 1:53 PM

What's an unnatural forest.

Posted by: oj at January 3, 2006 2:25 PM

Every year Americans use 300 years worth of fossil fuels, and that rate is increasing exponentially.

What does that mean, exactly ?

Right now, America alone has 300 years' worth of coal left, at current rates of usage, and we have an untapped 1.5 trillion barrels of petroleum in our oil reserves...
Add in Canada's tar sands, and their coalbed methane, and these two nations alone could supply THE ENTIRE WORLD'S current demand for petroleum for the next 100 years.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at January 4, 2006 4:48 AM

Annoying Old Guy: Nice nit-picking point. Subtract a few nines, and you still get the point. What other facts are wrong? Which ones are not?
OJ: Interesting question, but I think my trees in the highway median is an appropriate metaphor.
Michael: It means that for every year of fossil fuel usage, we use 300 times the amount that it has taken the earth to naturally form those fuels.
Those number sound really big, but they mean little by themselves.

Posted by: Grog at January 4, 2006 5:29 AM

Grog: The germ theory of disease is actually pretty well established. You get a cold because you have been exposed to a virus you've never seen before. Your temperature has nothing to do with it. There aren't any studies going the other way.

We aren't going to get to 50 billion people. At this rate, we'll barely get to 10 billion and then we'll start dwindling away.

If a particular resource gets sufficiently scarce, we'll stop using it.

Posted by: David Cohen at January 4, 2006 6:36 PM


No, as noted the more generous estimate is at most 5%, which you won't get to by just dropping nines from your number. But this further evidence of innumeracy on your part goes a long way towards explaining your view of economics.

As for other facts that are wrong, what about this one:

but are the ecosystems as healthy as they were? Not even close, and there's no signs of hope that they ever will be.
Read through previous posts about the invasions of suburbia by recovering predator species. That's not a sign of hope of a recovering ecosystem?

But, is it your view that I should spend my time digging through your mass of non-facts until I get lucky and stumble on something you got right?

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at January 4, 2006 8:59 PM