Hudson's Science and Health "Mythbuster" Challenges Misrepresentation of Facts

By Michael Fumento

Visions, Winter 2000
Copyright 2000 The Hudson Institute

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Activist groups have been making noise for decades. They have uncovered government wrong-doing, legal system injustice, and mistreatment of consumers, among other accomplishments.

Nevertheless, the role of self-appointed watchdogs has been changing. They now routinely bear bad tidings, claiming the end of the world is nigh unless drastic steps are taken. In doing so, they have become among the most publicized and politicized groups in the world.

Enter Hudson Institute Senior Fellow Michael Fumento, who has dedicated his career to exposing those who wittingly or unwittingly misrepresent the facts. Following his one-year anniversary with Hudson, Fumento sat down with Visions to discuss what he’s accomplished in the past year, what he’s currently working on, and what the future holds for his newest passion — biotechnology.

Visions: Describe your role at Hudson Institute.

Fumento: Essentially, I’m a writer whose work covers a broad range. If you visit my web site (www.fumento.com) you’ll find my articles and op-ed pieces broken down into 42 subject areas. That said, my focus for the last decade has been on science issues, especially those affecting human health. I have published four books, three monographs, and more than 350 articles or op-eds. I have also lectured on these issues around the world.

Visions: Now does your background qualify you as an expert in these areas?

Fumento: My degrees are actually in political science and law. That might seem an unlikely background for most of the areas I write in, but it’s really not. Usually when I write on science and health, I’m writing about how they’ve been politicized. The cold virus has never been politicized so I’ve never written on it. AIDS, Ebola, and the flu viruses have all been politicized or sensationalized or both, hence I’ve written on all three.

As to the law degree, a good law school doesn’t teach you laws, it provides a framework of how laws work, teaches you to argue and, most importantly, teaches you to think. You learn to write a brief, a paper you know will be opposed by another trained lawyer’s brief that you must assume will contain all relevant facts. If you fail, you will be beaten. My attitude in my writings comes from that. Given space limitations, I try to cover all the bases. This is especially important because I like to take what I call the "mythbuster" or "what you’ve heard about X is wrong" position. I don’t do so just to be contrary; rather, I seek out positions where my writer colleagues or persons with an axe to grind are wittingly or unwittingly misrepresenting the facts. As such, I am often a lone voice, forcing me to really have my act together.

Visions: This idea of "mythbusting" led you to write several books highlighting the misinformation that was being publicized.

Fumento: That’s correct. I wrote The Myth of Heterosexual AIDS because I saw even back in the 1980s that the AIDS epidemic, especially regarding its impact on nondrug using heterosexuals, was being grossly politicized and sensationalized.

Then, Science Under Siege was written because after doing the AIDS book I discovered the same had been done with numerous other scientific areas as well. I wanted to write a book to help inoculate readers against anti-scientific writing and thinking.

Polluted Science was about EPA air pollution regulations that had virtually no scientific underpinning, yet were repeatedly misrepresented by the EPA and the media as having a strong grounding in empirical studies. Since they were among the most expensive proposed regulations ever, they seemed worthy of a book.

Most recently, Fat of the Land was my nod to the reality that by overstating some risks, we understate others. Obesity is one of them. It prematurely kills 300,000 Americans a year according to the best estimates. Yet it’s often treated as a joke, while things that quite possibly kill no Americans are treated with deadly earnestness and heavily regulated at great expense. It also charted new territory for me in that it has a strong self-help aspect. As a synthesis of the best medical science has to offer on losing weight and keeping it off, it has earned praise as being a weight-loss book that really works. I lost 35 pounds while writing it and have kept it all off!

Visions: Biotechnology is one of your current areas of research. Define biotechnology and explain your current research related to biotechnology.

Fumento: Biotechnology means changing the genetic structure of a plant, animal or microbe through adding specific genes or changing the genes already present. As such, it is "evolutionary" in that man has been fiddling with animal and plant genes for millennia by crossbreeding. It is "revolutionary" in that it allows the choosing of just one or a few genes with known specific traits, rather than crossing the entire gene structure of two different entities. Further, you can now combine genes from entities too dissimilar for cross-breeding; for example, extracting a gene that helps a fish survive in frigid waters and inserting it into a plant to make it frost-resistant.

I am seeking a publisher for a book proposal, tentatively entitled The Biotech Breakthrough.

Visions: What role do you think biotechnology has for the future, and what are your viewpoints on it?

Michael Fumento

Fumento: Biotech basically has four areas: medicine, food, remediation (cleaning things up) and industrial uses. In all four areas it will revolutionize our lives. Already wonderful new drugs are coming into use that are far superior to what they are replacing or they are the first drug to do that thing at all, such as the vaccine that protects against hepatitis B.

In the next few years, this trickle will become a torrent. Biotech drugs promise to eventually cure any disease, infectious or genetic. They also promise to tremendously extend the human lifespan with improved health during the range of that span. This is not some far-off futuristic scheme; indeed, it’s already beginning.

Regarding food, we will be able to make it more resistant to pests, more packed with vitamins and nutrients, better able to help us ward off disease, and friendlier to the environment. Much more food will be able to be grown on much less land, allowing supplies to continue to outstrip population growth.

I have seen the future, and boy is it exciting and wonderful — though some of the myth-spreaders would have us think otherwise.

Read Michael Fumento’s additional work on biotechnology and on alarmism.