Technophobes and Cell Phones

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A December 8, 2006 column by Jay Ambrose compares cancer fears over cell phones to other bogus health scares of the past, citing ACSH and ACSH Trustee Dr. Henry Miller:

Remember the Alar scare? You have to go back to 1989 for that one. It was alleged on a 60 Minutes show that this chemical used in apples would cause childhood cancer, which in fact it would not. The truth emerged and the scare died out in time, but not until the apple industry had suffered a pointless, stupid $375 million setback.

A New York Times article reminding me of this bugaboo recounted others -- the concern that two cups of coffee a day, electric blankets, and asbestos insulation in schools could cause cancer. Baloney, baloney, baloney is what all of these were, the American Council on Science and Health has noted. That last piece of baloney -- the one on asbestos -- led Congress to mandate that schools get rid of the insulation, the article notes. In the act of tearing down walls, the safe asbestos was stirred up and got in the air, and then you had a real danger, one costing an incredible $6 billion to create.

Pretty awful, but not so awful as the wacko opposition to genetically modified foods that could be the salvation of literally hundreds of millions of people in the Third World, or the thunderously idiotic opposition to using DDT to fight malaria in Africa. Spraying this pesticide inside huts does not endanger wildlife or human health, but could have saved the lives of millions -- yes, millions -- from agonizing death.

In these last two cases, those standing in the way have been environmental extremists who might cite science but are actually basing their claims on a kind of semi-religious dogma as well as what Henry Miller, a physician-scientist at the Hoover Institution, has called "technophobia," an irrational fear of technological progress that has been with us a long time. In the nineteenth century, he said in an interview found on the Internet, technophobes worried that trains going sixty miles per hour would cause chest cavities to cave in.