Three Oscars, but still no degree in toxicology

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What s the difference between Meryl Streep and a qualified toxicologist? Well, chances are that a toxicologist won t presume to lecture publicly on method acting, but Streep apparently has no qualms about advising us on matters of chemical safety.

In 1989 Streep was at the forefront of a contingent that believed the plant growth regulator Alar was turning the nation s apples carcinogenic. ACSH s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan led a counter-movement by recruiting numerous expert scientists to rigorously denounce the scare tactics of Streep and her allies at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). Unfortunately, the NRDC-Streep campaign against Alar had a devastating effect on the apple growers of Washington state. Scientific facts established that the chemical compound was not a risk to humans at the level it was used to regulate the growth of apples but by the time these facts became widely known, Alar had already been withdrawn by its manufacturer, who feared activists lawsuits.

Apparently, however, Streep s animosity has not waned. Despite the contradictory testimony of experts like the National Cancer Institute, and the editors at Science magazine, she remains obstinate, and even indignant, about the matter. In an interview featured in this month s OnEarth Magazine, Streep speaks out against a number of useful and benign, yet often demonized, chemicals. She maintains her views on Alar, and gets in a dig at ACSH and Dr. Elizabeth Whelan.

In response, Dr. Whelan shook her head. She s a tremendous actress, she says of Streep. But she s just a terrible toxicologist.

In fact, when it comes to science, we should leave it to scientists, not celebrities. (For more on this phenomenon, see our Celebrities versus Science publication.)

Streep s scientific credentials include a BA in drama from Vassar and a MFA from Yale, ACSH's Dr. Josh Bloom points out. She has no more business talking about toxicology than I do playing Margaret Thatcher.