A Review of the Greatest Unfounded Health Scares of Recent Times

FOURTH EDITION First published May 1997 Revised September 1997 Revised June 1998 Revised September 2004


H. L. Mencken once said that the whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety), by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary. Unfounded health scares, for instance.

Since its founding in 1978 the American Council on Science and Health has been dedicated to separating real, proven health risks such as cigarettes from unfounded health scares based on questionable, hypothetical, or even nonexistent scientific evidence.

This report...

Each square centimeter of skin harbors around 100,000 bacteria, and a single teaspoon of topsoil contains nearly one billion bacteria. The thought of these tiny creatures permeating every aspect of our daily life makes most of us uneasy, even a little queasy. Consequently, Americans spend $540 million on antibacterial soaps, hand cleaners, and detergents each year, and in the past year, more than three hundred million prescriptions for antibiotics were issued in the United States. A study in Pediatrics reported that 50% of pediatricians have been pressured by parents to prescribe antibiotics for sick children, when in doctors' opinions, antibiotics were not medically necessary. After years of misuse and overuse of antibiotics, bacteria are becoming antibiotic-resistant,...

ACSH Hosts Media Symposium on Harm Reduction ...

November 23, 2007: Giving Thanks, Donations, and Dispatches

-- ACSH staffers (from their respective hometowns) hope everyone had a delicious Thanksgiving yesterday. (We also hope you shared your ACSH Holiday Dinner Menu with your family! If you did not request a copy, you can download one here.)

-- ACSH Trustee -- and past president of the New York Academy of Sciences -- Rodney Nichols suggested we invite ACSH donors to have an "honorary seat" at our morning table, weighing in on the day's news topics, and asking questions. We loved the idea!

So, we are inviting you to sponsor a morning meeting. With a donation of $250 or more, you receive a seat at our table, as you join us...

“For many people, regardless of size, stepping on the scale at the doctor’s office can be a triggering, harmful experience,” SELF magazine reported late last month. “'Please don’t weigh me' cards may offer a solution.” If you're not familiar with these cards, they're sold by as part of an effort to change how health care providers think about the relationship between weight and health. The organization maintains that we live in “a fatphobic society” and thus

being weighed and talking about weight causes feelings of stress and shame for many people. Many...

It's time for Memorial Day Weekend - the unofficial start of summer. And, damn, do we need it. After two miserable winters of COVID it is now safe to run around maskless if you're vaccinated (thank you Pfixer/BioNtech, Moderna, and J&J!) and do all the stuff you've had on hold for so long. If one of those things is a trip to the beach here are three factoids that you may find interesting, even helpful. Originally from 2016. Enjoy.

Please give this a shot before you go back to playing Candy Crush. I promise you that it is not the same old useless WebMD summer guide:


  1. Put on sunscreen to avoid a sunburn
  2. If you are thirsty, drink something
  3. Don't swim laps with a cinder block tied around your neck.
  4. ...

The following is the essence of the controversy:

  • IARC has classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans.”
  • The EPA has classified glyphosate as “not likely to be carcinogenic to humans.” 

How is it possible that two organizations had the same data available and came to opposite conclusions? 

The Process 

The process used to determine whether or not a chemical causes cancer is to examine four types of studies:

  • Epidemiology (human) studies
  • Studies in laboratory animals
  • Genotoxicity studies – the damage to genetic material
  • Exposure studies - how people are exposed to the chemical

There were fundamental...


We computed rates of infections (cases) and deaths by dividing by the appropriate population expressed in millions. Cumulative effects are summations of daily rates over time. The overall average daily case rate is about 225 new cases per million per day, while the overall mean death rate is about 4 per million per day. Thus, about 6% of the U.S. population has been infected, and 1.8% of the infected have died from COVID-19. These effects are not linear and vary substantially across the nation. 

We utilized daily data for the 48 contiguous states grouped into six geographic regions [2]; we did not analyze trends for individual states or cities. For clarity, we smoothed the graphs by using...

Across America, if not the world, it is time to play “Beat the Reaper,” the updated version of the Firesign Theater’s radio skit [1], featuring COVID-19 as “the Reaper.” Leaving aside the recommendations of our scientists and politicians, how do you, as an individual, go back to social mingling. What uncertain information do you apply or not, to a disease that one person characterized as “a slight possibility with a large downsize effect.”

We can consider the statistics and the studies, peer-reviewed or not, but at some point must venture out into the world. I conducted an informal, unscientific poll to see what factors people considered in making their personal decisions.

It all begins with me

The question that most shapes our decisions is simply...

By Rachel Allavena, Associate Professor, The University of Queensland


Companion animals are part of our families, but inevitably the time comes for us to say goodbye to them due to old age or disease.

Many pet lovers opt to bury their pets in the backyard. However, there are some hidden risks to this, and there are other options that will help other pets, and even the owners who love them.

Donating their body to science, for research and veterinary training, can potentially help hundreds of pets.

Why the backyard isn’t best

Backyard burial may seem like the easiest way to respectfully take care of your pet’s remains. Unfortunately, it...