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peter lindsay

Physics Teacher,

TEDCRED 50+

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Media scare campaigns will one day stop us utilising a vital piece of new technology.

BPA a chemical that is used in some plastics and has never been shown to have any negative impact on human health is currently being removed from plastic food containers. Someone claimed it was bad so "BPA FREE" stickers started appearing on containers as a selling point. I've even seen them on aluminium drink bottles. I don't know how aluminium could have BPA in it in the first place? Now a similar controversy has erupted regarding nano-particles of zinc oxide in sun screen. This is another unsubstantiated claim of bad health effects. You would think that in a country with such a high rate of UV induced skin cancer as AUS, some caution should preceed any claim that sunscreen is bad for you, but the media seem unable to resist a bandwagon.

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  • Jul 28 2012: The media has scared us into what to eat and not eat for as long as I can remember. In the 70's and 80's they told us to shun fat and eat lots of carbs. We are fatter than ever. There are commercials for medications on all of the mainstream TV channels. All of them tell us to "ask your doctor if ________ is right for you". There are illnesses now that never existed before. It's BPA, it's PVC. It's always a scare about something.
    It's amazing how drug companies influence how our Doctor's treat us.
    There are conflicting theories about everything from diabetes to HIV. There are scientific studies that prove the mainstream media is wrong, but people won't listen. I watched the opening of the Olympics tonight and there was propaganda embedded in the opening ceremony about universal health care and how wonderful it is. I'm not an expert on health care, but I know when someone is trying really hard to sell me on something.
    • Jul 28 2012: Thumbs up! Although I do enjoy my universal health care. Can't imaging how sick I would feel with a quarter million in bills hanging over me!
      • Jul 28 2012: I don't really know if universal care is right or wrong, i just know that they were pushing it at the Olympics last night.
        • Jul 28 2012: I understand. There is always an agenda that's for sure.
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      Jul 29 2012: Regarding the universal healthcare thing you've got to remember the olympics are in Britain. The British are proud of their universal health care. It was born out of WW2 when all the injured and disabled soldiers came back from war and needed affordable healthcare on low incomes. Sometimes its hard to appreciate the level of devastation in Europe from the other side of the Atlantic.
      Your first section about advertising points out why the media are even more out of control in the US. Over here(AUS) drug companies can't advertise to the general public. They can only advertise in medical journals. US doctors must be constantly pestered by patients demanding this or that new medication. It must drive them nuts!
      • Jul 30 2012: Thanks for the reply Peter!
        I know a little about the history of Universal Health Care in other countries, but the fact that it played such a prominant role in a world televised event leads me to believe that there is some pressure from the US to mass market the idea to the American people. As a culture, we are far from united about the idea of Universal Health Care. The commentators from NBC made several references to the fact that Universal Health Care has been widely accepted and beloved in the UK. I think they are softening us up for the eventual transition.
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          Jul 30 2012: I'm not so sure Danny Boyle gives a crap about anything that happens in the US. Plus I would assume any suggestions from the US to a a British olympic comittee or a french dominated IOC would probably fall on deaf ears.
  • Jul 26 2012: You might want to check out this document, from National Toxicology Program, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is dated September, 2008.

    http://ntp.niehs.nih.gov/ntp/ohat/bisphenol/bisphenol.pdf

    This is an excerpt:
    -------------------
    Recognizing the lack of data on the effects of
    bisphenol A in humans and despite the limitations
    in the evidence for “low” dose effects in
    laboratory animals discussed in more detail
    below, the possibility that bisphenol A may alter
    human development cannot be dismissed (see
    Figure 3).
    -----------------------------------
    While it is important to note that there was no direct data indicating adverse affects in humans, the last statement is also significant.

    Many further studies of BPA have been completed since this was released, but I strongly suspect this document fueled the media circus.

    Mr. Lindsay, I think you have a good point, but speaking as a parent and the husband of a mother, I can tell you from direct experience that if there is any chance that a product would harm our children in any way, we would try to avoid that product. Of course today that is practically impossible. Since the prime motivator of the media is ratings, the media uses parental fears to generate ratings; this is wrong, but morality is not a priority with the media.

    As for the word 'vital' it is certainly possible that lives will be lost because of these scare tactics, as you point out with respect to sunscreen.

    I agree with Edward Long, that the only remedy available is vigilance. If enough people tune out the media that use scare tactics and tune in the media that practice good journalism, the media will change. Not much chance of that.

    The flip side of the BPA issue is that the chemical industry continues to develop, produce and market chemicals without toxicology testing. People would be a lot less fearful if the industry acted responsibly.
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      Jul 26 2012: My major gripe with the issue is the progression from 1) Scientist says BPA might be bad. 2) Media says we're all gonna die! 3) Being BPA free becomes a sales gimmick.
      Sometimes the science community must be scared to open their mouths because you can't tell where its gonna go in the media.
      Re BPA I agree probably avoid oestrogen analogues for kids. For me as a 44 year old it'll take a lot of BPA to feminise me!
      • Jul 26 2012: I agree completely, but have no idea what to do about it other than support good journalism, which will likely do no good.

        I have seen interviews of scientists who are very much afraid of saying ANYTHING to the media because their words get twisted into attention grabbing sound bytes that often have only a technical resemblance to the original message. The situation is sad.
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    Jul 25 2012: That is one of the dark sides of democracy. It seemed possible to believe any lie as long as there is enough people to support it. And manufacturers and the media are taking advantage of this.

    It is hoped that the regulatory agencies, media and manufacturers will work together and choose honest gains, and truth.
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    Jul 25 2012: I think that people should declare their biases before posting questions but would it help. Your statment makes me wonder what your own role is in this industry? Am I wrong? I sure hope so!
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      Jul 25 2012: For the record I'm a highschool physics teacher. My function is to teach kids that you find the truth by seeking evidence, forming a theory and then doing experiments to test the thoery before stating a conclusion. The problem I have with the media is their tendancy to go straight to conclusion. Also the manufacturers take advantage. For example I recently bought two new drink bottles (mountainbiker) both of which proudly displayed BPA free stickers. They are both made of polyethylene. You don't use BPA in the manufacture of polyethylene so these bottles have always been BPA free. BPA is only used in PVC and polycarbonate which is clear and hard so unsiutable for drink bottles. This whole thing is based on a study that showed BPA mimicks oestrogen in mice at unrealisticly high levels. (you would have to eat the bottle) Its the misinterpretation of scientific data that gets up my nose.
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        Jul 25 2012: Peter thank you so much for not only addressing my questions but for teaching me in the process. I appreciate your good will and kindness. My job is in business where often tactics like this are used by frontliners. I am relieved and delighted to be wrong!
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          Jul 26 2012: Suspicion in this case is justified and welcomed as we would all suffer if TED was misused by people with hidden agendas. I don't mind if they have an agenda, as long as they're upfront about it. ;-)
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    Aug 6 2012: We have a new one. Not vital but pointless. Milk add stating that their milk is "permeate" free and calling "permeate" an additive. What they don't say is that "permeate" is actually milk concentrate that is added to milk if its calcium or protein levels are below what is expected. In AUS all food has labels specifying nutritional content so its easier to fortify weak milk than to re-label every batch. But now its an issue apparently.
  • Jul 30 2012: I wouldn't be so sure that there are any deaf ears regarding the IOC. The Olympics run on sponsors. Huge dollars some out of the sponsorship from US companies (GE, Coca Cola). Where there are deep pockets, there is influence.
    Danny Boyle knows as a film maker, there are compromises made for mass distribution rights. Movies are big business. Big dirty business. If the Olympis was just about sport, there wouldn't be billions of dollars generated through TV distribution and advertising. I would bet that Danny Boyle knows that you have to "play ball" if you want to work for the big boys
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      Jul 30 2012: Granted there are big dollars at stake but you need to look over the border. The US doesn't dominate anymore. Between the Chinese the Indians and the Euro-zone there is more money outside the US than inside. If you check it out about half the international olympic sponsors are US based but the London sponsors are all European.
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    Jul 28 2012: They already have. The only reason Australia, and most of America don't use solar concentration, is because NASA, UCLA, and UC Berkeley did most of the research... and it will burn people. Israel actually bought some of our patents to make simple satellite dish concentrators... We're not releasing them in the US, and we're not exporting the technology, why?

    NASA's best solar cells get their best efficiency above 40 suns, and can take up to 300... The best, most efficient way for us to generate power, was invented by the government, and it's incredibly dangerous. People will burn their houses down with it at first. Idiots with "a little construction experience" will do shitty installs. Somebody's daughter is going to get their face melted, with technology the government invented.

    This will also give us a sustainable energy grid, and make individual retirement possible everywhere there is sunshine. This will turn Africa, and India, into the electrical power centers of the world. It's worth the cost of a few hundred people who die on accident... but fear of a media scare campaign, about how the government melted some young girls face... keeps us burning coal.

    Cheers : )
  • Jul 27 2012: Drones and swarm technology used and in development by militarized establishments are giving AI an ominous optics in the public eye in my opinon. I stand both in awe and dread regarding DARPA. Really outstanding goings on there.
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    Jul 25 2012: "Vital" means necessary or essential to life. If something vital is missing there can be no life. Maybe you mean "beneficial" rather than vital. If so, my two-cents worth is that the general public always has, and probably always will, exhibit knee-jerk reactions based on nothing more than scuttlebutt and rumor circulated by the media, which I believe now includes the Internet. The solution is for folks to be fully informed, which will never happen because it requires substantially more effort than a knee jerk.
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      Jul 25 2012: This is true Edward and we are vulnerable to it but given the number of times that those in authority have skated on dastardly deeds, think of Russian monarchy like Catharine the Great- maybe this is a safety valve that prevents the lopping off of heads as was done in the French revolution. I think the impulse comes from most people who would rather "be safe than sorry"| for average Joes have so often been sorry. Those sayings like "Where there is smoke there is fire" started somewhere and society might just be in a stage of over reliance on them. I thinkit still represents growth, NO?
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        Jul 25 2012: The question is complex, but I am not. All I know about Mr. Lindsay's question is that the remedy for media manipulation is to be fully informed and vigilant against erroneous media influences, both deliberate and unintentional.
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      Jul 25 2012: With regard to the nano-particles in sunscreen issue, I'm from Australia, anyone who stops using sunscreen because they are scared of nano-particles is literally putting their life at risk. As we are a bunch of mostly european people who live way too close to the equator, skin cancer is a mojor killer here. On the up side though its currently the middle of winter and the sun is shining and its 68 degrees.