[Paleopsych] spiked-central: Panic, Don't panic

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Mon Apr 11 21:59:23 UTC 2005

Panic, Don't panic

    Programmed to bully

    Panic: New research claims that 'Four-year-old children who watch more
    television than average are more likely to become bullies'.
    Researchers in Seattle found that children who went on to bully
    between the ages of six and 11 watched five hours of TV per day,
    almost two hours more than those who did not. Writing in the journal
    Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, the team led by Dr
    Frederick Zimmerman said: 'Our results have some important
    implications. We have provided some empirical support to theories that
    suggest that bullying might arise out of cognitive deficits as well as
    emotional ones. We have added bullying to the list of potential
    negative consequences of excessive television viewing along with
    obesity, inattention and other types of aggression.'

    Don't panic: What the news reports have failed to mention, in their
    rush to blame TV for yet another social problem, is that the effect
    found was so small as to be barely significant. The journal abstract
    notes: 'Each hour of television viewed per day at age 4 years was
    associated with a significant odds ratio of 1.06 for subsequent
    bullying.' In other words, children who watched TV for one hour a day
    more had a six per cent increased risk of being 'a bully'.
    But there are plenty of other problems with this research. All the
    reporting is done by mothers, so what one mother considers to be
    bullying behaviour might be another mother's friendly horseplay. In
    fact, it must be extremely difficult to define what 'a bully' is for
    such a report. Does it mean violent behaviour? Would organising
    classmates to exclude a particular individual constitute bullying?
    Would someone who exhibits this behaviour at the age of six, but not
    at the age of eleven, fall into the category of a 'bully' for the
    purposes of this research?
    Moreover, if there is a real correlation here, it has little to do
    with television as such. For example, watching television is a very
    passive activity. While not harmful in itself, it's a poor substitute
    for the social and intellectual engagement involved in play.
    Opportunities for free play are becoming increasingly restricted by
    parental fears. If some children then take longer to learn what is
    appropriate behaviour and what is not, that is hardly the fault of
    television but of the wider environment in which they grow up today.
    That said, this particular paper also suggests a complete lack of
    historical perspective. Children have been picking on other children
    since time immemorial - and certainly a long time before the gogglebox
    was invented. Whether the amount of bullying going on is on the
    increase is surely impossible to know. However, we live in an age
    where the feeling of being a lonely, picked-upon individual is the
    very zeitgeist. No wonder there's money to research bullying. Nor is
    television alone in being blamed - the finger has been pointed at
    everything from mouthy footballers to food additives.
    Television may be the source of innumberable bad programmes, but the
    evidence that it is responsible for society's ills is thin. Maybe it's
    time to pull the plug on this kind of research.
    [39]Early Cognitive Stimulation, Emotional Support, and Television
    Watching as Predictors of Subsequent Bullying Among Grade-School
    Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, April 2005

    [40]TV 'could create child bullies',
    BBC News, 4 April 2005

    Overcooked claims

    Panic: 'Based on current trends, children could be three times more
    likely than their grandparents to develop malignant melanoma', says
    BBC News, reporting the launch of a new campaign by Cancer Research
    UK. The concern is that climate change in the UK and greater numbers
    of foreign holidays mean that rates of melanoma will continue to rise
    in the future. Men and women born in 1970, now in their mid-30s, are
    being diagnosed with melanoma at the same rate as people who were born
    in 1930 and didn't develop melanoma until their 50s. The campaign
    contains advice on ways to reduce sun exposure. Professor Brian Diffey
    of Newcastle University told the BBC that public awareness campaigns
    would help lower the toll, but he emphasised that early detection was
    the key to bringing down mortality rates.

    Don't panic: Barely two weeks after the last blizzards, the annual
    skin cancer campaign has begun. But does this campaign do any good?
    It would be surprising if skin cancer rates in the UK did not rise to
    some extent. After all, people born in 1930 in the UK would rarely see
    strong sunshine. A year spent with British weather and smoggy skies
    would be relieved by a week or two in Blackpool or Margate. No danger
    of serious sunburn there. The mere fact of jetting abroad at all was
    always bound to have some effect on the pale British skin.
    However, the relationship between sunbathing and melanomas is far from
    clear-cut. The most common forms of skin cancer (basal-cell or
    squamous-cell carcinomas) are definitely related to sun exposure. But
    they are also highly treatable and rarely serious. The relationship
    between malignant melanomas, which are much more serious, and sunlight
    is less clear. For example, melanomas tend to appear on areas of the
    body that are less likely to be exposed to the sun. Rates for melanoma
    in Japan are comparable to those in the UK, even though there is no
    tradition of sunbathing in Japan.
    The explanation offered for this apparent contradiction is that
    cancers can be caused by one-off incidents of sunburn on holiday. But
    can the occasional bit of sunburn really cause cancer, or is this a
    case of trying to fit the facts to a shaky theory? While the British
    obsession with turning lobster-pink in Mediterranean resorts may lead
    to nasty sunburn (and the bafflement of the locals), it seems unlikely
    to cause cancer. Professor Jonathan Rees, head of the dermatology
    department at Edinburgh University, believes 'there is little hard
    evidence to support these public health campaigns in the UK' - a point
    that even Professor Diffey seems to have some sympathy with.
    Moreover, there is some evidence now suggesting that vitamin D may
    have a protective effect against some cancers. Our bodies produce most
    of their own vitamin D through skin exposed to sunlight. In northern
    Europe during the winter, people get very little exposure to the sun,
    so a quick trip to the Costa del Suntan might be beneficial. While
    getting sunburnt regularly probably won't do you much good, the
    opposite reaction of avoiding the sun altogether is unlikely to be
    helpful either. The current campaign is based on an Australian model,
    but now the Cancer Council of Australia has said: 'A balance is
    required between avoiding an increase in the risk of skin cancer and
    achieving enough ultraviolet radiation exposure to achieve adequate
    vitamin D levels.'
    We should remind ourselves that skin cancer is a relatively minor
    cause of death in the UK. Even if rates did treble, the chances of any
    individual developing a melanoma would still be quite small. The
    benefits of two weeks away are well worth such a tiny risk.

    [41]Too little sun causes harm, cancer specialists say,
    Independent, 22 March 2005
    [42]Experts fear soaring cancer rate,
    BBC News, 23 March 2005
    [43]Enjoy your moment in the sun,
    The Times (London), 28 July 2003


    Eruption of fear

    Panic: 'A true story that hasn't happened yet', intones the trailer
    for the BBC drama Supervolcano. In the mini-series, a volcano in
    Yellowstone erupts, covering North America in ash and inducing global
    cooling. On the back of the series, scientists have warned that we
    need to be prepared for this kind of disaster. A report by a
    Geological Society working group notes: 'An area the size of North
    America can be devastated, and pronounced deterioration of global
    climate would be expected for a few years following the eruption. They
    could result in the devastation of world agriculture, severe
    disruption of food supplies, and mass starvation. These effects could
    be sufficiently severe to threaten the fabric of civilization.'
    Professor Stephen Self of the Open University says: 'We don't want to
    be sensationalist about this, but it's going to happen. We just can't
    say exactly when. But we have just had a natural disaster affecting
    hundreds of thousands of people. Now is the time to be thinking about

    Don't panic: This is an example of a Really Bad Thing that could
    happen in our lifetimes but is highly unlikely to. While major
    volcanic eruptions occur somewhere in the world every few years, these
    are much smaller than the kind of event described in Supervolcano,
    which appears to occur on average about every 50,000 years.
    But what programmes like this do produce are some really bad pieces of
    logic. For example, the accompanying documentary, part of the Horizon
    series, tells us: 'Scientists have revealed that [Yellowstone] has
    been on a regular eruption cycle of 600,000 years. The last eruption
    was 640,000 years ago...so the next is overdue.' Perhaps that eruption
    cycle isn't so regular after all....
    One thing is clear: there's nothing we could do to stop such an
    explosion occurring, so there is simply no point in worrying about it.
    It might keep a working party or two gainfully employed fretting about
    how we might cope, but that's about it. Moreover, it is wrong to
    assume that society could not survive such an event. Unlike the
    dinosaurs, we can control our environment - produce our own sources of
    power, find alternatives methods of producing food, and so on. We are
    not helpless victims of nature.
    In the meantime, there are lots of very real problems that are within
    our means to control, such as malaria, access to clean water and
    general poverty. The more society develops, the better able we are to
    cope with the occasional shock.
    Classic Hollywood disaster movies were about putting yourself in the
    place of the hero and wondering how you'd cope with being in a sinking
    cruise liner, burning skyscraper, failing airplane, or even a town
    struck by a volcanic eruption. The crisis was purely a device to
    create a dramatic situation. But no disaster movie these days is
    complete without the 'real science' behind it. Supervolcano, like The
    Day After Tomorrow, hitches its plot to real ecological concerns in
    order to grab our attention. But 'a true story that hasn't happened
    yet' is not a true story. It's a wind-up.
    The suggestion that there is a real and pressing problem behind the
    fiction feeds off and reinforces a more generalised fear of the
    future. It also encourages scientists to over-egg their research to
    grab the media limelight. It's time to untangle science and fiction:
    the only thing disaster movie fans should be fretting about in real
    life is the price of popcorn.

    [44]Experts weigh supervolcano risks,
    BBC News, 9 March 2005
    [46]Super-eruptions: global effects and future threats,
    Geological Society of London


    Smoke alarm

    Panic: '11,000 killed every year by passive smoking', said the UK
    Mirror, in response to a report published in the British Medical
    Journal (BMJ). Various estimates of increased risk associated with
    passive smoking were combined with figures for known deaths, overall
    populations, and populations working in specific industries. The
    results suggest passive smoking in workplaces is responsible for 617
    deaths per year, with one death per week in the hospitality industry.
    The study also concluded that 2,700 deaths of people between 20 and 64
    years of age occur due to passive smoking at home, with a further
    8,000 deaths in those aged 65 or over. Professor Konrad Jamrozik of
    Queensland University, who wrote the report, said: 'Adoption of
    smoke-free policies in all workplaces and reductions in the general
    prevalence of active smoking would lead to substantial reductions in
    these avoidable deaths.'

    Don't panic: This report doesn't provide us with any new information
    on the risks of passive smoking. It merely takes existing research and
    calculates all the number of people who would die if all the suggested
    risks proved to be accurate. This is an extremely dubious practice,
    taking uncertain but probably small risks and then multiplying them by
    very large numbers to produce startling headlines.
    The true risks of passive smoking remain as controversial as ever. For
    example, in 2003 the BMJ published a study of 120,000 adults in
    California over a 40-year period, which concluded that 'the results do
    not support a causal association between environmental tobacco smoke
    and tobacco-related mortality, though they do not rule out a small
    effect'. As a BMJ editorial concluded at the time, 'the considerable
    problems with measurement imprecision, confounding, and the small
    predicted excess risks limit the degree to which conventional
    observational epidemiology can address the effects of exposure to
    environmental tobacco smoke'.
    For the record, it's worth noting that even if Jamrozik's figures are
    correct, restricting public smoking will have little impact, as most
    of the deaths are due to passive smoking in the home. The vast
    majority of these are people over the age of 65, people who would have
    lived through much smokier environments than exist today. Clearly,
    their lives will not have been shortened by much even if Jamrozik's
    numbers add up. As for the supposed risks to bar and restaurant
    workers, the most prominent justification for smoking bans these days,
    we should note that it amounts to 54 deaths per year out of a
    workforce of well over a million - a risk factor of 21,000-to-one.
    What you probably won't read in the papers is Jamrozik's
    acknowledgement of assistance from Deborah Arnott of Action on Smoking
    and Health (ASH), the UK's main anti-smoking campaign. Nor will you
    read his note that 'the calculations in this paper were commissioned
    by SmokeFree London, a collaboration of 33 local borough councils in
    London concerned with extension of smoke-free policies in that city'.
    Jamrozik's report is a piece of advocacy dressed up as science and
    should be treated with considerable scepticism.

    [47]Estimate of deaths attributable to passive smoking among UK
    adults:database analysis,
    British Medical Journal, 2 March 2005
    [48]We have ways of making you stop smoking,
    by Dr Michael Fitzpatrick
    [49]spiked-issue: No smoking,


    The dangers of dye

    Panic: The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) hit the headlines last week
    by demanding the removal from supermarket shelves of 350 processed
    foods which may contain traces of the banned dye Sudan-I. The dye
    appears to have been used to colour chilli powder imported from India,
    but it is illegal to use it in food sold in the EU. The chilli powder
    was added to worcester sauce, which in turn was added to processed
    foods, including canned soups and ready meals. 'At the levels present
    the risk is likely to be very small but it is sensible to avoid eating
    any more', said Dr Jon Bell of the FSA.

    Don't panic: Sudan-I is not, as frequently stated, a 'known
    carcinogen' in humans. In large quantities, it does increase the
    frequency of liver tumours in rats, but not in mice. It is classified
    as a 'category 3' carcinogen - that is, something for which not enough
    information in relation to humans is available to make a firm
    judgement but which has carcinogenic potential.
    The old adage 'the dose makes the poison' also suggests there is
    little risk here. The quantities contained in these ready meals must
    have been tiny. The chilli powder must only have contained a small
    fraction of Sudan-I. In turn this was added to the sauce, which
    therefore only contained a small fraction of the chilli powder.
    Finally, the finished products will have contained only a small
    fraction of worcester sauce. The quantities of Sudan-I in the end
    products must be measured in micrograms.
    Nor is Sudan-I peculiarly harmful. When it is consumed, it breaks down
    into a number of by-products called amines. As the German Federal
    Institute for Risk Assessment notes, 'the carcinogenic action in
    animal experiments are attributed to the release of amines and their
    ensuing metabolic activation.' Their report goes on to note that the
    same amines are found in significant quantities in cabbages and
    carrots. For example, a day's worth of Sudan-I contaminated chilli
    powder will, at most, contain the same amount of the amine alinine as
    20 grammes of raw carrots. This exposure is in turn thousands of times
    lower than the levels which produced cancers in rats.
    The FSA seems to have self-consciously made a media splash on this
    issue, in an attempt to reassure the public that it is watching over
    us. But such tactics tend to have the opposite effect to that
    intended. These alarms make us more fearful about what we eat, and
    lend credence to the bogus arguments of those who believe that
    supermarkets and food processors are reckless about safety in the
    pursuit of profits. Sudan-I is unnecessary in food preparation, and
    banning it may be a sensible precaution. But the actions of the FSA in
    relation to this particular incident have been excessive and

    [50]Action taken to remove illegal dye found in wide range of foods on
    sale in UK,
    UK Food Standards Agency, 18 February 2005
    [51]Dyes Sudan I to IV in food,
    Federal Institute for Risk Assessment, 19 November 2003 [pdf format]
    [52]Food Scares Agency,
    by Jan Bowman

    What is spiked?
    spiked is an online publication with the modest ambition of making
    history as well as reporting it. spiked stands for liberty,
    enlightenment, experimentation and excellence.
    Signet House, 49-51 Farringdon Road, London, EC1M 3JP
    Email: [57]info at spiked-online.com


   39. http://archpedi.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/short/159/4/384
   40. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/4408709.stm
   41. http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/health_medical/story.jsp?story=622467
   42. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/4371131.stm
   43. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/newspaper/0,,170-758744,00.html
   44. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/4326987.stm
   45. http://www.bbc.co.uk/sn/tvradio/programmes/supervolcano/
   46. http://www.geolsoc.org.uk/template.cfm?name=super2
   47. http://bmj.bmjjournals.com/cgi/rapidpdf/bmj.38370.496632.8Fv3.pdf
   48. http://www.spiked-online.com/Articles/0000000CA7A4.htm
   49. http://www.spiked-online.com/Sections/Liberties/NoSmoking/Index.htm
   50. http://www.food.gov.uk/news/newsarchive/2005/feb/worcester
   51. http://www.bgvv.de/cm/245/dyes_sudan_I_IV.pdf
   52. http://www.spiked-online.com/Articles/00000002D1B6.htm
   53. http://www.spiked-online.com/Sections/central/About/Index.htm
   54. http://www.spiked-online.com/Forms/SpikedByEmail.asp
   55. http://www.spiked-online.com/Sections/Central/About/Corrections%20policy.htm
   56. http://www.spiked-online.com/Sections/Central/About/Terms%20and%20Conditions.htm
   57. http://www.spiked-online.com/forms/genEmail.asp?sendto=9&section=central

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