Other than a few of the world’s dimmer bulbs who actually donated money to him, not many people hold Harold Camping’s, um, faulty mathematics against him. Camping is the evangelist from California who twice this year – and 12 times since 1978 – has predicted with disconcerting precision the end of the world. He had it down to the minute – 5:59 p.m., on May 21, then was slightly less specific, giving us just the day, on Oct. 22.
But Camping is 89 and not as good with figures as he once was. And besides, he’s just trying to save our souls, and his faulty predictions don’t really hurt anyone.
Frederick vom Saal, who is wrong with the same consistency and regularity, is another story. vom Saal is the University of Missouri researcher who has created a mini-industry of opposing use of the chemical Bisphenol A or BPA. It helps plastic harden, is used for food can safety liners and in shatterproof baby bottles which can withstand the hundreds of trips through dishwasher they must endure. A lot of hard-plastic water bottles contain BPA. So do cans of every sort – vegetables, beer, all of them.
vom Saal claims BPA disrupts the endocrine system, which can cause, among other things, excessive release of estrogen. He claims hermaphrodite fish are on the rise in our rivers because of it and once claimed that letting your baby drink from a plastic bottle is the equivalent of giving her a birth control pill because of BPA. So strident is vom Saal in his belief, he’s referred to BPA as the global warming of biology.
But like Harold Camping, vom Saal can’t quite make the numbers work. His theory depends first on BPA detaching from products made with it and second, it has to enter the body’s blood system. Every scientist not affiliated with vom Saal who tries this finds it detaches in miniscule amounts and that it – to put it bluntly – all comes out in our urine. Even the EPA has given up on this one; a study funded by the agency earlier this year showed that no BPA could be detected in the blood of the overwhelming majority of people fed a diet rich in BPA.
Last week, Forbes magazine ran a story by science journalist Trevor Butterworth at George Mason University that cast some light on the activities of vom Saal during his two-decade-long jihad against BPA. It turns out there may well be, as Steve Martin said in The Jerk, a profit thing.