Coles said, "If you go to an agency and say, 'I don't think there's a big problem here, I'd like you to give me $1 million,' the probability for getting the money is very low."
It's also easier to get funded if what you conclude feeds someone's political agenda. The idea of crack babies was perfect. It met the needs of liberals and conservatives. Conservatives wanted to demonize cocaine users. Liberals wanted more money for social programs.
When Dr. Coles dared suggest that crack babies were not permanently damaged, she was attacked by politicians, called incompetent, accused of making data up or advocating drug abuse. Dr. Chasnoff, who helped start the scare, did not receive similar criticism. After his scare was shown to have been exaggerated, he denied that he had pushed any agenda: "Neither I nor any of my colleagues were ever pushing junk science. Is everything we thought then -- do we know that every bit of that is correct now? Well, obviously, the answer is no. But that's the process of science."
He said People and Rolling Stone exaggerated the implications of his research -- took him "out of context." Perhaps. Journalists hype risks constantly. But Chasnoff didn't ask the magazines to correct or clarify their reports. So people continued expecting the crack babies -- the real human beings who had to grow up with that label -- to be walking disasters.
Next time you hear dire "scientific" warnings -- and demands to surrender more control over your life to the government in order to avert disaster -- remember the crack babies. The only disaster coming may be an activist-induced panic.
Think about that when you hear dire predictions about global warming or avian flu.