John Stossel

Where are the bodies?

For years, reporters have been alerting America to one scare after another. Chemicals, cell phones, SARS -- everything is going to kill us! You would think by now we'd be doing nothing but digging graves.

Instead, Americans are living longer than ever. Not that you'd ever know that from the mainstream media.

So let's grab a shovel to clear away the nonsense and dig out the truth: Myths, lies and stupidity are often the basis of today's scary news stories.

Reports that motorists using cell phones were triggering explosions at gas stations sent fear at gas stations through the roof (where gas prices, adjusted for inflation, haven't gone). But there is no evidence that cell phones are much of a threat.

The media keeps pumping out the stories. In 2004, the Poughkeepsie [N.Y.] Journal ran this scary headline: "Cell Phone Ring Starts Fire at Gas Station."

The story quoted the local fire chief, Pat Koch, as saying gas vapors were ignited by the ringing of a cell phone. But -- stop the presses and start shoveling -- just days later, Koch said: "After further investigation . . . I have concluded that the source of ignition was from some source other than the cell phone . . . most likely static discharge from the motorist himself." The truth is that anything that involves static or sparks can ignite gasoline fumes, including rubbing your rear end against a cloth car seat on a dry winter day.

At the University of Oklahoma, there's a "Center for the Study of Wireless Electromagnetic Compatibility," which researches the effects of electronic devices on our lives. The center examined incident reports and scientific data, and concluded that there was "virtually no evidence to suggest that cell phones pose a hazard at gas stations." The researchers went even further: "The historical evidence," it said, "does not support the need for further research."

You're about as likely to be toasted by a dragon. To its credit, the Poughkeepsie Journal gave its follow-up story as much play as the original. The media rarely do that. Usually, the alarmist and scientifically clueless media just keep churning out the scares.

A persistent media myth holds that chemicals are responsible for "the cancer epidemic." The truth is, there is no cancer epidemic. In fact, the cancer death rate has been declining for more than a decade. If you're tempted to argue that fewer die from cancer today simply because there are better treatments, look at the cancer incidence rates.


John Stossel

John Stossel is host of "Stossel" on the Fox Business Network. He's the author of "No They Can't: Why Government Fails, but Individuals Succeed." To find out more about John Stossel, visit his site at >johnstossel.com. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. ©Creators Syndicate