John Hawkins: Do you believe that Gulf War Syndrome exists? If not, can you elaborate on why you say that?
Michael Fumento: It means no more than saying that everybody in Florida who contracts an illness has “Florida Illness Syndrome.” The only thing sick Gulf vets have in common is that they all served in the Gulf – though actually some never even did that! By the activists’ own admission, there are at least 123 symptoms! They include virtually every illness known. One major newsmagazine even reported on the soldier who claimed his genital herpes was from GWS. As Saturday Night Live’s “Church Lady” would have put it, “How conveeeeeenient!” Study after study has found that Gulf vets are no sicker, no more likely to be dead, and no more likely to have miscarriages or birth defects in their children, than matched control vets than matched control vets (those of similar age, race, gender, and so on) who didn’t deploy. The difference is that if you or I get arthritis, it’s called arthritis. If a Gulf vet gets it, it’s called GWS. This is what one disease historian has called a “mediagenic” illness; it’s spread by the media. It’s also spread by anti-war activists. The one congressman most associated with trying to establish GWS as reality is Rep. Mike Shays, one of the few Republican congressmen to vote against the Desert Storm deployment. GWS is just his way of saying, “I might have been wrong with my estimate of all the fatalities we’d have during combat, but history has now borne me out.” Ultimately what’s so sad about this is that these poor vets who served their country in its hour of need are being punished with a bogeyman. Many have said they have foregone having children for fear of their being born with horrible birth defects. Others check out their bodies each day for suspicious lumps, bumps, and rashes. Is this the right way to reward our brave veterans?
John Hawkins: There has been a lot of back and forth debate about how many people a biological attack featuring small pox would kill in the US. Do you think the threat of biological weapons, particularly smallpox has been overblown? If so, why?
Michael Fumento: Nowadays, virtually all threats are overblown – except that is, real threats that are ignored! Regarding smallpox specifically, all the alarmists base their data on a computer program the CDC ran called “Dark Winter” in which they combined every possible worst-case scenario. It has utterly no bearing in reality. One of the most important things to understand about smallpox is that while many diseases are spread before symptoms appear, with smallpox it’s usually the other way around. These people aren’t going to be ignorantly infecting whole 747s worth of people; they’ll already be in bed or in medical care. At the same time, as we’re now seeing, the threat of the smallpox vaccine was also overblown. We saw the same thing with anthrax. There were all sorts of horrible internet myths floating around about what the anthrax vaccine does to you. Suddenly when the anthrax threat became real, that all melted away. But then the threat of an anthrax attack became grossly overblown. That’s how our society has become; it overreacts to everything. We’re like a pinball that just keeps bouncing from one scare bumper to another. That’s why a so-called “dirty bomb” is such a threat. If one went off in DC, it might kill ten people directly and 100 people might eventually die from cancer, and yet it would shut the city down for days.
John Hawkins: In your opinion, can we 1) definitively say that global warming is happening 2) if so, is it being caused by man, and 3) if it’s being caused by man, realistically is there anything we can do about it without destroying our economies?
Michael Fumento: Ground data seem to indicate that it is happening; satellite data that it is not. This will eventually be resolved. What cannot be resolved is whether the alleged warming is man-made or indeed if it’s partly man-made and partly not. That’s because the earth’s temperature is never in stasis; it’s always becoming warmer or cooler and sometimes reverses directions with amazing speed. That’s why we’ve had the major ice ages and what’s called “the Little Ice Age” of the 19th century. It’s also why we had the warming period that allowed the Vikings to sail over half the world and set up colonies in Greenland and North America. Nobody pretends that had anything to do with CO2 or other “greenhouse” gases.
Finally, I think the economic data are very clear that whether warming is happening or not, whether it’s manmade or not, it cannot be stopped but merely slowed and that efforts to do so could well destroy the ability of the underdeveloped world to ever have a decent standard of living. That’s why China can sign all the greenhouse gas reduction treaties it wants, but it won’t obey them. Yet if China doesn’t obey them, efforts on the part of the developed world are worthless. According to Bjorn Lomborg, the Kyoto Treaty at best would reduce warming by ten percent, yet it carries an estimated cost of $150 to $350 billion a year, starting in 2010. That’s three to seven times the total amount of global development aid given to the underdeveloped world right now. So there’s a bit of science to global warming, but it’s mostly a lot of hotheads running around who see it as an opportunity to wreak havoc on world development.
John Hawkins: One of the things environmental activists like to say is that the planet’s rate of growth is “unsustainable.” Do you agree? Why or why not?
Michael Fumento: ”Sustainable” was always intended by environmentalists to be an indefinable, non-falsifiable term. In other words, it would be meaningless except for propaganda purposes. But the way to turn the tables on the greens is to give it a real meaning, which would be: Is this a process that can be maintained more or less indefinitely? By that definition, the use of wood for heating in England became unsustainable because the country was running out of trees. So they switched to using these pieces of black rock that turned out to be more thermally efficient and less polluting. The earth has centuries of this rock left, which is better known as coal. On the other hand, India’s best-known antibiotech activist Vandana Shiva says biotech crops are unsustainable. Wrong. They already require far fewer chemicals and less land per bushel than previous crops, but they will also soon require less water, less sunlight, less fertilizer and yet provide more vitamins and protein. Nothing could be more sustainable.
As for the planet’s rate of growth, that term will soon become anachronistic. All signs point to a worldwide population that will start shrinking before 2050. Before then we’ll get about three million more mouths to feed and biotech can readily handle that alone, much less when accompanied by other new technologies.
John Hawkins: How long do you think it will be before alternative fuel powered cars will become competitive in price and performance with cars that run on gasoline?
Michael Fumento: Conservatives tend to have very strong prejudices on this issue, I think in great part because electric vehicles (EVs) proved such a disaster. But I was saying EVs were nonsense long before most of them were, and now I’m saying that hydrogen fuel cells will eventually replace the internal combustion engine. One simple way of looking at it is that while gasoline engines do improve yearly, hydrogen fuel cells improve at much faster rate. At some point the trend lines will cross. Another consideration is that while no car company ever had its heart in EVs, a huge number of them are working on hydrogen fuel cells. So, too, are laptop battery companies. Government funding is dictated by politicians and bureaucrats, so I don’t expect much to come from Bush’s initiative. But private capital knows what it’s doing. Finally, a lot of the arguments against hydrogen fuel cells can also be made against gasoline. “Hydrogen explodes!” And gasoline doesn’t? “Hydrogen takes energy to extract!” And gasoline doesn’t? It’s estimated that about a third of the energy of oil is used up before it gets to your gas tank. Once there, the engine wastes most of the remaining two-thirds. Fuel cells themselves are essentially 100 percent efficient; we just need to make real progress in efficiently extracting the hydrogen in the first place. Finally, as to the timeline, I hate making these kinds of predictions but for the record I think a large percentage of the cars and trucks sold in 2013 will be powered by hydrogen fuel cells.
John Hawkins: How big of an advantage do embryonic stem cells really have over adult stem cells? Is it as big as it’s being made out to be? If the advantages of embryonic stem cells are being overplayed, why is that being done?
Michael Fumento: Adult stem cells (which also include those from umbilical cords and placentas) have always had most of the advantages over embryonic stem cells. They’ve been used therapeutically since the 1980s (in marrow and umbilical cord transplants), yet embryonics haven’t even gotten into clinical trials. The only perceived advantage of embryonics is that theoretically they could form all types of body tissue, while adult cells were supposedly much more limited in their “plasticity.” But that’s never been more than theory. Further, scientists are now finding they can convert adult stem cells into far many more tissues than was ever though possible, such as turning marrow cells into neurons. Just three years ago that was considered impossible. Add to this that researchers keep finding new types of stem cells.
The result may be that we don’t need “one size fits all” because we’ll have all the sizes we need. That said, studies out of three different labs have found adult stem cells that seem to have the same ability to become all the tissues of the body. So it could well be that adult stem cells have every advantage of embryonics, including not requiring the destruction of embryos and not requiring methodology that could be used to clone live humans. The advantages of embryonics are being overplayed precisely because the adult cells are proving so spectacularly successful. There are countless labs in this country with numerous researchers and they need money to keep going. Private capital is going to the adult cells because they’re so much closer to commercialization (if not already there) and because the ethical issues spook investors. So the embryonic labs absolutely must feed from the government trough. Hence they and their very powerful allies see a need to downplay every advance with adult cells and grossly hype any possible advance with embryonics. It’s stunning that even though adult stem cells were being written about over three decades ago and healing people 20 years ago, there are people writing in major medical journals who swear up and down that they don’t even exist!
John Hawkins: Back in college, I did a report on your book, the “Myth of Heterosexual AIDS.” At the time, you and your book were under relentless attack for claiming that there wasn’t going to be an explosion in the number of cases of heterosexual AIDS in the US. Now more than a decade later, how do you think your book stood the test of time? Do you feel vindicated?
Michael Fumento: Absolutely. I don’t think there’s a sentence in that book that wasn’t correct. And what’s most important about this is that virtually everything in it was “off the shelf,” so to speak. It wasn’t hidden data; it was in fact much more readily available to the doomsaying politicians, activists, and reporters than it was to me. They either knew or should have known everything I did. That’s still true of much of my reporting. Some of it is interviewing but much of the material is just sitting there it is just sitting there waiting for somebody at the New York Times or Washington Post to grab it; but they won’t. They don’t think the public has a right to know.
John Hawkins: Do you think it was a mistake for us to ban DDT and can you give us an estimate on how many lives may have been lost because DDT was not available?
Michael Fumento: Nobody can provide a realistic estimate, but many millions of people have needlessly died. What’s ironic about DDT is that the very reason it was banned in the U.S. is what makes it such a wonderful insecticide in lesser-developed nations. That is, it has a very wide spectrum of killing and it persists in the soil and thus kills year after year. That’s exactly what you need in poorer countries because it’s so efficient. Here those traits were problematic because it meant you were killing lots of friendly insects – albeit no humans. There’s no evidence of human harm from DDT. But at least here we can afford to forego DDT for very specific insecticides that quickly dissipate. To force the values of our fabulously wealthy nation on the peoples of the underdeveloped world by trying to ban DDT there is a form of mass murder.
John Hawkins: The EU has banned imports of genetically modified foods that are commonly eaten in America. Because of this, many African nations, even those with starving populations, will not take bio-engineered foods because they fear cross-pollination with local crops. Do you think there is any scientific basis for this policy or is it simply a sly form of European protectionism that will indirectly result in millions of Africans starving to death?
Michael Fumento: None of it is science. Part of it is definitely protectionism. We heavily subsidize our farmers, but Europeans on the whole subsidize theirs far more. Half the EU budget goes to farmers. When you subsidize people, you take away their incentive to improve their techniques to compete. The result is that every year American farmers become more efficient while many of their European counterparts stand still. Allowing in bio-engineered foods would either force European farmers to compete or force subsidies up. So they’re kept out.
Cross-pollination with local crops has gone on since the beginning of agriculture over 5,000 years ago. You improve a crop and at some point that crop’s improvement spreads to weeds or other crops. Biotech companies will eventually eliminate this problem by putting the new genes in places where they can’t spread to other plants or by making plants sterile. In the meantime, this is just an excuse for biotech bashers.
John Hawkins: In recent years, we’ve heard a lot of talk about the dangers of, “Frankenfish.” Can you explain what “frankenfish” really are and the dangers, if any, that they present.
Michael Fumento: These are simply fish that grow to full size more quickly than related fish because of gene or gene that’s been spliced into them. Neither variety with which I’m familiar grows larger than the non-transgenic variety; they’ll never be The Fish that Ate New York. They simply get to market size more quickly, saving money for the fish farms and consumers. Ultimately I think they can also go far in solving the protein deficiency inherent in the diets of underdeveloped nations.
John Hawkins: You’ve got a book on biotechnology coming up. Can you tell us a little bit about it? In particular, can you talk about how biotechnology can be used to extend the human lifespan?
Michael Fumento: It’s due out later this year from Encounter Books, and the three main areas I cover are medicine, agriculture, and the environment. I think it’s terribly exciting because that’s why I chose the topic itself, along with the individual topics therein. I got so sick and tired of writing about black magic and white magic (like scam diet books that promise you can lose 30 pounds in four days). I wanted to write a book about real miracles, and nothing fits the bill like biotech. It will absolutely change every facet of our lives. Longevity is one of them. Currently the natural lifespan is said to be around 120, but there are many different methods being worked on that will blow this limit away. We’re talking adding an extra sixty years or more, plus literally reversing aging in certain parts of the body such as the brain, skin, and muscle. Already a biotech drug the FDA approved last year reverses the aging of old people’s bones. Yet many of these therapies affect not just parts of the body but the whole thing. And it may require nothing more than using a drug like tetracycline to “shut down” or “turn on” a single gene. There are so many such therapies having spectacular successes in rodent trials that it’s almost inconceivable that some won’t work on humans. Most spectacular is the timeline. Several of these could be in human trials (albeit only for humans suffering from potentially fatal diseases) in just a couple of years. They could be FDA-approved in not much more than five years. So it’s not just our grandchildren that are going to live to be 180; many people reading interview will. Unfortunately, much of this extra time will probably be spent watching “Reality TV,” but biotech can’t solve everything.
John Hawkins: I read an article you wrote recently where you seemed to take a very negative view of the Atkins Diet. However, I personally know several people who have great success on the Atkins diet and judging by what I hear, that doesn’t seem unusual. So do you believe the Atkins diet is ineffective and if so, why do you think so?
Michael Fumento: I go into all this in great detail in the March issue of Reason, which is an expose of what I call “the Atkins infomercial” that was the cover piece of the July 7, 2002 issue of the New York Times magazine. By way of exposing Gary Taubes’s piece as a gross violation of journalistic ethics (for which he was rewarded with a $700,000 book deal) it shows the evidence that Taubes deliberately omitted. Part of this is that despite Taubes’s claim that until recently nobody bothered to even test the Atkins thesis, there have been literally over 200 published, peer-reviewed studies that have done just that. These are studies in which the intake of the macronutrients of fat, protein, and carbohydrate were all compared to see if eating more or less of one or the other could with weight loss and weight-loss maintenance. Summaries of these studies can be looked up on something called PubMed, but it’s easier just to look studies that review these investigations. And those reviews consistently show that on the whole, high-carbohydrate diets are better for weight loss. Some of these studies controlled intake; others did not. Some simply looked at what people reported to have been eating over a several-year period; others were randomized controlled studies. But the conclusion was the same. High-fat intake translates into high-fat bodies.
Another very important dataset that Taubes ignored was a registry of people who have lost and kept off a large amount of weight. Out of the over 3,000 people in the registry, virtually none are on Atkins or any other high-fat diet. This is notwithstanding that the Atkins website has encouraged Atkins dieters to join. But they don’t, for the apparent reason that there simply aren’t very many Atkins success stories even though over 12 million people have bought Atkins diet books and the pass-around rate might add another 12 million. You constantly hear anecdotal evidence from Atkins dieters, but for some odd reason they don’t want to submit to having their weight actually checked. That’s quite suspicious.
Since we know high-fat diets rarely work, it stands to reason that the theories for why they would work have no scientific support. Such is the case. For example, Taubes and Atkins claim there’s evidence that fat is more satiating. Yet it’s incredible how many published human and rodent studies have been done on exactly this subject, using both oral feeding and insertions of fat directly into the stomach, and they show this simply isn’t true. Fat is no more or less satiating than carbohydrates. There’s limited evidence that protein may be slightly more satiating, therefore, some Atkins supporters have claimed his diet is high-protein. Wrong again. Diets provided in Atkins books have been analyzed and found to be not high protein at all, merely high fat.
All that said, I don’t want to contribute to the myth that any type of macronutrient – fat, carbohydrates, or protein – is either a cause of or a cure for obesity. America is growing fatter by the day because we’re eating too much of everything, and we’re not getting nearly enough daily exercise. Atkins is no worse, though no better, than the diet gurus like Dean Ornish or (if you remember her) Susan Powter, who reverse the Atkins formula and say that only fat can make you fat.
John Hawkins: I’ve seen very few scientific studies that examine the effects of various diet supplements. Why is that?
Michael Fumento: It’s because the FDA doesn’t require them and people don’t care that miracle-promising substances have no FDA support and no clinical support. You tell them that zinc is going to cure their cold or that Vitamin E is going to improve their sex drive and the zinc and Vitamin E fly off the counter. We live in an extremely superstitious time.
John Hawkins: What’s your opinion of the fast food lawsuits that are now hitting our court system?
Michael Fumento: There was a time when I would have said that the tobacco lawsuits alleging that people had no knowledge that tobacco was harmful would never succeed. Never mind that warnings against tobacco go back to King James I in 1604 and that the term “coffin nail” as a nickname for cigarette dates back to 1896. So I’m not about to assert that these fast food lawsuits won’t win just because they’re utterly asinine and are the ultimate example of a self-indulgent nation that thinks it has a right to three Big Macs and two Supersized Fries a day and then sue over the consequences.
John Hawkins: Passive smoke – in your opinion, does it present any real threat?
Michael Fumento: The studies show – despite what we’re told they show – that there’s no increased risk of disease from passive smoking. But then again, the risk may be so small as to be immeasurable. It’s like trying to measure the width of a hair with standard 12-inch ruler. That said, we can say that if there is a risk it must be quite small and limited to immediate family members. That eliminates the basis for every passive smoking regulation in the country.
John Hawkins: Is there any junk science that you believe conservatives in particular tend to go in for?
Michael Fumento: I’ve written recently about the conservative aversion to thediagnosis of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder and I’ve also found myself defending anti-depressants. Conservatives who haven’t been exposed to these diseases in some way tend to have a tremendous prejudice against drugs that treat them because they think the drugs are overriding human nature. Actually, that’s exactly what they are doing but on a personal level and in a good way. It’s natural for a broken bone to heal wrong; it’s unnatural to set it and pin it in place until it heals. This prejudice is all quite strange really, because conservatives are by their nature anti-Freudian. They knew way back when that this guy was essentially a dirty old man who thought everything was rooted in one’s feelings towards one’s mother. The medicines have replaced Freud and yet still conservatives resist the medicines. But I think as we refine our ability to show mental disease with MRIs and other imaging devices that more and more conservatives will realize that mental illness is as much a disease as cancer or congestive heart failure.
John Hawkins: Do you think the mainstream media and the public has gotten more sophisticated about spotting junk science?
Michael Fumento: Yes, they’re better at spotting it. But it’s just too exciting to pass up. So now they’ll take some ridiculous Erin Brockovich-like scam, one that may literally involve her, and they’ll quote health authorities as saying there’s absolutely no support for it. But the question is: Why are they reporting the story in the first place when there’s so much important news that they won’t touch? In a sane world, Brockovich would be working for minimum wage at the local diner, not pulling in millions from phony lawsuits, speeches, and brain-dead TV shows.
John Hawkins: I understand that you’ve just become a columnist for Scripps-Howard. What does that entail?
Michael Fumento: It’s a weekly column sent out to over 400 newspapers that will cover health and science issues. A lot of it will concern so-called “junk science” but my wider goal is to bring important information to readers that for political reasons or otherwise they’re just not getting. Unfortunately, most of the mainstream media takes it cues on all subjects from just a few of the big boys like the New York Times. Further, they’re naturally very dependent on wires like AP and Reuter’s. The result is that very few people are choosing what almost all of us will read. Rather than do what’s called a “thumb-suck” column, in which I pontificate on what others have already written, I am doing a reporting column in which I’m actually introducing new material into the stream of information. What a “thumb-suck” columnist wants to hear from readers is: “I never thought of it that way before.” I want to hear that, but I also want to hear: “Why haven’t I heard about this before?”
John Hawkins: Are there any web pages you’d like to recommend to our readers?
Michael Fumento: Well, I’m particularly fond of this one calledwww.fumento.com! Other than that, I check Junkscience.com every day plus there’s a great news site called http://newshub.tucows.com/science/. It contains a mass of truly exciting science material that often doesn’t make the mainstream media and you can scan the headlines in seconds to see if there’s anything that interests you. Another news site, Google News, also also provides access to a massive amount of information that can quickly be filtered. One of its best aspects is that while it tends to highlight items from “the usual suspects” as it were, it will then list perhaps hundreds of other sources for a story on essentially the same subject. So you’re not a slave to the mainstream media. I know everybody seems to have their favorite blogger sites, but fact is you’re still allowing a single person to filter and analyze your news for you.
John Hawkins: Is there anything else you’d like to say or promote before we finish up?
Michael Fumento: I’ve got to give my column a better plug. It’s very hard for a new columnist to build up a coterie of newspapers because papers are loathe to make room by cutting old columnists even if they’re writing has gotten to a point where senility is clearly evident. But if your readers have a paper that carries Scripps-Howard, it would be very nice if they could email the op-ed or commentary page editor and ask them to run my column it could be very helpful. But before they do that, they’ll want to know what the columns look like and they can read them as I post them weekly on my website.
John Hawkins: Thank you for your time.