Tuesday, November 08, 2011

CNN's Erin Burnett Falls for Erin Brockovich and the Tooth Fairy

Last night on CNN, Erin Burnett had Erin Brockovich on as a guest. Yes, that Erin Brockovich. It was a pretty typical segment, with Burnett chatting up Brockovich about her new book, "Hot Water," a thriller she co-authored with CJ Lyons. In the course of the interview, which you can watch by clicking here, Brockovich started throwing out all sorts of accusation concerning illnesses being caused by nuclear facilities including power plants.

What really caught my attention was when Brockovich mentioned the "Tooth Fairy Project," that inexhaustable fountain of junk science fronted by Joseph Mangano. Said Brockovich: "There was a facsinating study that was done called the 'Tooth Fairy,' where they were actually studying baby teeth. And they were finding 33% increase in disease just in and around these nuclear facilities."

Yes, we've seen studies like that before -- and we've managed to debunk them. What has me shaking my head is why journalists like Burnett refuse to do the work of delving into what real scientists have to say about the Tooth Fairy Project?

Eight state departments of health have investigated Mangano's claims, and all eight states (Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Michigan) refused to validate them. Here's what the New Jersey Commission on Radiation Protection had to say about Mangano's research:
The Commission is of the opinion that "Radioactive Strontium-90 in Baby Teeth of New Jersey Children and the Link with Cancer: A Special Report," is a flawed report, with substantial errors in methodology and invalid statistics. As a result, any information gathered through this project would not stand up to the scrutiny of the scientific community. There is also no evidence to support the allegation that the State of New Jersey has a problem with the release of Sr-90 into the environment from nuclear generating plants: more than 30 years of environmental monitoring data refute this.
And here's what Scientific American had to say about one of Mangano's more recent papers concerning radiation and Fukushima:
[A] check reveals that the authors’ statistical claims are critically flawed—if not deliberate mistruths.



Only by explicitly excluding data from January and February were Sherman and Mangano able to froth up their specious statistical scaremongering.

This is not to say that the radiation from Fukushima is not dangerous (it is), nor that we shouldn’t closely monitor its potential to spread (we should). But picking only the data that suits your analysis isn’t science—it’s politics. Beware those who would confuse the latter with the former.

We've taken on Mangano repeatedly over the years, and made sure to share that information with any journalist who was inquisitive enough to ask about it. So while we're not surprised that Brockovich -- who makes a living trolling for plaintiffs no matter what the science might say -- might try to leverage Mangano's nonsense, Burnett doesn't have the same sort of excuse.

The Tooth Fairy Project has been debunked by serious scientists all over the country, yet journalists -- and in Burnett's case it's clear we ought to use that term loosely these days -- fail to ask any tough questions about the quality of its science. Why no tough questions? Isn't that what she and her producers are paid to do? Or are they just in the business of helping Brockovich sell books?

UPDATE: We just got a tip that Brockovich will be on MSNBC at 4:00 p.m. EST. We'll be watching.

3 comments:

John said...

About 1:36, does she say the "...Perry Nuclear Facility as I've said in Semi Valley California..."

Did I hear that right?

Brian Mays said...

Ohio ... Simi Valley ... eh ... close enough. For a blonde, that's pretty good. At least she got the right continent. ;-)

The quality of CNN has been steadily deteriorating for a long time. Thus, I'm not surprised that they put an air-head like Brockovich on one of their programs.

What surprised me is the little skull-and-crossbones pendant around her neck. What's up with that?!

jimwg said...

Ever slam them hard on these malacious seeds of doubt and misinformation. I regret there's no nuclear energy Cronkite or Carl Saagn out there to refute these uncontested accusations. Your agenda is clear, CNN.

James Greenidge