Just Another 'Junk Science' Joe

Al Gore's penchant for junk science is no secret. From Love Canal to global warming, Gore often exploits health and environmental scares for political gain.

Those hoping Joe Lieberman might temper Gore's proclivity for "political science" and boost his integrity will likely be disappointed. Lieberman already is showing facts don't matter as much as fear.

"Texas is not a healthy state," proclaimed Lieberman in an interview with The Des Moines Register after the Democratic convention. Lieberman charged Gov. George W. Bush nuzzled up to polluters at the expense of Texas residents' health.

The attacks on Bush's environmental record started last October when The Washington Post reported, "[T]here is statistical evidence that the air in Texas cities is as foul — and perhaps more so — than when Bush took power in 1995 ... Last week the state's environmental agency ... claimed an 11 percent reduction in industrial emissions from 1994 to 1997. But environmentalists strenuously dispute the number, saying Environmental Protection Agency statistics show a 10 percent jump."

But a look at the EPA's "National Air Quality Emissions Trends Report, 1997," the most current data available at the time of the Post report, backed the Texas agency's claim. That report indicates an overall downward trend in air pollution in Texas metropolitan areas since Bush took office. While Bush may or may not have anything to do with the downward trend, there certainly is no upward trend during his term. Overall improvement in air quality continues in Texas as evidenced by the "National Air Quality Emissions Trends Report, 1998."

The Gore-Lieberman campaign attacked Bush by claiming, "Houston passed Los Angeles for the dubious distinction of America's smoggiest city." But while Houston's ground level ozone problem hasn't improved during Bush's term, it hasn't gotten worse either, according to EPA data. Further, Houston has reduced ambient air levels of carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen dioxide, particulate matter and sulfur dioxide.

The comparison with Los Angeles is also faulty. California air quality regulators credited the El Niño phenomenon with producing winds that literally blew Los Angeles' smog away. Since El Niño ended, smoggy conditions have returned to Los Angeles.

Worse, though, is Lieberman's characterization of Texas as unhealthy. Statistics indicate Texas residents are "healthier," on average, than residents of Gore's home state of Tennessee. And Texas residents aren't necessarily less healthy, on average, than residents of Lieberman's home state of Connecticut.

According to the report "Making the Grade on Women's Health" published in August by the National Women's Law Center, life expectancy for white women in Texas is 79.42 years. This compares favorably with 79.10 years for Tennessee, and 78.18 years for the U.S. overall. Life expectancy for white women is almost a full year greater in Connecticut than Texas, but this is likely due to the better socio-economic conditions in Connecticut.

Median earnings for the 1.7 million Connecticut women are 30 percent higher than for the 9.8 million Texas women. Socio-economically disadvantaged groups are more likely to engage in health-damaging behaviors (such as smoking and drinking), experience poorer psycho-social health (more stress), make less use of the health care system for preventive purposes and generally have a greater adverse risk factor profile.

The National Women's Law Center rated Connecticut's environmental policy for safeguarding health better than Texas'. But at least Texas had such a policy. Tennessee was reported to have no environmental policy related to safeguarding health.

There can be little question that Lieberman's disparagement of Texas' health and environment is way off base. Is this a fluke? Perhaps some overzealous campaigning? Not likely. Here are a few examples:

Global Warming. "This threat is not an abstraction or the object of a science fiction writer's overactive imagination. It is, unfortunately, all too real," says Lieberman, who supports "back door" efforts to implement the Kyoto global warming treaty — i.e., avoiding ratification by the Senate.

Pesticides. Lieberman co-sponsored legislation to ban the sale and use of the apple growth regulator Alar — the target of the infamous junk science-fueled scare in 1989 led by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Lieberman cosponsored bills designed to terrorize parents, students and neighborhoods by mandating warnings before schools and lawn care companies use pesticides, — even though there is no evidence that legal use of pesticides has harmed anyone, ever. Lieberman said, "The lawncare chemical problem is a ticking public health time bomb, and the reality is that we don't know whether or when it's going to explode."

Lieberman called the EPA's pesticide registration process — which requires a pesticide to pass a battery of more than 120 tests before being approved for use — "a sham." Without evidence of wrongdoing, he disparaged scientists affiliated with pesticide companies who serve on the EPA's Scientific Advisory Panel, a body of experts advising the agency on safety aspects of pesticides.

Air Quality. Lieberman supported the EPA's effort to implement more stringent air quality regulations — estimated to cost as much as $100 billion annually — claiming the rules would prevent "tens of thousands of hospital visits and premature deaths." But the regulations, eventually overturned by an appellate court and now before the Supreme Court, were based on two suspect statistical analyses for which the EPA refused a congressional request to make available the underlying raw data for review by independent scientists. See The EPA's Secret Science.

Ozone Depletion. In the congressional Democrats' address to outgoing President Ronald Reagan, Lieberman said: "Holes in the ozone layer... will cause skin cancer." At a 1992 Senate hearing about whether consumers were provided with enough information on the efficacy of sunglasses and sunscreens, Lieberman said, "At the heart of the problem is the fact that less ozone in the atmosphere means more ultraviolet rays from the sun [are] reaching the Earth's surface and hitting our skin and our eyes. It is those rays that can damage our health."

Not only is there still no evidence that so-called ozone depletion has caused any "extra" skin cancers, it's not even clear that significantly more ultraviolet-B (UV-B) radiation — the type of radiation linked with skin cancer risk — is reaching the Earth's surface.

Police Radar Guns. Lieberman presided over an August 1992 Senate hearing about whether police radar guns caused cancer. Lieberman justified the hearing by citing a law enacted in June 1992 banning handheld radar guns in his home state of Connecticut. In January 1993, a jury cleared a radar gun manufacturer of responsibility for a policeman's terminal non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Subsequent research has not linked radar guns with increased cancer risk.

Toxic Carpets. Lieberman held a Senate hearing in October 1992 to hear the results of new research on carpet toxicity. The hearing included a video of a mouse in convulsions and dead mice on their backs with their feet in the air allegedly caused by toxic fumes from carpet samples taken from the homes of supposed victims of multiple chemical sensitivity. "The experiments ... were improperly controlled, statistically meaningless and lacking in measurements of particulates or volatile organic compounds, standard procedures for indoor air studies," according to the American Council on Science and Health.

Conventional wisdom is that Gore picked Lieberman for his integrity — a trait supposedly demonstrated by Lieberman being the first congressional Democrat to publicly denounce President Clinton's romp with Monica Lewinsky. Perhaps that isn't such a good test of integrity after all?

— Steven Milloy is a biostatistician, lawyer, adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute and publisher of Junkscience.com.