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... Are manmade chemicals threatening our fertility, intelligence, and survival? Is this sheep-rancher-turned-zoologist a modern-day Cassandra or just another Chicken Little?
Tick... tick... tick...
Mike Walrus: Tonight, we're bringing you a special 60 MINUTS. With us, we have Dr. Theo Ree, author of the latest doomsday book Our Swollen Future.
At first glance, Our Swollen Future is about a newly theorized threat to human health posed by manmade chemicals. Chemicals commonly found in plastics, pesticides and other industrial and consumer products. Chemicals that may also be found everyday in your food, your water, and the air that you breathe.
Unlike past warnings, Our Swollen Future is not about how manmade chemicals are causing cancer. Instead, Dr. Theo Ree wants us to believe that these chemicals--these "endocrine disputers" or "environmental estrogens"--are disrupting our normal hormonal processes so that our fertility, our intelligence, and even our very survival are being put at risk.
That's at first glance. But as the cliche goes, never judge a book by its cover.
Some say the real story is how Dr. Theo Ree longs to be hailed as the new Rachel Carson, author of the infamous 1960s doomsday book Silent Spring and the queen bee of ecomania.
Others say that Dr. Theo Ree is a pawn of radical environmental groups who see this new scare as a means to advance their own political agendas. Leftist groups who see industry and capitalism as the bane of society. Paranoid groups that, like the Unabomber, see technology as inherently evil.
And last, but not least, some say that Dr. Theo Ree is simply laughing all the way to the bank at the expense of the public. A public, she is banking on, that will believe almost anything.
Dr. Theo Ree, let me first congratulate you on the success of your book. I'm simply awed by your style. That grandmotherly camouflage is pure genius. Sort of like Ma Barker dressed up as Mother Theresa.
Dr. Theo Ree: Or you dressed up as a journalist.
Mike Walrus: Exactly! Now, let's start with the book title. What exactly does it mean?
Dr. Theo Ree: Two things. First, it refers to what is happening to my ego. All this talk about little old me being the next Rachel Carson is heady stuff.
Second, it's a not-so-veiled reference to what is happening to my bank account... as well as the bank accounts of environmental advocacy groups smart enough to jump on the Our Swollen Future bandwagon.
The research budgets of federal agencies like the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will also skyrocket. All resulting from the Congress', public's, and media's blissful gullibility.
Mike Walrus: You know, Dr. Theo Ree, I'm not all that gullible. I knew that Edit Broadley was way off base when he did that crazy story on the pesticide Alar. But would he listen to me? Nooooo...
Morley Suffer: I see that Vice President Al Bore wrote the foreword to Our Swollen Future. Can we expect his future to "swell" also?
Dr. Theo Ree: Absolutely. Our Swollen Future positions him politically as Captain Planet,...you know . . . like from the cartoon,..."he's our hero... gonna take pollution down to zero!" That will come in handy for the presidential election in 2000.
Edit Broadley: Dr. Theo Ree, wouldn't it have been more credible to have a world-class scientist write the foreword? Say maybe a Nobel prize winner?
Dr. Theo Ree: Sure... but all the scientists who read my book died laughing. And anyway, the book wasn't written for scientists.
The book is written for the uninformed public who scare easily and who can't critically evaluate my message or any of the supporting information. That's the part I like.
You see...like the Vice President, I'm not really a scientist either. I'm not sure that being a scientist is even that important.
Look, industry has plenty of scientists and it's been getting its rear-end handed to it for years by skillful environmental advocacy groups and clever bureaucrats who don't know science from taxidermy.
Morley Suffer: Dr. Theo Ree, I'm quite impressed that you were able to transform yourself from a sheep farmer into a "scientist" and acclaimed author.
Dr. Theo Ree: Thanks Morley... I'd been an environmental activist for a long time. But I got tired of being known as a "little old lady tree hugger in tennis shoes."
So, at fifty-one years of age, I went back to graduate school. After seven long years, I finally got my Ph.D. in zoology.
Mike Walrus: Zoology? Isn't that the study of animal biology? But Our Swollen Future is about people!
Dr. Theo Ree: But people ARE animals. Didn't you ever see the movie Animal House? There was Otter and Pinto and...
Mike Walrus: I assume that since you earned your Ph.D. you've been conducting scientific research. Can you tell us about that?
Dr. Theo Ree: Well, I've never really conducted any scientific research. I've never published any peer-reviewed articles in the scientific literature. Nor do I intend to.
Mike Walrus: Why not?
Dr. Theo Ree: Mike, all that science stuff is for LOSERS. Most scientists spend their lives toiling in some sweat shop of a lab, living from grant to grant, and never getting half the credit they deserve for being so smart. It's dull and it's dead-end.
In contrast, Our Swollen Future is morphing me into Rachel Carson and a prominent, international celebrity--practically overnight!
Ironically, my book will probably drive much scientific research for years to come. Federal agencies like the EPA are already planning expensive research programs on endocrine disrupters.
And as a further example of my influence, Congress has already enacted my book into law!
Mike Walrus: What?!
Dr. Theo Ree: Yep. The Food Quality Protection Act of 1996 requires that the EPA test for pesticides that may be considered endocrine disrupters. That was one of my key recommendations.
Mike Walrus: Who would have expected such bounty from a Republican-controlled Congress? How did that happen?
Dr. Theo Ree: By the summer of 1995, thanks to weak leadership and poor strategy, the Republican Congress badly lost the public relations war in its effort to force U.S. environmental policy to be based on real science.
My enviro buddies were able to convince the media and public that basing environmental policy on science, and balancing the costs and benefits of regulations, amounted to a rollback in public health protection.
Total mularky... but totally effective.
I even heard my friends saying that the Nazis used cost-benefit analysis.
Anyway, ever since regulatory reform went down the toilet, Congress has been running scared on ALL environmental issues.
I can't wait for the next Congress in January. They're so scared of the politics of the environment that they'd probably vote to replace George Washington with me on the dollar bill.
Lesley Stalled: Can you tell us a little about your co-author, Diane Dumbasanoxski? Didn't she do most of the actual writing for your book?
Dr. Theo Ree: Yes. Diane's a great science writer. She was a newspaper reporter for the Boston Glib and a recipient of the prestigious Knight Fellowship in Science Distortion at Massachusetts Institution for the Technically Incompetent.
She used to write a column called How and Why (Did I Get This Job)? Her columns addressed burning scientific issues like what happens to birds during hurricanes, what happens to helium balloons let go in the sky, and why do mocking birds dive bomb pedestrians.
I must confess, however, that I almost decided to use someone else as the writer.
Lesley Stalled: Why?
Dr. Theo Ree: Well in 1993, Diane wrote a column on why declining birth rates were good for the planet. Not only did Diane write that fertility rates have declined because of contraceptive use, but she wrote that the birth rate is still twice what is needed for a stable world population and that the soaring world population is increasing stress on the planet.
All this is completely contradictory to Our Swollen Future. To make the Our Swollen Future team and to have a shot at the big time, Dumbasanoxski had to recant her heretical beliefs and accept that manmade chemicals in the environment are causing declining birth rates and that declining birth rates are bad.
Lesley Stalled: That sounds a little like the Inquisition. You know how Galileo and other scientists were excommunicated and exiled in the Middle Ages for having scientifically correct, but politically incorrect, beliefs.
Wasn't Galileo punished for saying that the earth is not the center of the universe?
Dr. Theo Ree: I think he got off light! The religion of environmentalism is based on the concept that nature is the center of the universe. Nature is good, people are bad, and science is a tool of the devil.
We long for the pollution-free days before the industrial revolution.
Lesley Stalled: Isn't that when life expectancy was only about 35 years of age?
Dr. Theo Ree: Exactly my point. Nature good, people bad.
Mike Walrus: Let's go back to the book. What about the third author, John Peterson Liars? What was his role?
Dr. Theo Ree: His role was critical, perhaps more so than mine. He rounded up the cash that allowed Diane and me to work on the book. You know, you can find a bad scientist and a good writer almost anywhere. But people that can raise money are few and far between.
Mike Walrus: Oh...well, while we're on the subject, where exactly did funding for Our Swollen Future come from?
Dr. Theo Ree: From a number of leftist advocacy groups, including the Pew Scholars Pogrom, the C. U. Rott Foundation, and the Pew Charlatan Trusts to name a few.
Mike Walrus: Can you tell me something about these groups?
Dr. Theo Ree: They tend to fund organizations and individuals who, like me, take positions on environmental and public health issues that basically have nothing to do with science.
Mike Walrus: I was wondering about that. You know in the book you state that Liars had a background in science but extensive experience in national and international environmental policy. Wouldn't it have been more helpful for him to have extensive experience in science and maybe a background in that other stuff?
Dr. Theo Ree: Mike... what did I say earlier about the need for science in this project?
Mike Walrus: Oh yeah.
Lesley Stalled: Dr. Theo Ree, I really liked how you described the "omens" at the outset of your story. It was just like a classic "whodunit" novel and you took the reader right to the scene of the crime. Great technique!
Dr. Theo Ree: Thanks. I sort of felt like Jessica Fletcher, Nancy Drew, and Clifford Irving all rolled into one.
Morley Suffer: Clifford Irving? Wasn't he the guy who faked the Howard Hughes biography in the 1970s? He was a total fraud!
Dr. Theo Ree: Right on!
Edit Broadley: Dr. Theo Ree, in traditional whodunits, the reader has to wait until the end to find out who did it. You identify the criminals first and then find crimes to link them with. Isn't that so?
Dr. Theo Ree: I'm surprised at you, Edit. After being on 60 MINUTS all these years, you should know that "innocent until proven guilty" only applies to human criminals, not chemical criminals. Remember Alar?
Edit Broadley: Sorry. My mistake. Hey, how come no one will let me live that down?
Lesley Stalled: Dr. Theo Ree, do you really think the same things that happened in the "omens" are happening to people.
Dr. Theo Ree: Well, just between us girls Lesley, I really don't know one thing from another. But you see, all I have to do is allege that all these bad things are happening, and that they're happening because of manmade chemicals. It's as good as proven then.
Besides if I admitted that Our Swollen Future is as tall a tale as Jack and the Beanstalk, book sales would go right into the toilet.
Edit Broadley: Let me ask you a few more specific questions about the "omens" you described.
First, how credible is a banker's estimate that 80 percent of Florida's bald eagles were sterile in the mid-1950s? Do you also believe that bird watchers can predict interest rates?
Second, you describe an "omen" involving otter hunting and then inexplicably link the decline in the otter population to a pesticide. How do you know that the population decline wasn't simply a case of overhunting? Did it ever occur to you that otters that have been hunted down and killed don't reproduce very well?
Third, you tell the story of how a captive mink population near Lake Michigan crashed in the mid-1960s. You attribute this crash to the mink diet which included PCB-contaminated fish.
Not only did you not biologically link the PCB contamination with the population crash or consider other possible explanations, but later in the book, you say that it is in fact normal for animal populations, particularly those in captivity, to peak and then crash.
Fourth, you say that...
Morley Suffer: Uh,...Edit...why don't you take a break and let someone else ask a question.
Edit Broadley: Sorry,... just trying to make up for that Alar thing...
Steve Krock: Dr. Theo Ree, I was really touched by the tragedies you described. I think you're doing wonderful work.
Dr. Theo Ree: Thank you, young man. You remind me of my grandson.
You know, I had to search through more than two thousand scientific papers and five hundred government documents just to find those nine "omens."
And then Dumbasanoxski had to present only enough facts so that the stories would hold together.
Edit Broadley: But,...
Morley Suffer: Edit, I believe it's Lesley's turn to throw a softball,...I mean ask a question.
Lesley Stalled: Speaking of omitting facts, I just love what you did with the "omen" about declining sperm levels.
It's certainly true that Dr. Niels Skakkebaek published an article in the British Medical Journal about declining sperm counts. But you cleverly omitted mentioning other studies published in the same journal in 1992 and 1995 that dispute Skakkebaek.
Dr. Theo Ree: Thank you! I wrote on a "need to know" basis. And my readers only "need to know" what I want them to know.
Edit Broadley: You know a real scientist could easily refute your wacky claims...
Dr. Theo Ree: True... but they're so inept at communicating to the public that their facts and science don't really pose a significant threat to me.
And in the case of scientists employed by large companies or industry trade associations, it doesn't help that their employers won't let them go after me.
Big business is so afraid of environmental advocacy groups that they avoid all confrontation, regardless of what's at stake.
Like the British before World War II, industry thinks that appeasement is the best strategy.
It's a formula of disaster for them; a formula of success for me!
Edit Broadley: Could I ask just one last question about your "omens" before we move on?
After all your "research," which as you say included thousands of scientific articles, the best you could do to make your case was to present one-sided versions of nine separate and distinct incidents that occurred over the past forty-five years?
Dr. Theo Ree: Young man, I'm not trying to make a case. I'm trying to tell a story. Remember?
And anyway, this is how the math works. Three people have turned nine events into a 306-page book that sells for $24.95 and is sure to earn me millions.
Edit Broadley: Hmmm... there's something else that I don't quite understand. Our Swollen Future is largely based on your theory that manmade chemicals accumulate up the food chain. The accumulation then supposedly impairs the reproductive capability of species at the top of the food chain. Isn't that correct?
Dr. Theo Ree: Sounds like my theory.
Edit Broadley: But then you say that the herring gull, as well as other top-of-the-food-chain species in the Great Lakes environment, are having population explosions!
How can you have a population explosion and reproductive problems at the same time? Can you explain that? Haven't you contradicted yourself? Isn't your theory a house of cards? How can you...
Dr. Theo Ree: Edit, please! Read the very next sentence of that passage. What does it say? It says that a population explosion is yet another sign of a reproductive problem. You see, I've got all my bases covered.
Edit Broadley: But your statement is completely counterintuitive. You offer no supporting rationale for it at all. It's just a bald-faced...
Dr. Theo Ree: You've got me there. But like I said before, most of my readers simply can't critically evaluate this kind of material. So I can get away with murder and blame it on chemicals.
Lesley Stalled: Dr. Theo Ree, can you briefly describe how you came to study endocrine disrupters?
Dr. Theo Ree: At the Conservation of Truth Foundation, I was working on a project to review and report on the ecological state of the Great Lakes. As I reviewed the scientific literature, even I was having a hard time denying that tremendous improvements in the Great Lakes had been achieved since the 1960s.
But then after spending two months reviewing scientific literature and having a couple of conversations with other biologists, I developed a strong gut feeling that the proclamations of recovery were premature.
Lesley Stalled: You mean two months of reading was all it took to figure out the ecological state of Great Lakes? Wow... you must be really smart!
And to think that you spent seven years getting your Ph.D. That's quite a lesson for budding scientists. Would you then say that staying in school was a waste of time?
Dr. Theo Ree: Clearly in my case it was. After all, I could read before I went to graduate school and all that science stuff that they try to teach you just gets in the way of effective fearmongering.
Lesley Stalled: Please go on...
Dr. Theo Ree: As I was saying, I had convinced myself that the Great Lakes had not yet recovered. So next, I made the logical leap that human populations around the Great Lakes must be in danger as well.
I gathered all the public health information on populations around the Great Lakes that I could. Much to my dismay though, I found that the human populations surrounding the Great Lakes were not experiencing higher cancer rates.
Edit Broadley: You mean you were disappointed because you couldn't find a cancer problem?
Dr. Theo Ree: Of course! Researchers who don't find something frightening to report soon find themselves out of work.
Lucky for me, though, one day I had a meeting with two veteran researchers with the Canadian Wildlife Service. They had a theory that the pollution in the Great Lakes had affected the pre-natal development of female gulls to the point where it caused female gulls to nest together in sort of a lesbian relationship.
I knew I had something with the gay birds.
Edit Broadley: Excuse me,... near the end of Our Swollen Future you state that human sexual orientation is a complex phenomenon, just like most human behavior. You doubted that any single factor, nature, endocrine disruption, or nurture would prove to be its sole determinant.
So what you're saying is that, in humans, sexual orientation is complex, but in birds it is simply a matter of exposure to manmade chemicals. Sounds a little too politically correct, doesn't it?
Dr. Theo Ree: Edit... you just don't get it, do you? Anyway, the gay gulls got me thinking about hormones which led me to believe that pollution affected the endocrine system.
Since I didn't know anything about endocrinology, I bought a couple of textbooks and taught myself.
While learning just enough about endocrinology to be dangerous, I was able to come to the conclusion that the gay gulls' hormones must have been disrupted by something at some time.
And since I had already decided that manmade chemicals were bad, I thought they'd make the best villain.
Edit Broadley: Amazing. You say that YOU taught YOURself endocrinology. And based on what YOU taught YOURself and a couple of politically correct decision rules, you decided that manmade chemicals are disrupting our hormone functions.
Do you think if you had pursued your original angle--cancer--for another couple of months and maybe read a couple of biochemistry textbooks, that you could have cured cancer also?
Mike Walrus: Heh-heh...he's just kidding, Dr. Theo Ree. Don't pay any attention to him. Tell us how the study of the children whose mothers had regularly eaten Great Lakes fish supported your theory. That'll shut him up.
Dr. Theo Ree: Oh yeah, I almost forgot. In the course of scouring several thousand scientific articles, I came across ONE study that associated polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) with developmental problems in the children of mothers who had relatively high levels of PCBs in their bodies from eating Great Lakes fish.
Edit Broadley: Dr. Theo Ree, I have some questions about that study.
First, that study was conducted by two PSYCHOLOGISTS. While psychologists may be qualified to evaluate children from a psychological standpoint, don't you really need qualified epidemiologists and toxicologists to make judgments about cause-and-effect relationships between PCBs and human health?
Second, the subjects of that study were asked to recall how many fish meals and what kinds of fish they consumed during the six years preceding their pregnancies. Six years!!
These recollections formed the most important data in the study, yet they are likely to have been very inaccurate. I can't remember what I had to eat last week, let alone last year or six years ago.
Additionally, a meal of lake trout was assumed to contain five times the dose of toxic chemicals as did a meal of brook trout.
Dr. Ree, can you accurately recall how many meals of fish you've had during the past six years, and how many of them were lake trout as opposed to brook trout?
Dr. Theo Ree: I've got lots of fish stories to tell... You know, I told Dumbasanoxski that we shouldn't have put a reference section in the book. All I need is people checking my research and criticizing my spin on the science!
Mike Walrus: Our Swollen Future also relies heavily on the work of biologist Frederick vom Silly. You claim that vom Silly showed in a series of experiments that small shifts in hormones before birth can matter a great deal. How did he show that?
Dr. Theo Ree: When vom Silly was a young postdoctoral student, one of his jobs was breeding mice. In constantly working with and observing the mice, vom Silly noticed that some females were more aggressive than others.
Mike Walrus: Sounds pretty normal so far. Aren't some people just naturally more aggressive than others? Why wouldn't the same be true for mice?
Dr. Theo Ree: Well, vom Silly figured that since the mice had been inbred for generations and were virtual clones that they should all act the same.
Mike Walrus: How could he expect that? Even identical human twins don't necessarily act the same.
Edit Broadley: Sounds like this guy spent too much time with mice and not enough time with people.
Dr. Theo Ree: Vom Silly kept his mice six to a cage. He reported that in each cage of six mice, one female mouse was typically more aggressive than the others. Vom Silly was bent on coming up with an explanation for this "phenomenon."
Vom Silly observed that some female mouse pups are sandwiched in the womb between two male pups. Conveniently, he decided that one in every six female pups was so sandwiched. And voila! He had his theory.
Female pups sandwiched between male mouse pup are more aggressive.
Edit Broadley: Interesting theory, but did he have a biological reason for this?
Dr. Theo Ree: Of course. Vom Silly theorized that sandwiched female pups get bathed in the testosterone secreted from the testes of the male pups. The bath of testosterone makes the females more aggressive.
Edit Broadley: Uh, excuse me... I hate to rain on your parade but if I'm a male mouse pup in the womb and my testes are secreting testosterone, that testosterone stays in my body. It doesn't flow out of me, into the womb, and then into my sister.
If what vom Silly concluded was true, wouldn't the womb be just one big soup of hormones which, over time, would masculinize female pups and feminize male pups? To the point where mice would essentially be genderless and incapable of reproducing?
Didn't vom Silly spend time BREEDING mice? Didn't he notice that the BREEDING mice had no problems reproducing themselves!
How could you have relied on this research?
Dr. Theo Ree: Edit, I'd say you were more of a rat than a mouse.
Mike Walrus: Let's move along. In your book, Dr. Theo Ree, you cite two episodes in medical history, involving thalidomide and diethystilbesterol (DES), that you say leave no doubt that humans are vulnerable to hormone-disrupting synthetic chemicals.
Thalidomide and DES were used as medical treatments. They were drugs. Doesn't it seem logical that the taking of drugs is fundamentally different from being exposed to chemicals in the environment?
With a drug, a person is generally taking a very high dose in a chemical form that is designed to be readily absorbed and metabolized by the body. That is totally different from environmental exposures to chemicals at much lower doses in perhaps less biologically available forms.
Dr. Theo Ree: You're absolutely right, Mike. But thalidomide and DES are classic horror stories that are too useful to pass up. Images of thalidomide babies still send chills up people's spines.
The fact that thalidomide and DES were used as medical treatments is not the point.
The fact that thalidomide and DES were used at much higher doses in more readily absorbed forms as compared to exposures to chemicals in the environment is not the point.
Are you with me so far?
The fact that thalidomide and DES are manmade chemicals is the point.
The fact that these two manmade chemicals have caused tragedies is another point.
The fact that most readers of Our Swollen Future will completely miss the points you raised is even a further point.
Edit Broadley: Dr. Theo Ree, I've got to ask you about how you toy with words and facts in the book. The take-home message about DES is that DES made it clear that the human body could mistake a manmade chemical for a hormone.
Isn't this statement--to be polite--somewhat misleading?
DES is not just some manmade chemical. It's a manmade estrogen. It was designed to act like a hormone, and it did. The human body made no mistake.
Dr. Theo Ree: Edit, I'd like to take credit for all the wordsmithing in the book. But I've got to admit that was Dumbasanoxski's literary handiwork.
The fact is that we exploited the thalidomide and DES tragedies to promote an irrelevant theory, and it is working beautifully.
Morley Suffer: My favorite part of the book is about the plants and the natural estrogens that they make. First of all, I simply love how you made the plants animate.
The image of plants conspiring to make estrogens to act as oral contraceptives on predators so that the plants can defend themselves was truly imaginative.
Dr. Theo Ree: Why do think there's a contraceptive device called Norplant?
Morley Suffer: I was especially fascinated that, as part of this defensive strategy, plants "logically," as you put it, "target females rather than males because plants know that a predator's reproductive capability is limited by the number of fertile females." I never knew plants could think.
Dr. Theo Ree: That's Dumbasanoxski. What does she know? She's a hack reporter.
Edit Broadley: Dr. Theo Ree, part of your theory is that our fertility is being threatened because, as you claim, sperm counts are declining. But then you say that plants target females because they're the limiting fertility factor. Pardon me, but you seem to be talking out of both sides of your mouth.
Dr. Theo Ree: That's right Edit. A good advocate is firm on purpose but flexible in argument.
Lesley Stalled: I understand that there is some published scientific research that estimates that the level of plant estrogens in our diet is forty million times greater than the level of synthetic estrogens.
If this is true, and if it is true, as you claim, that plant and synthetic estrogens impact health, it would appear that the chances of synthetic estrogens having an impact would be vanishingly small, like roughly one in forty million.
Dr. Theo Ree: Yes, but natural plant estrogens are passed through our bodies in about one day while the synthetic estrogens can get lodged in our fat for long periods of time. So the threat from synthetic estrogens is constant and long term.
Lesley Stalled: But Dr. Theo Ree, even I can see that your logic doesn't hold up. Most of us eat every day. And if we consume natural plant estrogens every day, there's always a constant and ready supply of them in our bodies. Whereas the synthetic estrogens are tied up in fat.
Edit Broadley: Dr. Theo Ree, if you are correct, clearly there's a need to deal with this natural estrogen threat. Let me ask you this. What steps should we as a species take to defend ourselves against the plants?
Should the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulate plants as it would any pharmaceutical company that makes oral contraceptives?
And if so, what mechanism do you think plants would develop to defend themselves against the FDA?
Will plants try to sterilize FDA employees? Do you think plants could manufacture their own lawyers?
Dr. Theo Ree: Very funny Edit.
Mike Walrus: You also listed a number of common foods that contain natural estrogens, including parsley, sage, garlic, wheat, oats, rye, barley, rice, soybeans, potatoes, apples, cherries, plums, pomegranates, coffee, and bourbon.
Humans have been consuming these products for years with no detect-able adverse effects on health, fertility, intelligence, or survival.
Dr. Theo Ree: I disagree. Look at intelligence alone, Mike. Where do you think the terms "pea brain" and "potato head" came from?
Mike Walrus: I see your point. Hey! Has anybody seen my french fries?
Dr. Theo Ree: Also, these effects are happening gradually. Men are gradually being feminized and women are gradually becoming more masculine. One day you'll walk into your supermarket and you'll be able to see the changes.
Mike Walrus: Like what?
Dr. Theo Ree: Look for a number of new products to start appearing on your grocer's shelves, including Aunt Ben's Converted Rice, Uncle Jemima's Pancake and Waffle Mix, Benny Crocker Cake Mixes, and Columbian coffee with Juanita Valdez on the label.
Lesley Stalled: Dr. Theo Ree, is this all bad? Isn't it good that we are moving toward a genderless society?
Dr. Theo Ree: Yes, but we should accomplish it through brainwashing our young, not chemicals.
Steve Krock: I was fascinated by your story of the PCB molecule. Manufactured in the spring of 1947 in Anniston, Alabama and doomed to spend its life in an electrical transformer located somewhere in west Texas, this persistent molecule escaped from the transformer only to wind up in the rump of a polar bear in the North Pole after decades on the lam.
But, while it's a fascinating odyssey of one molecule's world travels, I'm not sure I understand your point.
First, you never identified any health or reproductive problems among polar bears, much less link any health or reproductive problems to PCBs. You insinuate that the reason the size of one year's litter of polar bear cubs was smaller than the previous year's is the PCBs.
But your insinuation is contradicted by polar bear researchers who say that the reason for the smaller litter is that the polar bear population is reaching its limit because of the available food supply.
Dr. Theo Ree: How can you believe polar bear researchers? They're insane! Imagine believing nuts who spend their time freezing at the North Pole waiting to chase down ferocious animals that could kill them with one swipe of the paw.
Edit Broadley: You also mention a village of 450 people on Broughton Island, west of Greenland. You say that "Canadian health studies have shown that the people on Broughton Island have the highest levels of PCBs found in any human population except those contaminated in industrial accidents."
Yet, you also state that provincial health officials have not found any health problems with the villagers. In fact, the health officials have recommended that the villagers continue eating the same diet that gave them the high levels of PCBs in the first place.
I guess my question is, why should anyone be worried about persistent manmade chemicals like PCBs when here's a population who, if your theories were even remotely true, should be infertile, imbecilic, and on the brink of extinction?
Dr. Theo Ree: You should be worried because, as I have already said, PCBs and the like are chemicals and chemicals are bad.
Steve Krock: You say that there is no place that is safe from PCBs. While it may be true that PCB contamination is ubiquitous, you don't support with facts your claim that there is a health problem.
Dr. Theo Ree: Steve, you're forgetting my formula:
Manmade chemicals + Innuendo about health effects = $uccess for me.
It's no wonder you're stuck on 60 MINUTS.
Lesley Stalled: Dr. Theo Ree, before reading your book, I didn't know that humans are "inefficient breeders who tend to produce barely the number of sperm required for successful fertilization."
I was always under the impression that human male ejaculate contained hundreds of millions of sperm. And based on what I remember from junior high school biology, it only takes one sperm to fertilize an egg.
How is it that hundreds of millions of sperm are barely enough for successful fertilization?
And how do you support this in the real world where, as even you put it, the human population is well on its way from five billion to ten billion?
Dr. Theo Ree: It's as plain as the nose on your face, Lesley. Look, male ejaculate contains hundreds of millions of sperm. But the world only has five billion people in it.
With all that sperm being produced by all those men, we should have a lot more people in the world. Don't you think?
Lesley Stalled: Oh yeah. Gee you're smart.
I was also intrigued by the story about the two scientists who discovered that a chemical, p-nonylphenol, leached from a plastic flask they were using and caused breast cancer cells to replicate. That sure convinced me that manmade chemicals could cause breast cancer!
Edit Broadley: Yeah, but the biological workings of real live humans are far more complex than those of several already abnormal cells in the controlled environment of a test tube. If nothing else, the chemicals that you claim leached from plastic are several thousand times less potent than natural estrogen.
Dr. Theo Ree: Edit, skeptics say that the hormone effects of synthetic chemicals are far weaker than those of natural hormones and that humans are not being exposed to enough to pose a hazard.
This assertion is not supported by the evidence. If you survey the available information and scientific literature, you would see that too much information is missing to provide even a rough picture of how much humans might be taking in or to allow for definitive conclusions.
Edit Broadley: Obviously, these "missing pieces" haven't stopped you.
Dr. Theo Ree: Of course not. First, none of what I said applies to me. I can jump to all the conclusions that I want. Remember Edit, all I have to do is make an allegation. I don't have to defend it.
Second, you're ignoring the precautionary principle developed by that great scientist, Dr. Par A. Noid. If we don't know absolutely for sure that something is totally safe under every conceivable condition, then it should be banned.
The unrealistic worst-case scenario is the only case to consider when there is the least doubt.
Edit Broadley: But isn't that a prescription for no change whatsoever, no experimentation, and no innovation?
Aren't you saying we should give up any hope of progress and live with whatever risks and dangers now exist?
If the precautionary principle had been adopted a thousand years ago, wouldn't we all still be living in grass huts, and dying of infections and diseases that can now be treated or cured?
Dr. Theo Ree: Now you're starting to get it, Edit! Remember, nature good, people bad.
Mike Walrus: The book chronicles several anecdotes that you claim show how manmade chemicals have harmed wildlife. They include: declines in populations of St. Lawrence River beluga whales, Florida panthers and turtles, English otters and Lake Michigan minks; small alligator penises in Florida; poor bald eagle reproduction, and several others.
Biologists estimate that there are thirteen to fourteen million species of wildlife. Even if these problems are as you've described--and even I have some doubts--you've still identified a problem affecting only a tiny part of the natural world.
And to document even this small number of cases, you've had to plunder the record of almost fifty years of wildlife observation.
You even acknowledge that animal populations often explode and then crash in the normal course of their existence. Frankly, I'm not sure that you've established a very convincing case.
Dr. Theo Ree: Well,... I may not have much of a case, but it's not like I'm not trying to convince a jury or a scientific peer review committee.
I'm trying to sell books and become famous. I want to be the next Rachel Carson. At best, all I need to do is win in the court of public opinion. And, frankly, that's not a very high hurdle to clear.
Mike Walrus: Dr. Theo Ree, I'm curious about something. You say that you want Our Swollen Future to be the next Silent Spring. You extol the virtues of Rachel Carson for alarming the world about the alleged cancer epidemic she linked to manmade chemicals.
But then you go on to say that, as a society, we've been wasting our time for the last thirty years looking at cancer--the very calamity that Rachel Carson alarmed us about.
Why do you hold Rachel Carson in such high esteem when you clearly repudiate the alarms she set off?
Dr. Theo Ree: You've got me all wrong Mike. I admire Rachel because she made a killing off Silent Spring, not because she was right or wrong about what she wrote. I want to emulate, and even surpass, her in fame and fortune.
Steve Krock: Let's talk about some of the human health issues you raise in Our Swollen Future. In general, I would say that you've found a way to blame almost every human health problem on manmade chemicals.
You say sperm counts are falling. But in fact many studies contradict this assertion, studies you've chosen to ignore.
Even if one were to accept the notion that sperm counts have fallen in recent years, there could be myriad reasons for this, including more frequent ejaculation, more drug use, more sexually transmitted diseases or more of any activity that raises scrotal temperature like, tight underwear, hot tub and sauna use, or exercise.
Dr. Theo Ree: Well, you may be right. But, while we're on the subject of underwear, let me ask you a question.
Briefs or boxers? You're awful cute!
Steve Krock: Dr. Theo Ree...
Dr. Theo Ree: O.k., we'll talk about it later. Back to the point you were trying to make.
Let's say I walk into a crowded theater and scream "Fire!" Who will the people in the theater hear? Me or the guy who's being trampled as he calmly explains there is no fire?
Steve Krock: Point well taken.
You say that prostate and breast cancer rates are rising, but the National Cancer Institute (NCI) attributes the reported increase in these cancer rates to better screening techniques, improved diagnosis, and the well-recognized fact that people are living longer while cancer is largely a disease of aging.
Dr. Theo Ree: I predict that they'll soon be changing their tune. Just wait until they realize the potential budgetary increases to be garnered by hopping on the endocrine disrupter bandwagon. NCI's biggest worry is going to be the looming threat of having funds reallocated to a new National Endocrine Disrupter Institute.
Mike Walrus: You try to link a reported increase in undescended testicles in England and Wales between 1962 and 1981 with manmade chemicals. But the researchers could never make this link.
Another study of hospital records maintained from the mid-1950s to 1992 reported no increase in the prevalence of this disorder in the U.S.
You've also linked endometriosis, lower IQ and SAT scores, learning problems, attention deficit disorder, and behavioral problems, to name a few, to manmade chemicals.
What you seem to be doing is implicating manmade chemicals as the cause of virtually all of our problems--but without anything even close to convincing evidence!
Dr. Theo Ree: Do you think that maybe the reason I can get away with this is because maybe some of what I'm saying is really true, at least with respect to intelligence?
Mike Walrus: Let's talk about what you think we as individuals should be doing about the hormonal threat posed by manmade chemicals.
Dr. Theo Ree: First and foremost, everyone should buy my book. Don't borrow someone else's copy. Buy your own and burn the receipt. No returns. No refunds. No exchanges.
Next, invest in businesses that test drinking water. Our Swollen Future recommends that everyone have their water tested. And in the meantime, don't drink water that hasn't been tested.
Avoid animal fat found in meats and dairy products. This is especially recommended for women from birth through the end of their childbearing years...
Mike Walrus: What do you recommend that these women eat instead?
Dr. Theo Ree: Vegetables, grains, fruits,...
Edit Broadley: Plants!!??! You're recommending plants? Didn't you just say that the plants were out to sterilize us? And they were targeting women?
Morley Suffer: Edit, no matter what you do, you can't make up for Alar.
Dr. Theo Ree: And women should think twice about breastfeeding.
Edit Broadley: Now hold on for a minute. Doesn't Our Swollen Future mention a woman who was so frightened by just your kind of pseudo-science that she stopped breastfeeding her child and substituted a mixture of water and Coffeemate?
Is that what you want people to do?
Dr. Theo Ree: Edit, please listen to me. I just told you not to drink the W-A-T-E-R.
Edit Broadley: So babies should just get nondairy creamer, right?.
Dr. Theo Ree: Right. Also, wash your hands frequently. Manmade chemicals are everywhere.
Edit Broadley: I see you've already washed your hands of the truth!
And now, a few words from Andy Looney...
Andy Looney: Did you ever wonder why Barbie and Ken, who have been a hot item since the 1960s, have never had any children?
Could it be because they were made out of plastic? All those nasty manmade chemicals you know.
Did you ever wonder if maybe it wasn't the ice age that killed off the dinosaurs after all?
Maybe the plants sterilized the herbivore dinosaurs with their natural estrogens. And then maybe the carnivores were sterilized when they ate the herbivores.
Nothing ever sterilized the plants, so we'd better watch out. To be safe, you ought to have your lawn paved over before they get you too.
Did you ever wonder, if manmade chemicals really are damaging our fertility, then why is the world's population booming?
As far as I can tell, we've got way too many people here in New York. Of course, we don't have any plants to sterilize us New Yorkers. We've got wall-to-wall concrete.
Did you ever wonder, if manmade chemicals are so bad for our health, why has our average life expectancy increased from forty-seven years of age at the start of this century to almost eighty years of age as we approach the next century?
Call me a skeptic, but I'm counting on manmade chemicals to keep me alive long enough to see if the federal government will ever balance the budget.
Don't get me wrong. I'm glad that there are people in the world who are concerned about our health and the environment. Those that remind us that we ought to do our best to keep our air, water, and communities clean play an important role in a society that survives on its checks and balances.
On the other hand, I'm not so glad that we will always be plagued with those who insist that the world is coming to an end unless we follow their extreme regimen for survival.
And its funny how these Chicken Littles are the only ones who end up benefitting from the fear they foment.
Mike Walrus: Tune in next week for another edition of 60 MINUTS.
Copyright © 1996 Steven J. Milloy. All rights reserved.