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August 25, 2011

Bad Science's Latest Target: Dryer Sheets

Beware activists masquerading as scientists; they're usually just working out their pet peeves. Case in point: a particularly unscientific "study" done by a hypochondriac who thinks dryer sheets are causing cancer:

The research was carried out by Professor Anne Steinemann, an expert on the effects of pollution at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Researchers analysed the fumes emitted from tumble dryers when cycles were run with the detergent and scented dryer sheets.

Analysis of the captured gases found more than 25 volatile organic compounds, including seven hazardous air pollutants, coming out of the vents.

See, it uses all those sciencey-sounding words like "analysed" and "research" and "expert." The study is here (PDF), if you want to look. Professor Steinemen claims that dryer sheets can "affect not only personal health, but also public and environmental health. The chemicals can go into the air, down the drain and into water bodies."

There's a major problem with Steinemen's "study." Mere exposure to chemicals does not lead to cancer. She completely sweeps the potential toxicity (or lack thereof) under the rug. This is the same flaw that the folks claiming that cell phones cause brain cancer make. Yes, if you hit the brain with enough RF bad things will happen to it. No, cell phones do not emit enough.

Like her irrational fear of dryer sheets, Steinemen has shared some other interesting beliefs in the past. Steinemen, who does not live in Missouri, once asked the state to ban air fresheners in schools. Apparently, her "studies" weren't getting enough traction, so she went right to the authorities.

This is the tried-and-true method for hack scientists to gain traction. They must compensate for a lack of evidence by simply screaming louder, claiming epic-levels of danger, and crying "It's for the CHILDREN!" while hoping that their shrillness will cause risk-averse government authorities to give in to their silly theories. When it comes to dryer sheets, Steinemen gives the game away too easily:

This is an interesting source of pollution because emissions from dryer vents are essentially unregulated and unmonitored.

Of course, Anne. Of course.

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posted by Gabriel Malor at 12:15 PM

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