Fear is our national pastime. As a society, we have a long history of getting whipped into a collective frenzy over threats to our health or children that are nearly (or completely) non-existent. No danger is too small or remote to be exaggerated and screamed from the headlines.
5Three Mile Island
On March 28, 1979, what should have been a minor plumbing problem somehow escalated into a reactor fuel meltdown at the Three Mile Island Nuclear Station in Pennsylvania. Within five days, the Governor had ordered the evacuation of all children and pregnant women (fuck you, dad!) within a five-mile radius of the area. Since that time, the name Three Mile Island has been synonymous with nuclear disaster. Hooters even named one of their hottest (and most delicious) wing sauces after it!
But unlike other nuclear disasters, Chernobyl for example, which caused at least 4,000 eventual deaths, Three Mile Island was responsible for a whopping zero fatalities. In fact, there weren't even any injuries. Later tests revealed that the level of radiation people were exposed to in the five-mile radius was equivalent to the amount of radiation a person is exposed to while flying on a commercial airliner. In other words, the danger was nil.
So why all the ruckus? Much like that restraining order Catherine Zeta-Jones slapped us with a few years back, we blame Michael Douglas for this.
Just 12 days prior to the incident at TMI, The China Syndrome premiered. In the film, Michael Douglas plays a television news reporter who surreptitiously films a nuclear power plant crew as a near meltdown is taking place. As luck would have it, the events depicted in the movie almost perfectly mirrored what occurred at TMI. With the movie stirring public debate about the safety of nuclear power, there was no way the incident at TMI occurring just days later would do anything less than scare the ever-loving shit out of people. And that's exactly what it did.
"Hi, I'm a giant asshole."
In 1979, Three Mile Island killed fewer people than ...
Robot attacks. Ford factory worker Robert Williams was killed when a robot hit him in the head, thus outranking Three Mile Island's death toll, 1-0.
4Artificial Sweeteners, Circa the '60s
In the 1960s, cyclamates (salts of cyclamic acid) were the artificial sweetener of choice for health conscious consumers everywhere. Although initially only intended for use by the obese and diabetics, they quickly gained popularity among those who wanted to eat like the obese without becoming diabetics.
This all changed in 1969 when FDA scientist, Dr. Jacqueline Verrett, went on the NBC Nightly News to tell the world that baby chick embryos injected with cyclamates suffered from severe birth defects. And she had pictures of the deformed birds to back her claim up! When it comes to putting an entire nation off of non-caloric sweets, few things are as effective a picture of a grotesquely malformed bird. Here's one we made ...
... maybe that's a bad example, because that was kind of awesome. But you get the idea.
At any rate, there's a reason the FDA likes its scientists to run the results of their wacky lab experiments past their peers before they take to national television to share them with the world. In this case, Dr. Verrett's peers were quick to point out that, while the results of her experiment were troubling, most humans didn't get their artificial sweeteners by way of in-the-womb injections and therefore may not be affected in the same way.
But when tests performed a few days later showed that cyclamates caused bladder cancer in 8 out of 240 rats when consumed in an also-real-world-applicable dosage equaling 350 cans of diet soda per day, the deal was sealed. Cyclamates were banned in America.
In the years since the ban, tests on cyclamates have continued but none of them have been able to duplicate the results of the 1969 tests. The World Health Organization along with several other research groups has gone so far as to publicly declare that the evidence shows no link between cyclamates and cancer. Nevertheless, subsequent appeals of the initial cyclamate ban have all been rejected and cyclamates are still unavailable in the United States.
But don't lose too much sleep over it, our team of scientists have conducted some studies of their own and 4 out of 5 of them agree, even if cyclamates were available, most of us would still be lard asses anyway.
In 1969, Cyclamates killed fewer people than ...
... were killed by Moose attacks.