Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Tierney runs out of reassurances

I always hear wonderful things about John Tierney. But, then, whenever I read anything by John Tierney, it seems kind of stupid. He sets aside yesterdays Science Column to list six things you needn't worry about. Unfortunately, being from a decimal culture, he puts them in a list of ten. What about Mercury in vaccines, or the old asteroid stand by? Yesterday would have been a bad day to talk about your low risk of being killed in an earthquake, but here's the list:
1. Killer hot dogs
2. Your car’s planet-destroying A/C
4. Carcinogenic cellphones
5. Evil plastic bags
6. Toxic plastic bottles

Now, those are fine as far as they go. I'm not saying that any of them isn't worth worrying about, just that Tierney backs up his reassurance reasonably well, with the possible exception of point 1. But, then it just falls apart.

7. Deadly sharks -- One fatal shark attack last year! Now, being acquainted with a mauling victim might make me a little more aware of this, but the reason we don't have fatal shark attacks is that we're worried about them. Sharks are as much a problem as they've ever been. Well, per shark. The more of them that die, the closer we are to winning.

8. The Arctic’s missing ice -- Of course, this is what set me off. While having an ice free Arctic Ocean does increase our chance of a Chinese naval attack on our Eastern Seaboard, the possibility of losing our Arctic Ice is really a dramatic example of climate change more than a problem in and of itself. The Fogball Earth Doomsday Scenario still looms.

9. The universe’s missing mass -- No news here, and Tierney doesn't change whatever emotional weight it may have. It doesn't have any for me, but if this were the sort of thing I'd fret about, I can't imagine this would comfort me.

10. Unmarked wormholes -- Really? Should have stopped at six. Or gone for meteors. Are meteors enough of an actual danger that Tierney's got to reach for wormholes? It's supposed to be a sort of a jokey end, but that would mean that even with sharks, ice and dark matter, he could only come up with 9 worries to dispel.

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