Thursday, November 08, 2007

Fake facts and Nanny statism.

Here’s an example of how wrong “facts” get into the popular culture and are used to increase the levels of government regulation.

The London Times is one of the premier newspapers in the world and they recently ran an article about new things that the Nanny state will most likely ban. Included in the list was a ban on teens using tanning beds. They mentioned how one politician in Scotland has already introduced legislation to ban tanning beds -- something the UN’s World Health Organization is pushing. In this article the Times claims: “An estimated 100 people die in Scotland each year of skin cancers caused by the use of sunbeds.”

The Progressive-Vision blog notes that no source is given for this claim. And they looked at the actual numbers. It turns out that this claim is totally bogus.

The total number of skin cancer deaths in Scotland for individuals of all ages, from all causes, is 158. As they note “This would require two-thirds of all skin cancer deaths to be caused by tanning beds which is highly unlikely.” In fact most people with skin cancer are the elderly. And I can’t imagine (nor want to) the geriatric set in their bikinis and Speedos down at the tanning salon.

The truth is that most these people have skin cancer because of decades of exposure to the sun. The Skin Cancer Foundation says that more than 90% of all skin cancer is caused “by sun exposure”. Apparently one of the most prestigious newspapers in the world repeated this “fact” without bothering to verify it. And no doubt others will repeat the claim as a result.

UPDATE: The Progressive Vision blog has updated this story. The 100 deaths due to tanning beds is clearly false. The Times reporter was not paying attention. Even the paper that this figure is from is clear that this number is for the entire United Kingdom, which is vastly larger. And it admits that this is a theory only based on simplified assumptions not hard data.

A Labour member of the Scottish Parliament is trying to impose "thorough regulations" on tanning beds and says his goal is treat them the way smoking has been treated. And he is using the 100 figure as his justification. But the actual paper this based on concludes that tanning beds are a "relatively minor self-imposed detriment to public health" and that "prohibition is not warranted as exposure to the sun, which cannot be regulated, remains the major contributory factor to the risk of melanoma." Read the full report at Progressive Vision.

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