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What you donít know can kill you, or at least make you look silly
Brownfield
By Gary Truitt
This is the age of information overload. The Internet, 24-hour news channels, e-mail, overnight delivery, satellite radio, podcasts, blogs, and, of course, the traditional mass media of radio, television and print, all fill our days with billions of bits of information.

With all this information at our disposal, we should be among the most informed people in the world. Yet, I find that ignorance, misinformation, misunderstanding, and stupidity are just as prevalent as they have ever been. This lack of information is putting some peopleís lives in danger while causing others to act like buffoons.

Take, for example, diet food and health products. You might think that a breakfast of granola would be a good healthy choice. Yet granola can have 600 calories per cup and as much sugar as Captain Crunch cereal. In addition, a box of Captain Crunch has real cool toys inside. When was the last time you got a good prize in a box of granola?

According to the Food Marketing Institute, 59 percent of shoppers are trying to eat healthier. Yet most are clueless about what a healthy choice is. For example, an ounce of Pringles Potato chips contains 160 calories, the same amount of calories as Frito Lays natural Blue Corn tortilla chips. Research also indicates that people eat more when consuming diet foods. This begs the question: how much Healthy Choice ice cream do you have to eat before it no longer becomes a healthy choice?

An area when a lack of information combined with paranoia is making people act stupid is the issue of Girl Scout cookies. Each year millions of doe-eyed cherubs knock on doors and ask people, in a voice innocent enough to melt the heart of Ebenezer Scrooge, ďWould you like to buy some cookies?Ē

Yet, this year some nutrition fanatics have criticized the Girl Scouts for having trans fats in their cookies. While trans fat is not good for human health, the situation has been blown out of proportion by scaremongers. People are not falling over dead on their porches after biting into a Tagalong cookie. The baking industry is moving quickly to eliminate trans fat from their products; U.S. soybean farmers are playing a role in this by planting and processing a new kind of soybean that can be made into vegetable oil without producing trans fat.

I have never been a big fan of free-range chickens. I have felt the claims made by free-range proponents lack validity. With concerns about avian influenza, free-range poultry could be at more risk of contracting the disease.

In Thailand 56 percent of free-range poultry contracted bird flu, while none of the poultry raised in modern confinement got the disease. This is not to indicate that free-range U.S. birds have the H5NI virus, they do not, but it also shows being a free-range clucker is not a pastoral paradise.

By far the issue that has generated the most misinformation and silliness is the issue of global warming. For decades we have been barraged with stories of the hole in the ozone that was letting in dangerous radiation. We have heard predictions that that hole was expanding and would soon expose most of us to solar radiation that would turn us all into crispy critters.

Now comes word the hole over the Antarctic is closing. Several reputable scientific groups have estimated the hole may disappear by the year 2050. In addition, data from the National Climate Data Center indicates that, instead of global warming, the earth is actually getting cooler. The Centerís data shows that the earth got warmer between 1970 and 1998, but between 1998 and 2005 the earthís temperature has gotten cooler. My theory is that the global warming was caused by all the hot air windbags blowing about global warming and holes in the ozone.

So how can you protect yourself from dangerous misinformation or terminal silliness? Here are a few of my personal suggestions. Cut your Internet time in half. Pick a few news sources that you feel are reputable and balanced and skip the rest.

Remember that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If something sounds unbelievable, it probably is. Donít believe everything friends or relatives send you via e-mail. Donít take as gospel what you read in some clownís blog.

Keep in mind that all radio and television news is biased. Always check your facts. Here are a couple good places to check what is true and what is fiction: www.truthorfiction.com and www.skeptic.com

Remember, what you donít know can kill you or, worse, make you look silly.

This farm news was published in the May 31, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.

5/31/2006