Saturday, April 7, 2007

Überbullshit or Ueberbullshit

Ueberbullshit is bullshit produced by individuals or groups of experts (often scientists) who should know better. My favorite example is the following:

On bullpoop/bullshit and food microbiology.

The most frightening thing I ever read was the following statement: "There is a good reason why the foods we eat in Canada are safe" This quote is the opening in Food Safety and You - Her Majesty in the Right of Canada 2000, Cat. No. A62-52/2000, ISBN 0-662-64805-6. I think it is reasonable to assume that members of the production team included knowledgeable microbiologists who knew that the official numbers for foodborne microbial disease in Canada at the time were 30 deaths and 2 million cases annually. Based on the scholarly definition of bullshit in the 2005 nonfiction US best selling book by Princeton University professor emeritus Harry Frankfurt - On Bullshit (see ; ), it is difficult to decide whether this statement is a lie or bullshit. With 76 million cases reported annually in the US, North America has as many as 89 million cases of foodborne disease annually or 243,835 cases daily - a funny definition of safe!
Nor is the contamination of vegetables a new phenomenon. Let me provide some evidence: "Melick mentioned a number of instances where vegetables have caused disease" (1917. J. Infect. Dis., 21, 28). "Another outbreak occurred in Philadelphia where 18 out of 19 persons who ate water cress sandwiches became ill with typhoid fever" (1917). There are many other examples in chapter 15, Microbiology of vegetables and vegetable products, The Microbiology of Foods, F.W. Tanner, 1944, Gerrard Press, Champaign, Ill., USA. My motto has always been that one can't discover what is already recorded in text books. My first act when a food microbiological problem is "newly discovered" is to look at what, if anything was known before 1944. It may surprise some folks that the possibility of Salmonella being transmitted by chocolate, a recent problem that has resulted in chocolate recalls in U.K. and Canada, was studied as long ago as 1915.
It is obvious that bullpoop has been spread for too long by public health/regulatory officials as well as some academics and industry and NGO spokesthingies when it comes to microbiological safety of foods - we must stop telling consumers that the food supply is safe - it is no true, has not been true and probably won't be true in the future! It seems to me that telling consumers that the food supply is safe gives a false sense of security to consumers. It seems to me that those who do are also giving an implied warranty which could/should make them liable under certain conditions or could/should be used to question their credibility.

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