Mass Media Bunk is a commentary on articles in the mass media that provide false, misleading, or deceptive information regarding scientific matters or alleged paranormal or supernatural events.

Robert Todd Carroll

ęcopyright 2006

Books by R. T. Carroll

cover The Critical Thinker's Dictionary



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(note: this post is many years old, so don't expect all the links to work!)

comment 08 Feb 2014: Fear sells. Articles like the lead one here are published in the media periodically. The latest is featured on NPR and the journalism is just as irresponsible now as it was 15 years ago.

November 30, 1999. The Institute of Medicine, part of the National Academy of Sciences, a private organization chartered by Congress to advise the government on scientific matters, issued a report calling for a massive overhaul of America's health care system. The Nando Times did not consider this to be the top story of the day (the discovery of 6 new planets outside our solar system got that distinction), but my local newspaper put the story top right front page (top billing), next to a story about two mass graves being dug up in Mexico where member of a drug cartel are thought to be buried. My paper, the Sacramento Bee, took the story from Rick Weiss of the Washington Post. The headline reads

Fatal medical errors rampant, panel says

The story begins by claiming "As many as 98,000 Americans die every year from medical mistakes made by physicians, pharmacies and other health care professionals...." The Nando Times, in its second paragraph noted that the report "quoted studies estimating that at least 44,000 and perhaps as many as 98,000 hospitalized Americans die every year from errors." has a less flamboyant headline than the Bee (Medical Errors Preventable) and begins its story thusly: "Medical mistakes kill anywhere from 44,000 to 98,000 hospitalized Americans a year...." 

I wonder if the reporters read the 223-page report, which was released yesterday. None of these three stories gives even a hint as to how the data for the report was gathered or how the numbers 44,000 and 98,000 were generated. [The lower figure is an extrapolation from a 1984 study in New York; the higher figure is an extrapolation from a 1992 study in Utah and Colorado. There were 33.6 million admissions to U.S. hospitals in 1997.*]The ABC and Nando stories make it clear from the start that the report concerns medical mistakes in hospitals, not in general. The Washington Post story doesn't mention hospitals until the third paragraph.

The numbers are nearly meaningless without some frame of reference. We aren't told where the data came from, nor are we given any idea as to what percentage of hospitalized patients are being killed each year by medical mistakes. Such information would help put the data into perspective, rather than irresponsibly stir up fear among people that they will end up in Paddy Cheyefsky's Hospital. Weiss thinks he puts things into perspective by comparing the annual number of deaths from highway accidents, breast cancer and AIDS. But what would be really useful would be to know how many people are treated in hospitals each year.

Each of the stories mentioned claims that one of the types of fatal errors is caused by bad handwriting. It is claimed that pharmacists can't read the physician's handwriting and so either provide the wrong drug or the wrong dosage of the right drug. Illustrative anecdotes, but no data, are given to indicate how serious a problem this is. Each mentions the complex nature of new medical technologies as contributing to the fatality rate in hospitals, but again no hard data is given. ABC claims that physician's covering-up mistakes of their colleagues is a major problem, but gives no indication of how major. (Given the slack in the low and high end estimates of hospital fatalities caused by errors, perhaps we are to assume that the 54,000 difference is an estimate of physician cover-ups.) Weiss mentions in his last paragraph that most mistakes are made in places like emergency rooms, but indicates that they are preventable because they are mostly due to storing drugs in concentrated rather than dilute form. The implication is that many emergency room personnel forget this and administer lethal doses to patients. Again, no data is provided to indicate how serious this type of problem is.

I am certain there are fatal mistakes made in hospitals, but the news reports I have read so far do not give me any sense of just how serious the overall problem is, nor where the most serious problems are. I am left wondering if bad handwriting is causing deaths all over the country as unsuspecting patients take their written prescriptions to their pharmacies. How many pharmacists guess when they are not sure whether the dosage is in milligrams or micrograms? How many guess to determine whether they are supposed to be providing Celebrex or Cerebyx?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Reuters (citing the New York Times) had as their top health story an article about Arnold Schwarzenegger winning a lawsuit against a German doctor who predicted Arnold would be dead soon because of his use of steroids. They had no story about the rampancy of medical mistakes, but did have a two paragraph article with the headline

US group calls for federal patient protection 

According to Reuters, "The National Academy of Sciences is calling for a new federal agency to protect patients and said Congress should require healthcare providers to report mistakes that cause serious injury or death." One wonders, if there is no reporting on such matters now, how did the committee get its information?

The New York Times article by Robert Pear had a non-inflammatory, responsible headline

Group Asking U.S. for New Vigilance in Patient Safety

However, like the other articles mentioned here, the statistics about deaths are repeated but no source of any data is given. One additional statistic mentioned by the Times is that more than 7,000 Americans die each year as a result of "medication errors," which include the prescribing or dispensing of the wrong drugs. Rather than tell us how many drug prescriptions are filled each year, so we might get some sense of how serious this problem is, we are rather reminded that "6,000 Americans die each year from workplace injuries." This seems like an irrelevant comparison.

To me, the most significant bit of news in these stories is that the commission that issued the report has asked Congress to establish a federal agency, which the committee has even named: the Center for Patient Safety. They want a budget of some $100,000,000 a year, which the panel says is peanuts compared to "the $8.8 billion a year in health care costs that can be attributed to preventable medical injuries." I'm sure this number can be attributed to just about anything, but where is the data that supports the notion that this is how much preventable medical injuries cost us each year?

The news stories mostly parrot the press release from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). The press release has a very dramatic header:

Preventing Death and Injury From Medical Errors Requires Dramatic, System-Wide Changes

It begins with equally dramatic claim that "one of the nation's leading causes of death and injury" is medical errors. We find that the 44,000 and 98,000 figures come two different studies, though we are not told which studies or who did them or when they were done. Without any indication as to how valid either study is we are told: "Even using the lower estimate, more people die from medical mistakes each year than from highway accidents, breast cancer, or AIDS." Maybe they do, but these irrelevant comparisons give me no idea as to what risk I am running by going to the hospital. Furthermore, it should be obvious that one or both of these studies is inaccurate, yet no indication is given as to why two studies would come to such disparate numbers. Were the committee members not aware that it is not good science to claim that the truth lies somewhere between the results of two studies, one of which is definitely inaccurate?

The NAS report does not mention where the 7,000 statistic originated for death by medical error in prescriptions. To find out how much of this report is based on hard evidence one must purchase the full report from the NAS for $27.96 or $36.00 (prepublication copy) or read it online.

It seems to me that either only one of the unnamed studies they base their claims on is adequate and accurate or they both are not. If one is accurate, then they should determine which one and we don't need a new government agency to find out what fatal errors are being committed. If neither study is adequate and accurate, then how can we trust the claim that this is a major social problem?

The chair of the committee which did the study is William C. Richardson, Ph.D., who is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. W. K. Kellogg had some rather interesting ideas about health and wellness. He was badly spoofed in The Road to Wellville.

The New York Times, demonstrating how easy it is to manage the news, took the bait from NAS's Institute of Medicine and presented a flamboyant editorial which showed not the least bit of skepticism about the data on which the report was based. I quote:

The Institute of Medicine reported this week that between 44,000 and 98,000 hospital patients die each year because of medical mistakes....

The Times included another irrelevant analogy: citing Dr. Lucian Leape "of Harvard", a co-author of the study, the Times noted that the number killed by bad medicine is the same as if a loaded jumbo jet crashed every two days. They even cited the work of Michael Millenson to further support the idea that it is dangerous to go to the hospital. The Times editorial concludes in a wave of stupidity by expressing the hope that maybe someday "hospital care might become as injury-free as airline travel." John Poulos tells us "a passenger who daily and randomly takes a jet flight between American cities would, on average, go 19,000 years before dying in a crash." I wonder what the statistic would be for someone who randomly checked into a hospital. How many years would he or she go before being killed by the staff because of bad handwriting?

postscript: The Sacramento Bee, not satisfied with playing up this story on its front page, made it the lead editorial in Sunday's paper. "The quiet killer," read the header; "Modern medicine shouldn't bury its mistakes," read the subhead. Interesting pun. The editor ignored the 44,000 figure and mentioned only the 98,000, which allowed a comparison it to a 747 crashing every day, instead of every other day. The editor even claims that the numbers are "possibly greater." I suppose they are.

The editor must have read the actual IOM study, since he or she mentions a study not mentioned in the IOM press release which "estimated that adverse reactions to drugs. . .kill up to 137,000 patients inside American hospitals a year." That is 878 times the number of death certificates that listed death due to drug reaction.

The Bee editor concludes with a quote from the IOM that we need to "meet the challenges ahead."

I suppose we do.

Post postscript: President Clinton and Sen. Kennedy have taken the bait. Kennedy plans to introduce legislation that would set up the new federal agency. Read all about it.

Post post postscript: Federal investigators have documented almost 3,000 medical mistakes, including more than 700 deaths, in less than two years at veterans hospitals around the United States, according to the New York Times.

See related entry: more bunk

reader comments:  01 Dec 1999 

Thank you, thank you, thank you! I read the article you described in the Washington Post and instantly thought of the Skeptic's Dictionary. It's the Post's sort of sensationalist, unexamined nonsense that causes the majority of my colleagues to subscribe to various "alternative" medical practices. A few are into homeopathy (what a shock: one has a bad cold, takes some homeopathic concoction, and spreads the cold like cheap margarine on white bread!) and one, whose medical doctors could find nothing wrong with her frequently sees her "anthroposophic physician." They justify their practices by referring to the corruption, "capitalism," and alleged mistakes of "mainstream" medicine referred to in that Post's and other "articles.".

I wonder, though, if they'll have to settle for an organic funeral director once their "alternative" medical practices ultimately fail them.

Thanks for your insights into that article. As good as the Post allegedly is, there's frequently such nonsense in it. And that's where some critical analysis is necessary.
Tim Scanlon

reply: What? You don't think we need another federal agency to protect us from medical mistakes?

November 23, 1999. has added to its Internet reputation as one of the great purveyors of pseudoscientific claptrap with a fulsome panegyric to feng shui as interior decorating. In this article by Mary-Jo Lipman, a CNN Interactive Writer (whatever that is), you learn that "The most important thing to understand is that feng shui is really about the energy that's surrounding you in your personal space." That's a direct quote from someone who managed to milk 16 books out of such notions. It seems, however, that feng shui is just window dressing and that the article and the people it features are really interested in the human factors of interior decorating.

November 2, 1999. The New York Post reports today on a woman who had a ticket but did not board EgyptAir flight 990 which crashed in the Atlantic Ocean, killing 217 passengers and crew. Sonya Baladi's mother, Laila, "had a premonition of disaster" and so Sonya changed her plans.

Laila is quoted as saying: "It's amazing how God works." 

Sonya's brother, Joseph, is quoted as saying: "It was God's will that saved her from being on the plane."

Are we to assume it was God's will that killed 217 people?

The article describes Laila as a devout Christian clutching rosary beads during her interview. How did she rejoice at having her daughter alive while others grieved their lost loved ones? According to the Post, "The family felt so lucky that they spent Sunday gambling in Atlantic City - and won $200."

note: 08 Feb 2014: I know have an article on these prayer studies like the one mentioned in the entry below.

October 25, 1999. The Archives of Internal Medicine, a publication of the American Medical Association, is apparently trying to get on the "complementary" medicine/spiritual healing bandwagon. Five M.D.s, two Ph.D.s, one M.A. and one doctor of divinity signed their names to a published, peer reviewed, paper entitled: "A Randomized, Controlled Trial of the Effects of Remote, Intercessory Prayer on Outcomes in Patients Admitted to the Coronary Care Unit." According to their own report, there was no significant difference in time spent either in the hospital or in the coronary care unit for the experimental and control groups, yet the authors still managed to come up with some sort of scoring system (what they call a "CCU course score") that satisfied them that the group that was prayed for didn't suffer as much.

The study took place at the Mid America Heart Institute in Kansas City, Mo, over a 12-month period. There were 466 patients in the the experimental (prayer) group and 524 in the control (usual care) group. The patients were randomly assigned and prayed for by five of randomly assigned (from a pool of 75) intercessors for 28 days. The prayer was to be for "'a speedy recovery with no complications' and anything else that seemed appropriate." The intercessors knew only the first names of their victims, excuse me, subjects, and had to believe in the efficacy of prayer, among other things.

Despite the fact that the prayers were aimed at a speedy recovery with no complications, the authors did not consider the fact that there was no significant difference in either hospital or coronary care unit stay between the prayer and control groups to be that important. They concluded that "prayer may be an effective adjunct to standard medical care."

The authors claimed that "it was anticipated that the effect of prayer was unlikely to be evident in any specific clinical outcome category (e.g., the need for antibiotics, the development of pneumonia, or the extension of infarction), but would only be seen in some type of global score." Why a specific outcome, like length of time in the hospital or death, was considered irrelevant is unclear. And they do admit that the CCU score they devised was "intuitive" and "has not been validated."

The authors write:

Since the score itself is only an estimate of overall CCU course, there is no known way to ascribe a clinical significance to it, other than to say that as a group, the patients in the prayer group "did 10% better." The score should be viewed only as a summary statistic designed to detect the impact of a mild global intervention on overall health in large groups, not in individual patients.

In my view, the authors should have concluded:

Study Shows Prayer Does No Harm!

If this is what is passing for scientific study at the AMA these days, then skeptics may as well wave the white flag and surrender to the faith healers. Either that or start praying for our doctors.


note: 08 Feb 2014. I now have two articles on cell phones and fearmongering:  Cell phones, brain cancer, and other cheery thoughts, and Warning: Your Magazine May Be Hazardous to Your Health.

October 20, 1999. ABC's 20/20 story called "Wireless Worries" rekindled the fear that cell phones might be causing brain tumors. The story focused on the claims of Dr. George Carlo who, for the past six years, ran the cell phone industry’s research program on the effects of radiation from cell phones. Dr. Carlo thinks there should be more study of the issue. Who could disagree with that? But the program implies that there is evidence of great danger with cell phones. [Though 20/20 was careful to include disclaimers in their report, e.g., "Carlo says the new studies, while not proving cell phones are dangerous, do contradict such assurances that cell phones are safe."] This contradicts the work of such scholars as J. E. Moulder, L. S. Erdreich, R. S. Malyapa, J. Merritt, W. F. Pickard and Vijayalaxmi, whose "Cell Phones and Cancer: What Is the Evidence for a Connection?" (Adobe Acrobat format) concluded 

The epidemiological evidence for an association between RF radiation and cancer is found to be weak and inconsistent, the laboratory studies generally do not suggest that cell phone RF radiation has genotoxic or epigenetic activity, and a cell phone RF radiation–cancer connection is found to be physically implausible. Overall, the existing evidence for a causal relationship between RF radiation from cell phones and cancer is found to be weak to nonexistent. (Radiation Research, Volume 151, Number 5, May 1999)

The FCC's response to the 20/20 program was to note that "The values of exposure reported by ABC were well within that safety margin, and, therefore, there is no indication of any immediate threat to human health from these phones."*

The 20/20 story claimed that cell phone antennae emit microwave radiation into the brain, which is misleading. Microwaves, which are in the 1-300 GHZ range, are emitted by the antennae of cellular towers that transmit the messages, but the phone's antennae do not emit microwaves. Cellular phones emit in the 800-900 MHz range, according to the FCC. (Microwave ovens have a frequency of about 2450 MHz.)

"What many of the country’s 80 million cell phone users may not know is that cell phones send electromagnetic waves into users’ brains," according to 20/20. True, but what people may also not know is that each of us is being bombarded by electromagnetic waves all the time from below and above, from light, from radio and television transmissions, police 2-way transmissions, walkie-talkies, etc. Some people purposely increase their exposure to electromagnetic waves, claiming such exposure has healing properties. It would not surprise me to find that many of the same people who will not use a cell phone wear magnets to cure their aching muscles or bones.

One viewer commented:

Regarding the "Wireless Worries" segment, aired on October 20, 1999... There is at least one fundamental inaccuracy casting doubt on the entire cellular phone safety risk debate. They made the statement, "Depending on how close the cell phone antenna is to the head, as much as 60 percent of the microwave radiation is absorbed by and actually penetrates the area around the head..." However, cellular phones, defined by Part 22 of the Federal Communication Commission rules, do not operate on microwave frequencies by any stretch of the imagination. Was I asleep, or did all the alleged experts interviewed totally miss this fact? Perhaps they were thinking of other wireless services, such as PCS and certain satellite phones, but certainly not cellular.
Alan Dixon
General Radiotelephone Engineer

Well said.

further reading

reader comments

22 Oct 1999
As an electronics engineer who works on the high power RF [radiofrequency] transistors that go into cellular base stations, I would like to comment on your comments on the 20/20 piece.

1. In the public mind a cellular phone is a cellular phone whether it is analog, CDMA, GSM or PCS. Also, you are being a bit smug when you say that the analog cellular phones do not emit "microwaves", since the Analog Cellular (AMPS) band is in the 800 to 900 MHz range. "Microwaves" is actually an imprecise term that has no official definition. I have references that give at least *two* definitions. In "Reference Data for Radio Engineers - 3rd edition" Federal Radio and Telephone Corporation, 1949, microwaves are given as 1000 to 100,000 MHz. But my "Electrical Engineering Handbook" CRC Press, 1993, identifies microwaves with ITU bands 9 and 10 which encompass 300 - 30, 000 MHz. I have no problem lumping the frequencies used by analog cellular phones as microwaves.

reply: My dictionary defines 'smug' as 'highly self-satisfied', so I think it would be more accurate to say that I was wrong or misleading. That same dictionary defines 'microwave' as "a comparatively short electromagnetic wave; especially : one between about 1 millimeter and 1 meter in wavelength." An online technical dictionary defines 'microwave' as "electromagnetic radiation having a free-space wavelength between 0.3 and 30 centimeters, corresponding to frequencies of 1–100 gigahertz."

Before studies can determine that something is harmful, they have to first agree on the definition of key terms. Apparently, it cannot be assumed that everyone is on the same wavelength when they speak of 'microwaves.'

2. The problem that is glossed over by 20/20 is that there are two possible sources of damage that RF fields can cause the body: heating effects and effects that produce genetic and cellular damage not due to heating.

Heating effects are well understood and what the SAR [specific absorption rate] standard is based on. Basically the SAR indicates how much temperature rise that you can expect in your head while using the phone. There is a lot of safety margin built in to this spec.

But, the point of the first half of the story was that RF fields cause damage that is not related to the heating effect. If indeed, there are other mechanisms besides heating effects that cause cellular damage, all bets are off and the FCC needs to go back to the drawing board and come up with new standards. Phones will have to meet this new standard as well as the SAR standard since excessive heating of brain tissue will still be a concern. In other words, if ABC was really concerned about these new health effects then SAR testing was a waste of time, because we do not know if the new damage is caused by RF fields in proportion to the heating power. (It could be caused by voltage or current, not power which causes heating.)

3. Actually, cell phone users should have paid attention to the report. If they hold their phones in the positions noted in the report that gave the lower SAR, they can increase the range of the phone by about 50%! After all, any signal absorbed in your head is not getting to the base station.

4. I thought it was interesting that the man who believed that his wife got a tumor from using a cell phone still uses one! I would at least not have one so as to not give money to the people who killed my wife!
Keith Barkley

October 5, 1999. Washington Post reporter Hanna Rosin did a propaganda piece for the militant Christian fundamentalists recently ("Creationism, Coming to Life in Suburbia: Kansas Couple Typifies New Wave of Believers"). The focus of her piece is that creationists are not ignorant morons, but intelligent and prosperous (more than a third are college educated and earn more than $50,000 a year). The story focuses on one couple and their pastor from Olathe, Kansas: Joe and Bonnie Smith and the Rev. Terry Glidden. They all despise evolution and think the universe is 6,000 years old. Glidden even identifies believing in the scientific facts and theories of evolution as a type of worship that leads to such abhorrent things as homosexuality. The Rev. is quoted as saying:

Just last week, I saw two homosexual men at the supermarket. The supermarket! In broad daylight! That's what you get when you worship the creation and not the creator.

Glidden and the Smiths are supposed to represent intelligent fundamentalists, but Rosin says nothing about their bigotry. Glidden and the Smiths cannot conceive that homosexuals might also believe in a Creator. They can't conceive that most creationists reject their peculiar interpretation of the Bible.

Rosin's article is an insult to the millions of creationists who do not accept Genesis as the word of God. It is also an insult to the millions of creationists who do accept Genesis but do not accept the interpretation given by so-called "Christian fundamentalists." Believing in a Creator does not require that one believe that the universe is 6,000 years old. Being a creationist does not require that one reject the sciences that have established that the universe is billions of years old. Being a creationist does not require belief that homosexuals are abominations.

To identify people like Joe and Bonnie Smith, and the Rev. Terry Glidden with creationists is to give in to the propaganda that militant fundamentalists like Pat Robertson, Duane Gish, and others have been spreading for years. Creationists come in many varieties. Some are Hindus, some are Buddhists, some are animists. Some are Christians and some are Jews who interpret Genesis differently than the fundamentalists.

To characterize militant fundamentalist creationists as "intelligent" because they have college degrees and are prosperous is to give in to their own rhetoric. These people should be characterized by what they stand for: hatred of homosexuals, contempt for any religion but their own, an overriding concern for the emptiness they think characterizes everybody's lives but their own, and a naive nostalgia regarding some mythical past when the majority agreed with their religious views and the world was nearly abortionless, drugless, crimeless, and life was very simple.

Are the militant fundamentalists really incapable of understanding how it is possible for someone to accept some other religion than theirs? Are they really incapable of grasping how a person can believe in a Creator and in evolution of species? Or are they so insecure in their faith that they have to see anyone who does not share their religious beliefs as being wrong not only about religion but about science as well?

Are these so-called "intelligent" people, who are apparently capable of reconciling some extremely preposterous ideas, unable to imagine a Creator who works through evolution? Is this beyond their intellectual abilities? I suggest that if it is possible to reconcile the enormous amount of evil in this universe with an All-Good Creator, then it is a simple thing to reconcile the Creator with evolution. Thus, to claim that believing in evolution is akin to believing in the meaningless of existence is a smokescreen designed by militant fundamentalists to hide what really drives them: hatred of homosexuals and other religions, and an enormous insecurity that requires them to despise those who disagree with their peculiar religious notions.

reader comments

12 Oct 1999
Excuse me? Why are you promoting some kind of 'moderate' creationism in response to the media bunk about 'intelligent fundamentalists'?

reply: Promoting 'moderate' creationism? Interesting reading. What I'm promoting, if anything, is that the media stop promoting the notion that the views of one narrow-minded group of creationists is the standard for all who believe in a Creator. 

I thought that the rational answer to creationism was to defend something called 'evolution'... Did I miss something here?

reply: Yes, I think you did miss something. The people who should be battling these militant fundamentalist Christians are the leaders of all the other religions of the world, not the scientists. 

You seem to think that hatred of Gays is somehow at odds with 'true' bible-thumping.

reply: I don't know about "true Bible-thumping," but I do know many Christians and Jews who do not hate homosexuals.

When did you stop being a skeptic and jump on the bandwagon of promoting the tolerance of 'most creationists' (??!!) against these particular bigots?

reply: Sorry, but I don't answer loaded questions.

Get a grip, btcarrol!
Andrew Rodomar

P.S. I am (normally) a big fan of your Dictionary.

reply: Does this mean that you are canceling your subscription?

15 Oct 1999
I have long suspected that the creationists are a small minority which by virtue of screaming loudly have been able to exert more influence than their numbers might normally allow. However I have been unable to find any statistics to support that contention, such information would have added considerably to your article about the "typical" creationist couple.

Dick Easton

reply: According to the 1997 World Almanac and the 2000 Global Evangelization Movement, there were about 1 billion Muslims, 1 billion Catholics, 800 million Hindus, 1 billion atheists and non-religious persons, 325 million Buddhists, and another billion plus who also belong to religions which do not require the rejection of evolution as a matter of religion. There are only about 350,000,000 Protestants in the world plus as many again Independents, and not all of them belong to the Christian fundamentalist sects that reject evolution. According to the Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches (1999), there are about 150,000,000 members of various Christian churches in the U.S. The churches that require rejection of evolution do not enlist more than 1/3 of these members. In addition, there are about 40,000,000 atheists and members of non-Christian religions which do not require rejection of evolution as a matter of religious belief. Thus, given the fact that there are about 6 billion people on earth and about 300,000,000 Americans, it is highly likely that militant Christian fundamentalists consist of no more than about 4% of the population worldwide, and no more than about 15% of the population in the United States. 

4 Sep 2000
I have before me the Fall 1997 special Double Issue of
Life Magazine: The Millennium. This edition, as you may recall, ranked the top 100 discoveries, events, and people of the last 1000 years. I draw your attention to #68 in the events category, on p. 57. "Pentecostalism Catches Fire." Included below in the brief article is the following: "Today about a half billion people call themselves Pentecostal or Charismatic, and Pentecostals ALONE outnumber Anglicans, Baptists, Lutherans and Presbyterians combined."

Then there follows mention of the 700,000 member Yoido Full Gospel Church in Korea, the world's largest church. My point here is to rebut two of your claims:

(1) That there really aren't that many "fundamentalists" that we [you] skeptics should worry about, and

(2) ergo; there can't be that many "Christians" out there, ("sectarians") who reject evolution.

The Life article appeared in late 1997. Another article I have in my files (I don't have time to pull out now but can fully cite if needed) is from a national religion editor which appeared in the Wichita Eagle newspaper somewhere in that same timeframe. This researcher, citing multiple international sources, posited a figure of some 630,000,000 for the worldwide Pentecostal movement which he documented as being the fastest growing religion on earth, outstripping in its rate of growth even Catholicism and Islam.

Now, if this be true, then there can't be only 400,000,000 Protestants as you cited above. Because, although Pentecostals are subsumed within the category of "Protestant" by and large, they still do not come anywhere near to equaling the membership of all the other denominations within that fold, in the aggregate!

I furthermore feel confident in "taking with a grain of salt" your figure of a solid billion for atheists --"and nonreligious" (whatever this may import). Stats for atheists in America last I read were by best estimates something on the order of 3 to 5% and in combination with sundry other skeptics and agnostics, yielding a total of 17% or thereabouts. I know this is higher in unevangelized nations, which is a sad situation indeed for many of us.

I can assure you, speaking as a Pentecostal myself, that over 95% of those in this faith would have to be strongly opposed to evolution as a theory possessing any explanatory power to elucidate cogently the origins of the universe and of man.

Given the figures I cited above, Pentecostals ALONE would represent 15% .... of THE WORLD!

In the U.S. you have over 20 million Southern Baptists, not all of whom, like Catholics would be considered "fundamentalist," admittedly, but of whom a very high percentage WOULD BE, among those in the pews. Remember also that the 1 billion Moslems, many of whom are themselves "fundamentalist," in their own sense of that term, are adherents of young-earth creationist beliefs as well. And there is even now a growing creation science movement among academics in the Middle East and even in Russia

In closing, although evolution is "tolerated" by many people simply because they are not formally educated in the arcana of Neo-Darwinism and its many protean, chameleonic manifestations (and attendant inconsistencies) doesn't mean they really believe it or "accept it" for one moment! We have to tolerate this bunk --for now--but the day is coming when the secular humanist religion of atheism (declared a "religion" at least by obiter dicta of two Supreme Courts) will no longer predominate. I, of course, as a person with a degree in the sciences myself, do not want to see a host of other irrational doctrines take its place, but truth must be allowed to come to the fore and not be suppressed as it has been lately.

Evolution maintains its eminent position in academe largely due to various forms of footdragging and financial/political machinations and good-old-boy networking among its adherents. (Not to mention the support of a biased media)

The day is coming though when it must finally collapse of its own accord and when it will be recognized by most as being impuissant and without explanatory power as a theory in the august realm of good science.
Jeff Long, Cumberland County Children Protection Association

reply: Jeff, I think you should have quit while you were ahead. This last bit about how evolution came to its position as one of the greatest scientific discoveries of all time through "footdragging" (whatever that means), "financial/political machinations and good-old-boy networking" is a howler worth about 6.2 on the Richter laugh-til-you-drop scale. Until you took your elevator past the top floor, you probably had some sympathetic readers. Anyway, to your point about numbers: (1) further research seems to confirm that there are about 1 billion people on the earth who are atheists, agnostics, or indifferent to religion. (2) further research seems to confirm that there are about 2 billion Christians on the planet and more than half of them are Roman Catholics, while 215,000,000 are Eastern Orthodox. Perhaps I was wrong in claiming that there are only about 400,000,000 Protestants. Perhaps there are more like 750,000,000 "Protestants," if we exclude Anglicans (who don't require rejection of evolution) and include all non-affiliated Christians, Mormons, and a few others as "Protestants." However, David Barrett claims there are only 342,002,000 Protestants. He clearly does not consider Pentecostals as part of Protestantism.

However, your figure of 475,000,000 Pentecostals could be correct, but they do not constitute a denomination. (Barrett claims there are 342,002,000 Pentecostals/Charismatics.) There are over 1000 Christian denominations in North America alone. (Barrett claims there are 33,830 denominations worldwide.) The newspaper writer who you say claims there are 630,000,000 Pentecostals is undoubtedly wrong or you have misremembered the statistic.

Thus, I still say that militant Christian fundamentalists consist of no more than about about 15% of the population in the United States. However, I must revise my estimate regarding militant fundamentalists worldwide from 6% to 4%. (I'm assuming 1/3 of the world's "Protestants"--which number some 750,000,000--are militant fundamentalists and that world population is 6 billion.)

reader comments

6 Sep 2000 
One of the problems with the stats is that "Pentecostal" is not a well defined term. Your link would not be remotely accepted by my church (Mary didn't speak in tongues, after all). Another definition is given here, but there are certainly other Pentecostal churches out there that would disagree with this definition.

Since there are many independent Pentecostal churches that meet in homes it is very hard (apart from the definition of what is a Pentecostal) to get a good count.
Tim B

reply: I agree. Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education Inc., says that it has been estimated that 30-35% of Americans are "literalist conservative Christians." That would mean that more than 100 million Americans reject evolution, including the Scientologists, Hare Krishnas, Raelians, Urantians, and others who think the human race was bred by some aliens who landed here thousands of years ago (they all have the Scriptures to prove it!). I don't know where she got her estimate. (She mentions it in an article which appears in the September 2000 issue of AFT On Campus.) If she's right, then there are twice as many militant fundamentalists in America than I have claimed.

7 Sep 2000
(Jeff Long replies)
HMMMMM. Well, for starters--like the stalling and finger pointing and mutual recriminations [syndeton] that ensued among the evolutionary frat brats subsequent to the embarrassing revelation that
National Geographic, following the advice of several of its "experts," had been conned by that Chicom bird-dino transition fossil.

I'll admit though that the artwork, as usual, was first class!

reply: Sorry, Jeff, but I don't think you'd know a con from bonbon. Read National Geographic's reply. Like many of your ilk you think that science should be error free (like your Bible, I suppose), but it isn't. Your kind also seem to think that any error by a scientist somehow gives your unscientific notions credence. It doesn't. You don't see error, you see fraud and a con job. The reason for this is because you are seeing everything through the blinders of your understanding of Scripture. Characters like you think that every time a scientist errs, your simplistic notions about the origin and nature of the universe are strengthened. Nonsense. In logic this is called the fallacy of argumentum ad ignorantiam.

The rest of your practiced ad hominem tirade I will forgive you for.

reply: Gosh, thanks.

On the Pentecostal/militant fundamentalist figures... I'll get back to you shortly.

I will dig out the article I referenced from the Witchita Eagle (I saw it less than a week ago while rifling through a stack here somewhere). I am pretty certain I recalled the figure accurately.

Anyway, one of your links to the site by the NY Catholic doctor wasn't very helpful at all. He cited 40,000,000 Pentecostals worldwide and alleges that most are under the pastorate of "little popes." (But since he is pro-life I'll not be unduly harsh in my estimation of him.)

Another link you referenced as "authoritative?" looks like it goes to a syncretist New Age site of some sort; and the main one you cited I could not raise at all. I will try again.

Apropos of "evolution": it is a glorious hypothesis which necessitates a universal mechanism (they thought they had it for awhile in NS) which by now should have been clearly elucidated one would think. But not enough is known to give us anything which can be falsified, and division within the camp (among evolutionists themselves) is too extensive and strident to inspire much in the way of confidence to educated onlookers like myself.

reply: You obviously haven't read much genetics or microbiology lately. The mechanisms of evolution are not only well-known, they are pretty much agreed upon and falsifiable. There is no giant rift among evolutionists as you claim. To remove your ignorance, for starters I suggest you read Blueprints : Solving the Mystery of Evolution by Maitland A. Edey and Donald C. Johanson. Then read Stephen Jay Gould's "Evolution as Fact and Theory" in Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes.

Of course, Creation too is not falsifiable, but the design patently inherent in living things and within their ecosystems (not to mention the so-called anthropic principle extant in the physical universe itself) do not leave one with much of a sense that answers to life's most pressing questions are to be found in the sterility of materialism, dialectical or otherwise!

reply: I was hoping you would bring up the fourth great piece of nonsense promulgated by militant creationists (the other three being that the mechanism of evolution is not known, that evolution is not falsifiable and that there is a great rift among evolutionists about this mechanism), namely, that evolution implies materialism and atheism. Non-sense! There are many evolutionists who are as spiritual as you are. You insult them by implying that unless they agree with your narrow interpretation of Scripture, they are materialists and atheists. Any fool can imagine God creating the universe with the mechanism of evolution as part of it. Why you would want to read a spiritual document as if it were a science text is beyond me, but you are just blowing air when you claim that your way is the only way. You sound like the Pope claiming his church is the only way to salvation. If there is a hell, you and the Pope may share the same cell for eternity for your arrogance, inauthenticity and prevarication.

Just wanted to let you know I'll be back with some more figures, but for now: some of us unfortunately do have to work for a living.
Jeff Long

reply: I hope your work doesn't include spreading more nonsense about how evolution is "just a theory" and for "fairness" sake creationism ought to be taught alongside it in the science classroom. Or was that last week? What are you teaching today? That evolution isn't a science after all and has "serious flaws" and is a "theory in crisis"? How can you tell such lies and with a straight face claim you are a Christian?

further reading

  • Religions of the World These data are based on census figures. But it does not say what census figures, who did them, how, etc. It  claims that there are 2 billion Christians worldwide, 925 million with no religion and 211 million atheists. They also note that the UK Christian Handbook estimates that 28.3% of the world's population were Christians in 1990 and that the percentage is dropping, i.e., there are fewer that 1.7 billion Christians worldwide. 
  • Major Religions of the World Ranked by Number of Adherents also claims there are 2 billion Christians.
  • Religious Population of the World, 1998 claims there are 1.9 billion Christians, of whom 1 billion are Catholics.
  • The World Christian Encyclopedia (David Barrett's Global Evangelization Movement) in 2000 claims there are 1,999,564,000 Christians, of whom 1,057,328,000 are Catholics. It claims there are 768,159,000 non-religious people and 150,090,000 atheists. It claims that the percentage of Christians worldwide is 33%, is holding steady and that 523,767,000 are Pentecostal/Charismatics.


ęcopyright 2002
Robert Todd Carroll

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