The Rubber Duckies: Bloomberg pushes his health obsessions

(June 17, 2011) New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s fervent implementation of junk science policies makes him this year’s unrivalled winner of the Rubber Duckies Award.

The Rubber Ducky Award for Integrity in Junk Science goes to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who selflessly backs his deeply held personal beliefs by proselytizing, by personal philanthropy, and by spending his city’s money. When nagging and money can’t buy compliance, Bloomberg uses his police powers.

Take the food that others eat, one of Bloomberg’s biggest obsessions. Bloomberg didn’t like New Yorkers’ taste for trans fat, so he lectured them on its evils. Then he asked restaurants to abide by voluntary trans fat restrictions. Then he banned trans fat outright at restaurants.

Now Bloomberg has his city leading the nation on an anti-salt campaign. New York’s health bureaucracy has devised a salt-reduction system that would see reductions of 10% to 40% in 61 classes of packaged foods and 25 classes of restaurant foods. Under the Bloomberg system, which is modelled on automobile fleet mileage standards, city bureaucrats give companies overall salt quotas for each product line, and the flexibility to move around salt reductions from one product within a line to another, instead of requiring uniform reductions across the board. For example, Campbell’s could reduce the salt in its chicken noodle soup by 25% and its vegetable soup by 10%, while leaving its mushroom soup intact.

Bloomberg is also obsessed with the obesity he sees in New York’s poor districts, leading him to require fast food restaurant chains to calculate calorie counts for their offerings. In other targeted assaults on the food habits of the poor, he wants to ban the use of food stamps for the purchase of pop and other sugared drinks, and to tax these drinks as well. To get at poor children, he bans politically incorrect foods in the public schools they attend. To shame the poor into compliance, he runs ads that command, “Don’t Drink Yourself Fat.”

Bloomberg may hate tobacco even more than trans fat. To protect non-smokers from second-hand smoke, bans on smoking indoors in public spaces aren’t enough. Under a policy presented last fall, New Yorkers — and even tourists — would be unable to smoke in Central Park or in outdoor pedestrian areas such as Times Square.

Other politicians rival Bloomberg’s embrace of junk science — from global warming to cellphones, many, like him, accept the pop science fads of the day. But none in the political class implement junk science policies with Bloomberg’s fervour, and for that he becomes this year’s unrivalled winner.

Lawrence Solomon is executive director of Energy Probe and author of The Deniers.LawrenceSolomon@nextcity.com.

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