The most recent issue of U.S. News & World Report is to urban-legend fans as a Snickers bar is to a sugar junkie.
The extra-large edition is devoted to hoaxes - how they spread, why people believe them.
The magazine arrived the same week I heard snickering from some of our neighbors here at the Martinez headquarters of Frigidaire.
Everyone still posts those Microwave In Use warning signs. We all know why, right? People with implanted heart pacemakers cant go around a working micro-wave, because the blast of radiation makes the gadget skip a couple of beats, right?
The Frigidaire folks know, however, that those warning signs are about as outdated as horse troughs at the post office.
As far back as 1992, in fact, the Journal of Occupational Medicine reported, In the early days of microwave ovens and cardiac pacemakers, there was a real possibility that a leaky oven with a significant electromagnetic field being emitted could interfere with operation of a pacemaker with an unshielded lead. Both problems have since been corrected.
That hasnt stopped the forward march of bureaucracy, which still demands that consumers be warned away from microwave ovens, even if brand-new pacemakers are shielded enough to withstand an atomic blast.
Old ideas die hard. Remember last year when there was a bomb scare at Evans High School? Some emergency personnel complained that kids were using cell phones during the evacuation.
Students arent supposed to have cell phones at school in the first place. But emergency personnel reiterated a longstanding directive that cell phones and other radio equipment shouldnt be used around a potential bomb site because stray radio waves could somehow trigger the bomb.
Sorry to disappoint all our hard-working emergency folks, but this is baloney.
Heres where it comes from: Some terrorists attach cell phones to bombs, which are rigged to go off when the phone number is dialed from a remote location. That was the method used in the horrific Hebrew University attack in Israel this summer: A Hamas bomber left an explosive-filled handbag in the schools cafeteria, and detonated the bomb by dialing the phone. Seven people, including five Americans, were killed.
This reality has become garbled into a broad-brush warning about cell phones and bombs. But if stray radio waves were a danger, any target located near a radio tower would be toast. As it is, the greater risk of cell phones at a campus bomb threat is that parents will have auto accidents when hysterically summoned to the scene by their dialing darlings; or, as in the Evans case, that it will be a kid on campus who phones in the hoax in the first place - with a cell phone.
The latest misguided message to fall is the so-called Mozart Effect, the notion that listening to classical music makes kids smarter.
Former Georgia Gov. Zell Miller bought into it, buying every newborn a classical CD. Ditto Tennessee. In Florida, day-care centers are required by law to play half an hour of Mozart every day.
Well, it turns out researchers finally tried to replicate the original experiments outcome.
They found a Mozart Effect, all right: The students, after listening to Mozart, did not perform better, says Kathy Donovan, a professor of psychology at the University of Central Oklahoma, quoted by Charles Osgood. They took longer and performed significantly worse. Listening to Mozart actually interfered with their cognitive performance.
Oops. Say, want to buy some used CDs?
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to email@example.com, or call 863-6165, extension 106.)
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