JUNK SCIENCE: Are We Having Fun Yet?




A special mom/editrix asked me to look into the frenzy surrounding the recall of thousands of toys due to the use of lead paint. She probably was interested in learning exactly how dangerous these toys are to her young tot. She probably didn’t expect that the question would send me into an anti-capitalist seizure. Which it did.

What I’ve learned is that you really can’t separate these “accidents” — the lead paint in toys, the tainted pet food, the contaminated toothpaste — from corporate greed and the people’s losing battle against neoliberalism.

Unsure what neoliberalism is? You’re not alone, because as I type I find that either I’ve spelled the word wrong or Microsoft Word’s spell-check doesn’t recognize the word either.

I just checked.

I didn’t spell it wrong. Microsoft doesn’t recognize this word, though the rest of the world knows and uses it. Everyone except us Americans.

In America, we call it globalization because we hate the “L” word.

The ideology that governments should advance the common good, which is what I believe, goes out the door when the government decides that corporate profit should rule over every other concern — even the health and safety of its youngest citizens. That is what neoliberalism means, or rather that is what it boils down to in reality. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer, the middle class gets squeezed, and everyone is put in danger or cheated, even the planet. Initiated by Ronald Regan, who promised riches would trickle down to the masses, reality has shown trickle-down is really piss-down.

Which brings me back to lead paint on toys. url.jpeg

Lead is safe unless you ingest it or breathe in lead-laced dust. Just touching dry lead paint is safe. Unfortunately, almost every adult has the heavy metal lead in their blood. Bummer, since there is no safe blood level of lead. Except for people working with or manufacturing lead-based products (in factories, building renovation, welding, etc.) exposure to lead is most dangerous for children aged 6 and younger.

Lead is especially dangerous to these tiny people because their bodies and brains are still developing. Pair that with the fact that kids are more likely to ingest lead because they stick a lot of stuff into their mouth. It’s a disaster waiting to happen. Oh wait. It just happened.

How are we exposed to lead?

If you sucked on a lot of lead-painted objects, or ate peeling paint chips or mud pies (even decades after being outlawed, leaded gasoline is quite often found in our soil), or the double whammy of unknowingly drinking lead contaminated drinking water from lead-glazed pottery, you?ve been exposed to lead and there it is, in your blood.

Even low levels of lead in a child’s blood can lead to lower IQs.

Use the above sentence as a test to see how much lead you’ve been exposed to. If you’re confused by the fact that lead and lead in that sentence are two entirely different words, you might have high levels of lead in your blood.

Of course if you insist on being scientific about it, there’s a blood test to determine lead levels too.

Besides lower IQs, lead exposure in childhood can also cause behavioral problems later on in life including the inability to follow directions; it can damage the nervous system, brain, reproductive organs and kidneys. Exposure can also lead to poorer speech and problems with processing language. A lot of kids deemed juvenile delinquents may actually be suffering from lead poisoning.

The early symptoms of lead consumption include seizures, lethargy and a host of stomach problems like constipation, loss of appetite and abdominal pain.

So yes, lead is very dangerous for a child’s health and subsequent development both physically and mentally. The Consumer Product Safety Commission advises you take all recalled toys away from your child immediately.

Cumulative exposure.

One or two toys containing lead pose a small risk, but if lead paint coats many of the daily items your child uses — and I don’t mean just on toys, but from bibs to lunch boxes — the cumulative exposure is what you should be worried about.

Wait, there’s lead on bibs and lunch boxes too?!? Unfortunately this spike in recalls might just be the tip of the iceberg. Lead paint may have been applied to anything manufactured in countries that have little regulation, and this may have been going on unnoticed for years. One research scientist at Ashland University, Ohio, told the New York Times “I think it’s probably been there for a while and we’re just becoming aware of it.”

Neoliberalism = Capitalism gone awry.

The Bush administration has worked its special magic on government control. They set out to, and did, eliminate what Republicans called the federal nanny approach. In its place they instituted a series of policies disastrous to us, great for big business.

The idea was to eliminate regulation that might be costly to business — unneeded regulation like safety. Industry-friendly officials were placed in agencies that oversaw regulation. These new insiders weakened industry oversight regulations and blocked enforcement of the rules. The proof: compliance investigations dropped a whopping 45 percent from 2003 to 2006!

In the place of mandatory regulation, a very neoliberalist concept was put in place — voluntary compliance. Get rid of mandatory regulation and let the industry regulate it self. CEOs, like Gerald L. Storch of Toys ‘R’ Us, readily admit they didn’t care about safety. “In the past, the industry may have accepted a pattern of recalling products as a way of making sure products are safe,” he told the Times.

Manufacturers really get a free pass here, and it’s almost impossible to sue them for damages. Cause and effect is difficult to prove since the damage caused by lead may take years to surface. So they didn’t care about your child’s safety until they got caught.

Recent government cut backs in safety regulation are so severe there is now only ONE federal employee charged with testing defective toys for the whole country!


China is America’s second largest trading partner. China is also a lumbering giant awakening from decades of isolation and poor treatment of its peoples under a supposed communist government. As seen with the USSR in the 1990s, communist governments have a great deal of trouble adjusting to the concepts of freedom, democracy and capitalism.

China’s ways are so foreign to us, the head of a company that manufactured some of the lead-painted toys committed suicide; the head of China?s equivalent of the Food and Drug Association was handed a death sentence and swiftly hung by the government.

Yeah, there are some major cultural differences between our country and theirs. But business minds have something in common. Lead paint is cheaper to use, using anything else would cut down on profits. When we tell Chinese manufacturers that safety regulations are voluntary, it means they don’t have to do it. And they don’t, because cutting cost is the most important thing in business.

Consumerism. j1659.jpg
But it’s not all their fault. Polly Pocket is one of the toys recalled (in this case due to the danger of small magnets) or rather Polly is 56 of the products recalled. Yes, you can buy your child hundreds of different Polly Pocket toys.

I own a Polly Pocket. I bought it because it’s an absolutely absurd toy with some adult overtones. [OMG, I have a Polly Pocket too, the big pink limousine! — Th’Editrix] It’s the size and shape of a powder compact. It opens up to reveal a big red magic mushroom that’s surrounded by a garden, river, and teensy table set for tea. There’s a tiny white gate that actually swings open to invite you in. The mushroom opens up too. Inside is a shinny green gem stone. Polly lives up top, in the lid of the compact, in a double-decker tree house with her pet squirrel. Polly can either sit on her swing or if she’s feeling too high from that mushroom, she can lay down on her purple bunk and dream.

Do you really need to give this toy to your kid? This is a toy kids can’t really even play with; the joy is in receiving it. Toys like this are the building blocks to train junior-collectors to become adult mega-consumers.

Your kid doesn’t have to have ten thousand zillion toys.

The good news.

At the recent Consumer Product Safety Summit in Washington, the Chinese have agreed to stop the exportation of toys which contain lead paint to the U.S., which is great but I guess means leaded toys will continue to go to other countries instead.

The best news.

The amount of lead your body retains can be reduced by making sure you and your child have a healthy diet, specifically one rich in foods that contain zinc, calcium and iron. Raisins, greens, beans, yogurt are recommended. Fried or fatty foods should be avoided. The old stand by applies too — make sure you and your child wash hands before eating. And don’t chew on your Pollys, OK?

Home Work:

Stop saying globalization and use the correct economic term, neoliberalism. And while we’re at it, stop saying privatization, which implies something is no longer controlled by the government, but controlled by the people (like our roads or water supply). It’s not “private” at all, it’s corporate-controlled. Say that.

The new book Utopian Pedagogy: Radical Experiments Against Neoliberal Globalization, University of Toronto Press, profiles Elizabeth Fiend’s unique and unorthodox, grassroots, gonzo educational endeavors under the chapter dedicated to experiments in alternative education. Her picture’s in the book too!

Says Amazon.com, “Utopian Pedagogy is a challenge to the developing world order that will stimulate debate in the fields of education and beyond, and encourage the development of socially sustainable alternatives.”

Book review:



Sources and For More Information:



Health concerns regarding lead ingestion:




About the recall and our troubled regulatory system:



China agrees to ban use of lead in American bound toys:


ABOUT THIS COLUMN: At no time in recorded history have we possessed so much knowledge about health and nutrition, nor have we ever had such vast and effective machinery for disseminating that knowledge — and yet, for all intents and purposes, we live in hi-tech Dark Age with the vast majority of the global population essentially ignorant or confused about the basic facts of their own biology. How did this happen? Well, that’s a whole six-part mini-series in and of itself, but the short answer is that the bottom line of many a multi-national corporation is dependent on that ignorance, and vast sums of money are expended to maintain it. The global warming argument is a classic example. When scientific fact did not favor Big Oil, they hired their own scientists to to conduct and publish studies that contradicted the peer-reviewed facts about the environmental impact of carbon-based emissions. As a result, whenever the latest global warming news is relayed to the public, it always comes with the caveat that “some dispute these findings.” There was time when newspapers saw it as their duty to truth squad these debates, but that’s long since become a luxury most papers can no longer afford — better to hire another gossip columnist and give the people what they want. To fill this crucial gap, Phawker began publishing the JUNK SCIENCE column by Elizabeth Fiend, beloved host of Big Tea Party. Every week, Miss Fiend connects the dots to reveal a constellation of scientific facts that have been hiding in plain sight — scattered across the vast, cold reaches of the Internet. With a background in punk rock and underground comics, and longstanding employment as a library researcher, Miss Fiend doesn’t pretend to be a scientist or an expert. She does, however, know how scientific facts become diluted by corporate-sponsored non-facts, and every week she separates the smoke from the mirrors. Why? Because she loves you.

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