A roundup of some of the week’s most popular, but totally untrue, stories and pictures. None of these are legitimate, although they have been widely shared on social media. The Associated Press checked them out. Here are the facts:
Extreme weather events are getting worse, not less
CLAIM: Climate, weather, or meteorological events that we would classify as “extreme” have decreased in severity over the past 20 or 30 years.
THE FACTS: While the impacts of climate change vary around the world, scientists agree that human-caused warming is amplifying events like extreme rainfall, droughts and wildfires overall. However, a podcast clip shared on Instagram falsely claims that extreme climate, weather and meteorological events are actually decreasing in severity. “We could look at the accumulated cyclonic energy — Pacific typhoons, Atlantic hurricanes — and it’s actually been declining over the last 20 or 30 years,” says the narrator in the video, which has garnered thousands of likes. “We could look at wildfires, they’ve gone down. We could look at droughts. By any measure we look at, we can see that things have indeed calmed down somewhat.” Scientists who study climate patterns say these kinds of extremes are being made worse by climate change — and they’re getting worse, not less. “Heat extremes are becoming more frequent and severe; Precipitation extremes are becoming more frequent and severe,” said Kai Kornhuber, an associate professor and research scientist at Columbia University. “Fire weather associated with wildfires is becoming more frequent, more severe, more areas that haven’t seen these conditions before.” Kornhuber and other scientists reached by the AP pointed to rigorous studies and data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association point out how many types of extreme weather and disasters, including those mentioned in the podcast clip, have become more intense as a result of climate change. For example, according to NOAA, climate change has created warmer and drier conditions in the western United States, resulting in fire seasons that last longer and burn more area in recent decades. Droughts are complicated because “there are large regional and temporal variances,” according to Andrew Dessler, director of the Texas Center for Climate Studies and professor at Texas A&M University. “But you can’t say that things are ‘settling down.'” A study published earlier this month, using satellite data, showed that the intensity of extreme drought and rainfall has increased “largely” around the world over the past 20 years. The researchers said the data confirms that both the frequency and intensity of rainfall and droughts are increasing due to the burning of fossil fuels and other human activities that release greenhouse gases. The AP has previously refuted false claims that US hurricane landfall data disproves climate change. Studies show that tropical cyclone intensity has increased worldwide. The clip also ignores “some of the surest ways climate change is making extreme weather more extreme,” according to Dessler, including increasing the likelihood of heat waves, extreme rainfall and extreme sea level events. A United Nations climate report released in 2022 also cited evidence that climate change increases the likelihood of people dying from extreme weather conditions. Today’s children, who may still be alive in 2100, will experience four times more climate extremes than today, even with just a few tenths of a degree more warming, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said in the report.
— Associated Press writer Ali Swenson in New York contributed this report.
Radiation found in humans is not fatal, despite claims
CLAIM: 100 million people in the same place would emit enough radiation to be fatal.
THE FACTS: Radiation experts confirm that the human body contains trace amounts of radiation, but the levels are far from enough to be fatal, even if 100 million people were somehow crammed into a single place. Social media users shared a post titled “People are radioactive” along with the statement: “If 100 million average people are kept in an isolated place for eight hours, they will let in enough radiation to kill each of them within 20 days to kill. While it’s true that humans, like other living organisms, contain radioactive material, the levels are “extremely low” — thousands of times smaller than an X-ray, according to Melissa Sullivan, a spokeswoman for the US Environmental Protection Agency. The radiation also can’t be easily transmitted to others, experts say. To reach dangerous levels, the radiation would have to be somehow collected from millions of people and then distilled in a confined space. “By concentrating the radioactive material from many millions of people in a small area, the result could be a radioactive source that would need to be handled with care to avoid becoming dangerous,” Christopher Clement, CEO of the International Commission on Radiological Protection, an in Canada-based group of scientists advocating for radiation protection wrote in an email. “But not as harmful as squeezing a hundred million people into a phone booth.” The social media claims also show a misunderstanding of the type of radiation found in our bodies, said George Chabot, a physics professor at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. Human radiation comes largely from eating foods that contain potassium — a tiny fraction of which is radioactive potassium-40, he explained in an email. “What can confuse people is that most of the dose a person receives from consuming potassium-40 comes from the beta radiation emitted during the decay of the radioactive atoms,” Chabot wrote. “This beta radiation is not very penetrating, so virtually all of the energy emitted remains within the individual and cannot irradiate anyone.” Michael Short, a professor of nuclear science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, agreed, arguing that the radiation produced by 100 million people despite the Claims by social media users are still not deadly. “100,000,000 people would take up an enormous amount of space and distribute their radiation dose over this space. The dose you receive when you are close to a radiation source decreases rapidly with distance from that dose.” In addition, the human body acts as a sort of buffer, absorbing much of its own radiation and its broader effects weakening, added Christopher Baird, a physics professor at West Texas A&M University. “Once a human absorbs a little bit of ionizing radiation, that little bit of radiation is no longer available to affect another human being,” he wrote in an email. “A hundred million people will emit a hundred million worth of human background radiation, but a hundred million people will absorb that radiation.”
— Associated Press writer Philip Marcelo in New York contributed this report.
Topical application of fluoride has not been proven to cause dementia
CLAIM: Dental products containing fluoride are unsafe because the substance has been directly linked to dementia and Alzheimer’s.
THE FACTS: While consuming high amounts of fluoride can pose some health risks, experts say there’s no research showing that topical products containing fluoride — like toothpaste and mouthwash — cause dementia or Alzheimer’s. Still, one Instagram user warns against going to the dentist for fluoride, calling dentists “one of the biggest scams I’ve ever seen.” “They don’t know that fluoride is a neurotoxin that’s directly linked to dementia and Alzheimer’s,” the user claims in one video. But experts say there’s no research proving that topical fluoride products — in other words, products not designed for digestion, like toothpaste and mouthwash — cause dementia or Alzheimer’s. Christine Till, a neuropsychologist and professor at York University in Canada who has researched fluoride, said she’s not aware of any studies linking topical fluoride use to these conditions. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Oral Health Division told the AP in a statement that the agency is “not aware of any study that purports to associate the use of topical fluoride products with any systemic health risk when used appropriately.” . Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral found in water and used in toothpaste and dental products to strengthen teeth; it can also be found in foods and beverages. For decades, it has been added to many public water supplies as an oral health measure, the CDC explains. But overconsumption can pose health risks like brittle bones. The US lowered the recommended amount of fluoride in drinking water in 2015 because some children were getting too much and causing white stains on their teeth. Fluoride use has continued to increase controversy and scientists say there is evidence that consuming high levels of fluoride may pose additional risks, particularly for young children or is not good for the developing brains of children during infancy. said Linda Birnbaum, former director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, part of the National Institutes of Health, and the NA National Toxicology Program. The National Toxicology Program has continued to investigate the issue. Jennifer Sass, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the scientific community’s valid concerns about fluoride use do not justify avoiding the dentist for topical fluoride use. The CDC advises children under the age of 2 to use toothpaste with fluoride only when recommended by a dentist or doctor.
— Associated Press writer Angelo Fichera in New York contributed this report.
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