The Science Oven

By Keith Kloor | December 30, 2013 10:47 am

I recently saw the new movie American Hustle, which is loosely based on an infamous 1970s FBI sting operation that ensnared members of the U.S. Congress. There are more than a few very funny moments of highbrow farce in the film, such as when one of the characters (played by Christian Bale) receives a microwave oven as a gift from a politician and brings it home to his wife on Long Island.

He calls it a “science oven” (the first countertop microwave ovens were introduced in the late 1960s). At the time, this was a relatively new consumer-oriented technology that inspired awe and trepidation. This is the scene in the movie where the wife accidentally blows up the microwave.

She is unapologetic, telling her husband that she read in a magazine that microwave ovens take all the nutrition out of food. She then names the author of the article–Paul Brodeur, who was a crusading New Yorker writer from the  1960s until the early 1990s. The article she is probably referring to is this one, which would lead to a book by Brodeur called, The Zapping of America: Microwaves, Their Deadly Risk, and the Cover-Up.

Brodeur would go on to be an instrumental player in the great power-line scare, a bogus issue also given currency in the New Yorker by him, which led to a similarly titled book.

powerlinecover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The larger theme of these technological fears would then be expanded on in a later book by Brodeur published in 2000.

currents

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I wrote about Brodeur’s role in the amplification of these unwarranted fears in this post. I find it interesting that the maker of American Hustle–a movie in part about noble intentions gone amok–explicitly refers to Brodeur in the “science oven” scene.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: science, science journalism
  • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/qz4.htm Uncle Al

    Get a large diameter pot or fry pan, wind a thousand turns of magnet wire, pull the mandrel and secure the coil. Connect to a rectifier bridge, then to a digital watch or a tiny LED (note polarity in both cases) . If it runs, you want a grounded Faraday cage about your home blanketed with lossy inductance. If not, no biggie.

  • mem_somerville

    Ha ha ha ha! Ah, memories. I caused a fire in my parent’s first microwave. It was before microwave popcorn, and my cousin Judy told me you could make popcorn in a paper bag in there. Being kind of an early adopter, I tried it.

    Melted the top plastic shield thingy inside, but we kept using the thing for years.

    But I see the link now–people in my family have died since that microwave. It totally makes sense.

    • Buddy199

      I microwaved instant coffee and almost went back in time.

      • mem_somerville

        Heh. The science oven is bigger on the inside.

    • http://www.facebook.com/Kieseyhow Kieron Seymour-Howell

      You can create a wonderful ball of super heated plasma with celery and a powerful microwave if you know what you are doing.

  • Franken Stein

    Jennifer Lawrence is awful. Someone had to say it!

    • Zoran Taylor

      True, someone had to say it. But not for the reason you think….

  • jh

    So, what you’re saying is that people are pumping up stuff like power lines and GMOs and AGWs and Population Bombs and Peak Everythings so they can sell books and make some dough?

    No Way. Not in America.

    But the Science Oven. OMG. That’s too funny.

    • http://www.facebook.com/Kieseyhow Kieron Seymour-Howell

      I think that he is making a point of how things are tied together and the effects of publications, media, and culture, on the average person and the fallout of thereof.

      It is very interesting from a point of psychology and sociology.

  • harrywr2

    Just to add the necessary nuance.

    Excessive exposure to radiation across the electromagnetic spectrum raises cancer risk. That is what the science tells us.

    Given that 20+% of the population in the developed world will contract cancer in their lifetimes no matter what the question then becomes how much electromagnetic radiation exposure constitutes a statistically significant additional risk.

    Once we have managed to get to the ‘statistically significant’ threshold we then have to ask whether or not the tradeoffs are worth it.

    Stepping outside and ‘catching some rays’ increases our risk of cancer…getting zero sunshine increases our risks of other diseases.

    • http://www.facebook.com/Kieseyhow Kieron Seymour-Howell

      Good luck, finding that out. If the answer is known, it will be lost in the tides of junk science, science religion, and pseudoscience that is already out there.

      Unless, are you offering to undertake the 25-year in depth study that will be necessary to convince people of your findings? Also, don’t forget that many people do not even want to know, and shamelessly flaunt their ignorance with pride.

  • jh

    So Keith, tell us what you think: does Paul Brodeur knowingly invent such tales to sell books?

    I think not.

    Mr. Brodeur seems to have a uniquely(?) American disease: the ability to align one’s beliefs with one’s financial interests, regardless of the evidence contrary to one’s beliefs.

    I mean, take a guy like McKibben. Does he believe all the stuff he pumps out? There’s no question in my mind that he does. He believes it. It’s not some kind of scam, where he’s knowingly lying. But does he believe it because it’s real, or does his success selling it convince him that its real?

    I think it’s the same for Hansen, Gore, Nuttycello and the rest of the AGW crowd; the same for the GMO opponents; the same for evolution opponents.

    But does success follow belief, or does belief follow success, or do they grow together? Are they mutually reinforcing? The more the success selling the tale, the deeper the belief?

    How could one test that?

    And what happens when the belief bubble bursts? I think it’s so interesting that Ehrlich still believes he was right about the population bomb. I mean, it’s kind of like believing that the world is going to end on a given date, and when it doesn’t, you just go right on believing. At that point, certainly for Ehrlich, there’s no longer a financial incentive to maintain the belief. But there certainly could be an ego thing there. What drives the rejection of such a clear and cold dose of failure?

    • Matt B

      I don’t see this as a uniquely American problem; we may be world leaders in gullible dumbasses but the French coined charlatan for a reason and it wasn’t reserved for colonists…….as long as people embrace organic with its e-coli issues and vilify GMO’s for Lord knows what evidentiary reason (yeah looking at you Germany) it’s tough to believe that we’re unique in stupidity……..

    • Loren Eaton

      ‘Ehrlich still believes he was right about the population bomb.’ The ‘beauty’ of this argument , (and Jeffrey Smith’s ‘prediction’ of the need for body bags if GMO’s are eaten), is that as long as there is a tomorrow, it could still happen. And there is no way to disprove his theory statistically or scientifically.

      • jh

        “as long as there is a tomorrow, it could still happen”

        And then it will be “I was right all along”!! :)

        This and the Science Oven in the same thread.

        My friends know I’m a stock market geek. So they ask me: “is X company going to go up or down?” I tell ‘em it’s easy: you can bet either way and you’ll win. As long as you get the timing right.

    • http://www.facebook.com/Kieseyhow Kieron Seymour-Howell

      There is really only one thing you need to know: most people are stupid, and most likely what they tell you is based upon ignorance. Then you work from there and find your own answers.

  • John

    Why post full images of the covers of these useless books? Why mention the moron’s name six times?

    Let’s focus on how and why his claims are wrong, and not give so much attention to the ignorant fear monger nor his wares.

    • http://www.facebook.com/Kieseyhow Kieron Seymour-Howell

      Because controversy and sensationalism sells. You are here aren’t you?

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Collide-a-Scape is a wide-ranging blog forum that explores issues at the nexus of science, culture and society.

About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.

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