Myths, Lies and Straight Talk

He's right that many of the oldest trees have been cut down, and about 7 percent of America's forests have been planted by man, but that still means that 93 percent are natural.

Ross is also concerned that loss of old-growth forest is leading to a loss of biodiversity. But while some species have decreased, the populations of many others animals have actually increased in the past 75 years.

Michael Shermer says many people believe America is destroying the forests because environment groups need to scare people to raise money.

"The fear is there," he said, "because, if your goal is to raise funds you have to scare people. You can't tell people things are getting better, and here's the data. You have to tell people things are worse."

The truth, however, is that today in the United States there are two acres of forestland for every single person, and America is growing more trees than it cuts.

MYTH # 2 — Getting Cold Can Give You a Cold

All through my childhood, I had to watch health movies which sold us the old wive's tale: being cold will give you a cold.

I spoke with some adults who still think that's true, and they make sure their kids are more than prepared for nasty weather. So what happens when kids play a game of football without any coats — some without any shirts — on a 40-degree day? Probably nothing.

Public health expert Dr. Mark Callahan explained being cold has nothing to do with getting a cold. "Running around outside in the cold won't give you a cold. You have to get exposed to a virus, pick it up and then you'll get a cold," Callahan said.

I learned about this myth years ago, when "20/20" sent me to a cold part of England. Scientists there found that dropping cold viruses into people's noses often made them sick. But getting them cold and wet made no difference.

The researchers had people walk outside in the winter rain and then sit in unheated rooms in various stages of undress, and those chilled people got no more olds than anyone else.

The cold is caused by a virus, not by temperature. And people get more colds in the winter, only because then we spend more time indoors passing the virus back and forth because we're closer to each other. Being cold has nothing to do with it.

MYTH # 1 — Life Is Getting Worse

I can see why people think life is getting worse. Anyone who watches television news regularly will hear stories about child abductions, muggings, murders, deadly new diseases. It's enough to make anyone feel frightened.

Kids I talked with told me they think crime is on the rise. They say they're worried about being kidnapped.

I find it so sad that they're scared when they are actually safer than ever. The crime rate is close to the lowest it's been in 15 years, and a Justice Department study showed no increase in kidnapping.

But Americans are living longer, better lives than they ever have. "These are the safest times ever to have lived on the Earth," economist Moore said, "and America is the safest place to have ever lived."

Today 70,000 Americans are at least 100 years old.

The average American today lives 30 years longer than the average American 100 years ago, according to Moore.

Today, we worry about SARS, but SARS hasn't killed a single person in America. Fewer than a thousand people have died worldwide. Compare that to the flu epidemic of 1918, which killed 20 million people.

Today's kids haven't even heard of many mass killers like diphtheria or rheumatic fever.

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