Being popular is hard. No, this isn’t the plot for the next Legally Blonde sequel; it’s the message our society sends when changes in popular consumer tastes inevitably raise questions of product safety.

A decade ago, the advent of cellular phones inspired a wave of fear mongering when the Paranoid Whack Jobs (henceforth referenced as PWJs) stepped in to tell us all that cell phones gave us brain cancer. Today, with the proliferation of Starbucks and rising global demand for quality coffee, many of those same PWJs are aiming their sights on caffeine.

At least the excuse behind the fabricated cell phone scare was a lack of any social history with the devices. However, caffeine and coffee have been tightly woven into popular culture for hundreds of years. So why are some PWJs acting so suddenly surprised by caffeine as if by some horrible new threat?

And while too much coffee or caffeine can clearly be a bad thing, isn’t that true for most anything without sensible moderation? Even fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamins A and D, can cause liver and kidney damage from high doses of seemingly healthy vitamin supplements.

“I’m no scientist, but I play one on my blog”

And yet we’ve noticed more frequent reports of things like “coffee rage” reaching epidemic proportions in the U.K. — as if the Queen’s tea was always herbal. And closer to home in California, yesterday a state advisory board recommended a study of caffeine for potential Proposition 65 warning labels: The Associated Press: Calif. Board Suggests Study of Caffeine.

You could argue that there’s something of an odd anti-caffeine lobby forming out there — made of born again anti-caffeine zealots hoping to refashion the Temperance Movement of the 19th & 20th centuries in the form of the double-tall, four-pump vanilla caramel macchiato. But I don’t mind those PWJs so much as the preposterous trend in this country towards mystic opinion and amateur science — if not outright anti-science.

We see this trend in the PWJs who, wielding their “far superior” armchair scientific research and statistical analysis skills, have authoritatively decided that immunizations cause rampant autism — trumping all the social benefits of child immunization programs throughout history. And while every PWJ is entitled to an opinion, it is a dangerous precedent when half-baked opinions influence public health and public policy. Just how long before we invoke the Flying Spaghetti Monster?

Fortunately, there are scientifically educated voices out there to help separate fact from fantasy: More California Dreamin’: Proposition 65 and Caffeine > ACSH > Facts & Fears > Archives. The question is if anyone is listening. Because of natural human biological wiring that’s attuned to alarm us of potential threats, sensationalism and fear mongering sells. The rational person who says, “false alarm” offers little attention-grabbing interest to compete with that.