Fumento grew up in Champaign, Illinois. He is the son of Tobey and Rocco Fumento, a professor emeritus in English, film, and creative writing who has worked at the University of Illinois. Fumento's father is Italian American and Catholic, and Fumento's mother is Jewish. Fumento himself is Catholic.
His work comprises over 70 subject areas. Google Scholar has almost 1,200 citations of his work. Publishers Weekly stated he has "knack for debunking popular beliefs and revealing the true state of things," while The New York Times Book Review stated, "His arguments, statistics and perceptions appear almost as irrefutable as they are controversial." Nature, however, stated that in some of Fumento's work, "some important scientific issues are dismissed or glossed over", and that "there is a fine line between persuasion and persecution."
He is best known for science and health issues, especially what he considers faux crises, including the 1987 "heterosexual AIDS explosion," swine flu and the alleged epidemic of runaway Toyotas.
Fumento has been a nationally syndicated columnist for the Scripps Howard News Service, a legal writer for The Washington Times, a science correspondent for Reason magazine, editorial writer for the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, and was the first national issues reporter for Investor's Business Daily. He embedded four times in Iraq and Afghanistan. His research and reporting from Ramadi, was praised by Gen. David Petraeus who called it "Great stuff with a great unit in a very tough neighborhood!" Some of his combat video footage has aired on the History Channel.
A finalist for the prestigious National Magazine Award, his articles have appeared in such magazines as Reader's Digest, The Atlantic Monthly, Forbes, Forbes.com, USA Weekend, The Weekly Standard, National Review, The New Republic, The Washington Monthly, Reason, Policy Review, The American Spectator, Nature Medicine, The Spectator (London), a3Umwelt (Austria), and The Bulletin (Australia). He has appeared in newspapers including the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Christian Science Monitor, Sunday Times of London, Sunday Telegraph of London, and the Jerusalem Post.
His television appearances include Nightline; ABC World News; ABC News 20/20, numerous programs on CBS, NBC, CNN, and Fox; PBS; MacNeil-Lehrer; CNBC; the BBC; the Canadian Broadcasting Network; C-SPAN; the Christian Broadcasting Network; Donahue; This Week with David Brinkley, the History Channel, ESPN, and many others. Fumento has lectured throughout the world.
Fumento has been outspoken in his support of adult stem cell research and critical of embryonic stem cell research, criticizing what he regards as a liberal and corporate bias in favor of the latter.
For Science Under Siege he received two awards, including the American Council on Science and Health's Distinguished Science Journalist of 1993.
Fumento argues that many reports of threats to society are based on bad science and misused statistics. In addition to AIDS, Fumento's writing on science covered such topics as global warming, ADHD, obesity, the health dangers of breast implants, teen drug use, and agrarian utopianism. He has been highly critical of what he considers extreme alarmism over such diseases as SARS, and the potential of a human avian flu pandemic.
A common theme is his claim that many liberal environmental groups have a hysterical response to most artificial chemicals. He writes that naturally occurring food chemicals are often as toxic as artificial compounds and that there is no scientific reason to view natural compounds as inherently safer. Environmental groups, he holds, willingly accept claims that man-made compounds cause cancer, but gloss over the fact that the toxicity tests often involve quantities millions of times larger than any human being would ever ingest.
Several articles deal with the agricultural chemical Alar, banned as a carcinogen in the United States; Fumento notes that the dosages in one Alar study were the equivalent of almost 30 thousand apples a day for life. In his view, it is impossible to test megadoses of chemicals on mice or rats and extrapolate the results to conclusions about small doses on humans. The statistical nature of these studies, often analyzed by non-statisticians, leaves them vulnerable to extrapolation error. Researchers remain divided on the utility of such tests and on the safety of Alar in particular.
He has been a frequent critic of activist Erin Brockovich since her eponymous movie first appeared in 2000.
Fumento describes himself as a political conservative. He has drawn criticism from liberal and veterans' activist groups for his views on Gulf War Syndrome, (His Reason article "Gulf Lore Syndrome" was a National Magazine Award finalist in 1998) and for his writings since 1987 which stated that the threat of AIDS to the heterosexual population was greatly overstated. He promotes a position of "skepticism" toward claims that man-made chemicals cause cancer in humans.
Fumento is perhaps best known for his epidemiology work, especially infectious disease outbreaks. He argues that the perception of such outbreaks becomes exaggerated or otherwise distorted by those who exploit them to serve various agendas. In November 1987 he published a landmark article, "AIDS: Are Heterosexuals at Risk?" in Commentary that in 1990 became the basis of a controversial book, The Myth of Heterosexual AIDS: How a Tragedy Has Been Distorted by the Media and Partisan Politics. He wrote dozens of subsequent pieces on the subject. In Commentary, he challenged the presumption that, as Life magazine's July 1985 cover declared in bold red letters, "Now No One Is Safe from AIDS."
By 1987 the theme had become common. A January U.S. News & World Report cover story declared, "The disease of them is suddenly the disease of us . . . finding fertile growth among heterosexuals." A New York Times headline that month read: "AIDS May Dwarf the Plague," citing remarks of the then-secretary of health and Human Services, Otis R. Bowen, that AIDS could be worse than the "Black Death," estimated to have killed 30 percent to 60 percent of Europe's population. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop made remarks giving rise to the term "heterosexual AIDS explosion." Oprah Winfrey told her audience, "Research studies now project that one in five—listen to me, hard to believe—one in five heterosexuals could be dead from AIDS at the end of the next three years."
Fumento challenged that orthodoxy, for which he and even those who wrote about him were condemned and even threatened. He did so by interviewing and citing the work of epidemiologists, including the top Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) AIDS epidemiologist, Dr. Harold Jaffe, who told him, "Those who are suggesting that we are going to see an explosive spread of AIDS in the heterosexual population have to explain why this isn't happening."
Although he would be accused of claiming heterosexuals have no AIDS risk, the back cover of his AIDS book states, "The 'myth' of heterosexual AIDS consists of a series of myths, one of which is not that heterosexuals get AIDS. They certainly do get it. . . ." Rather, he argued that while white middle-class heterosexuals were the target of AIDS propaganda, "the profile of the typical victim of heterosexually transmitted AIDS is a lower-class black woman who is the regular sex partner of an IV drug user."
As of 2007, the CDC's "estimated numbers of cases and rates (per 100,000 population) of HIV/AIDS," was 60.6 for black women, while only 3.3 for white ones. In a theme discussed in Commentary and in his book, Fumento described various agendas served by promoting "AIDS hysteria." These included a media catering to its primarily white, heterosexual, middle-class audience and homosexuals and their sympathizers who believed the disease needed to be "democratized" in order to spur research funding. "On the opposite side of the spectrum Christian fundamentalists deploy it in order to underline their vision of morality," he wrote in Commentary. He also discussed this in a 1988 New Republic cover story.
On January 13, 2006, Scripps Howard announced it would terminate its business relationship with Fumento and cease carrying his column. At issue were opinion columns Fumento had written concerning the biotechnology firm Monsanto Company while working at the Hudson Institute. The connection between Fumento and Monsanto was first revealed by investigative reporter Eamon Javers in Business Week, although nowhere does it say there was a quid pro quo as many articles and blogs subsequently claimed. General manager Peter Copeland explained that Fumento
did not tell SHNS editors, and therefore we did not tell our readers, that in 1999 Hudson received a $60,000 grant from Monsanto. [...] Our policy is that he should have disclosed that information. We apologize to our readers.
After the story was published, Fumento acknowledged that he benefited from Monsanto's grant to Hudson:
It was a $60,000 book grant to my employer, solicited back in 1999, which was applied to pre-established salary and benefits.
However, Fumento said Scripps Howard had no such policy and that the syndicate canceled his column upon receiving a phone call from Javers, without consulting him. Moreover, such a policy wouldn't make sense, he said, because it presumes once you've benefited from a grant you are considered forever in the donor's debt.
Fumento wrote that he did not begin the Scripps column until four years after getting the grant, had been writing pro-biotech pieces since six years before receiving the grant, and that shortly after receiving it he ripped Monsanto for being 'chicken-hearted' and "caving into environmentalist demands." Moreover, he wrote, of the approximately 100 columns he published, only three so much as mentioned Monsanto, one in a single sentence.
In a May 2012 essay, Fumento said that he considered himself part of the "Old Right," but he rejected the "extreme right," which he claimed had taken over the Republican party and dominates conservative media. He gave the example of The Heartland Institute billboards, comparing believers in global warming to Ted Kaczynski. This, Fumento said, was the same kind of "mass hysteria" that he rejected in the claims for a heterosexual AIDS epidemic and a swine flu pandemic. "The last thing hysteria promoters want is calm, reasoned argument backed by facts. And I'm horrified that these people have co-opted the name 'conservative' to scream their messages of hate and anger," Fumento said.
Conservatives such as William F. Buckley and Ronald Reagan demanded civility and a respect for order, Fumento wrote. He contrasted this to Andrew Breitbart "shrieking at peaceful protesters."
U.S. Rep. Allen West (R-FL) said there are "78 to 81" Democrats in Congress who are members of the Communist party. There was little condemnation from the new right, wrote Fumento.
Fumento has been affiliated with the following organizations:Independent Journalism Project—director
Scripps Howard News Service
U.S. Commission on Human Rights—AIDS analyst and attorney for the Commission
Washington Times—legal writer, later freelancer
Atlantic Legal Foundation—science adviser
Rocky Mountain News—editorial writer in Denver.
American Enterprise Institute—resident fellow.
Competitive Enterprise Institute—listed on the institute staff in 1994 with the Warren T. Brookes Fellow in Environmental Journalism
Consumer Alert—1995–96, science and journalism fellow
Hudson Institute—senior fellow from 1998 to 2006
National Journalism Center
Investor's Business Daily—national issues staff writer/later freelance
The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition (TASSC) On Advisory Board
TrashTalk Bulletin Board—also run by TASSC and Steve Milloy.
Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow
Fumento, Michael (1990) The Myth of Heterosexual AIDS: How a Tragedy Has Been Distorted by the Media and Partisan Politics. Basic Books, New York, 1990. A New Republic Book. 1-59403-057-X
Fumento, Michael (1993). The Myth of Heterosexual AIDS: How a Tragedy Has Been Distorted by the Media and Partisan Politics. Regnery Publishing. ISBN 0-89526-729-2.
Fumento, Michael (1993). Science Under Siege: Balancing Technology and the Environment. William Morrow & Company. ISBN 0-688-10795-8.
Fumento, Michael (1997). Polluted Science: The EPA's Campaign to Expand Clean Air Regulations. AEI Press. ISBN 0-8447-4041-1.
Fumento, Michael (1997). The Fat of the Land: The Obesity Epidemic and How Overweight Americans Can Help Themselves. Viking. ISBN 0-670-87059-5.
Fumento, Michael (2003). BioEvolution: How Biotechnology Is Changing Our World. Encounter Books. ISBN 1-893554-75-9.