Thursday, April 28, 2011

The BPA Propaganda War, or How the Journal-Sentinel Scares You

We were aware of the BPA propaganda war quite some time ago, and mentioned that it really boils down to a war between the Usual Suspects (basically, the anti-progress Luddite/nature-worshipper/green-weenies) backed up by the Trial Lawyers, who are always seeking the next Big Tobacco fountain of cash. Tides Foundation and George Soros (really!) are into this pile, and by no co-incidence, the Tides Foundation is connected with the Kendeda Fund, which contributes to "Environmental Health Sciences"--which the JS relies on for its 'factual' information.

When one looks hard enough, one can find all sorts of interesting information. "The 'net, 'swunnerful", as Lawrence Welk never said, (but would have...)

The Milwaukee newspaper proved to be a willing megaphone (not "dupe", please) for the Luddite-and-Lawyers bunch.

To do so, they had to ignore quite a bit of actual, scientific, stuff. And ignore it they did!!

...Why did the chemical bisphenol A (BPA) become the hottest environmental topic in 2008 after global warming? A building block of polycarbonate plastic and epoxy resins, BPA was neither new to the marketplace nor unstudied by scientists: By 2007, there were over 4,200 studies covering a dizzying range of possible ways it might be toxic – and there was a remarkable global consensus that it didn’t pose a threat to health...

In fact, after a review of the available research in 2006, Europe decided that BPA was safer than had been previously thought. The European equivalent of America’s Food and Drug Administration – the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) – said the amount considered safe to ingest on a daily basis for life should be raised by a factor of five. Separate risk assessments by individual member countries – Norway, Switzerland, Denmark and Germany – sometimes focusing on different areas of concern, reached the same conclusion. A Japanese risk assessment also concurred.

Gee. You mean that the JS' intrepid reporters and editors are smarter than all those guys?

Well. They're just Europeans and Asians! What in Hell do THEY know? the United States, an entirely different theme emerged in public debate: unremitting panic. There was a run on glass bottles as terrified parents junked polycarbonate; environmental activist groups warned that “millions of babies” were at risk; the media raged at how BPA was proof that America’s regulatory system was broken and that the Food and Drug Administration was relying on industry-sponsored studies to justify inaction; journalists reported, it seemed, every new shred of data on BPA, which now appeared to link BPA to almost every disease imaginable from asthma to cancer to obesity.

Prolly zits and PMS, too, but they didn't get around to it.....yet.

By NO co-incidence:

In the wake of this reporting came the lawsuits: [...] the woman and her two children had used polycarbonate bottles from the maker for several years. As Reuters noted “The lawsuit does not describe any physical ailment suffered by the plaintiffs and seeks unspecified damages.”

That's the best kind of lawsuit. "Just send money; we'll tell you when to stop."

All that is prelude. Guess Who's named as a Leading Cause of Lawsuits and Panic?

...One newspaper, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel even went so far as to commission its own, apparently scientific, study to show how the chemical could leach from microwaveable plastic containers to jeopardize health, and how the FDA was failing to consider vast amounts of evidence showing that the public was in danger.

You can hear the hoofbeats and full-throated cry: "One if by land, and TWO if by BPA!!"

...what has gone missing in the coverage of BPA across the media was that the body of research hailed by vom Saal as demonstrating that BPA was dangerous at low doses had been studied and rejected as scientifically invalid or irrelevant by the European Union’s Food Safety Authority (EFSA), individual European countries, and Japan – along with various evaluations in the United States

Now you know why only Fox News uses the self-descriptor "....balanced." Some news outlets is, some ain't.

And just in case you missed the point, here's even MORE reason to dismiss the JS' bleatings:

...the National Institutes of Health, which funded some of this BPA research (including vom Saal’s original work on BPA) under the auspices of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, has tightened its guidelines for research on BPA....The NIEHS will now only fund two-year studies on BPA, of sufficient sample size “to ensure power to detect a statistical difference between experimental groups,” and that the “route of exposure should be oral or justified to provide similar blood levels as oral route,”...

Look, folks: if you're going to claim that BPA is "dangerous when ingested," then you damn well better have comparable "ingestion" methods, right? Otherwise, you'll have all the credibility of Rachel Carlson, who poured enough DDT into the ground to kill trees for 50 years (and incidentally a couple of robins), or that babe who sampled all the South Seas native men and then declared that 'South Seas native men liked promiscuous sex so it must be natural!!'...but I digress.

And the concluding indictment:

But according to the authors of the European Risk Assessment and the NSF International paper, the Journal Sentinel’s mania to indict BPA (and the other news reports that have mirrored its approach) have made a mockery of science. In the following analysis, they explain in detail why this reporting is misleading and inaccurate, and why the low dose research was rejected as irrelevant or scientifically invalid by their assessments. They explain why the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel didn’t just fail the public in basic toxicology, it failed to follow basic scientific principles in evaluating evidence – the principles that govern whether research is reliable and relevant or not.

In other words, "To Hell with all that science-stuff: SELL NEWSPAPERS!!!"

But there's something in the analysis of the (flawed) studies that almost anyone can understand: 'oral ingestion' is NOT the same as subcutaneous ingestion or injection. Studies which rely on subcutaneous and/or injection induction are ipso facto irrelevant.

Oh, and that 500,000X dosage difference--that might mean something, no?

The Journal-Sentinel wrote a number of self-lauding editorials (Haynes) after its series on BPA won some J-School awards. But what the JS did not print was this:

...the Journal Sentinel never separated oral studies from injection studies, single-dose from dose-response studies, or presented a statistical argument explaining why the exclusion of oral studies is used...the ad hominem: if industry funded it, it must be wrong.

Why sure. Industry wants to kill all its customers! Hell, that's what all the Marketing guys say to do, ain'a??

The same applies to Germany, France, Denmark, and Japan, of course. They want to kill all their babies!! That's why they will not ban BPA.


The JS also conducted its own "test", conveniently using the facilities of the leading anti-BPA voice (Von Saal) and "verified" by a woman named Hunt. But the JS didn't mention that Ms. Hunt and Von Saal were close collaborators--that is, that Ms. Hunt was NOT an arms-length independent "verifier." Another "independent" verifier, from Spain, was also associated with Von Saal's Chapel Hill organization. One other verifier didn't think that the experimental method could reliably detect the BPA. That's not exactly an endorsement, is it?

After the "experiment" was complete, the JS contacted a scientist who reported this:

"The main thing I remember is being surprised that they didn't actually measure BPA concentrations in foods. Instead, what was measured was the BPA concentration in extracts. The reporter said it was all done according to the standard FDA method, but I cautioned her to report the results as surrogate measurements, not as actual concentrations in foods."

The Journal-Sentinel did not report the results as surrogate measurements. Is that a problem?


“Much of the confusion evident in the Journal Sentinel article appears to stem from the fact that the authors failed to appreciate the differences in route of BPA exposure (ingestion vs. injection) and how the different routes of exposure influence the body’s metabolic detoxification and excretion of this substance. In the absence of understanding the role of biotransformation and elimination of BPA in relation to route of exposure, one can arrive at erroneous conclusions about risk to human health posed by trace levels of any material present in our environment.”

Which is to say that the JS' "reporting" was just about the same as Creative Writing.

The JS simply refused to understand this--which any 4th-grader CAN understand:

The claims the paper makes – including raising the specter of breast cancer – come from studies of BPA exposure in animals that administered BPA intravenously, said Willhite. The test, the comparison, the alarm is meaningless. Children aren’t injecting BPA into their veins, they are ingesting it in food, and as every regulatory body has noted, the effects produced by ingestion are different to injection;...

Put simply, your baby does NOT mainline BPA. You understand that, right? Meg Kissinger doesn't. But if all you know was what you read in the newspaper, you'd think your baby would grow up to have green fingers and glowing-purple toes.

That, my friends, is why there are blogs. Oh, and the Columbia School of Journalism--you may have heard of them--which, while not expressing any love for the report linked above (and quoted extensively) also said this:

Journalists need to spend more time reading materials and methods sections of research papers instead of sticking to their introductions, discussions, and conclusions. Doing so prevents uncertainties about the conflicts of interest; it also provides more useful information to readers about the science itself.

Yes, indeed.


Tim Morrissey said...

I don't know where you find the time to do long-form stuff like this - it's good. However, your last paragraph, culled from the School of Misery Journalism, assumes facts not in evidence: i.e., that Journalism students can read.

Dad29 said...

I absolutely HATE long-form blogging, but some things are important.

The worst part is trying to catch up with everything else, meaning I don't get my beauty rest, meaning that the local raccoon thinks I'm her husband.