Friday, April 29, 2011

Science or Scary Stories From the Journal-Sentinel?

The Science of Scary has its disadvantages. It can be wrong.

Think anthopogenic global warming (or cooling), ALAR, and the ongoing DDT hoax. Those Science of Scary chestnuts were proven wrong, although the political resolutions did not necessarily follow the scientific evidence.

Then there's BPA. BPA is a horse that the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel rode to a couple of J-school awards. Too bad that horse was on illegal steroids, in a manner of speaking, eh?

...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.

The JS didn't like being called out. So they ran a column by their ex-employee who was part of the original anti-BPA bunch.

Fact-errors cropped up again (surprise!)

...Rust also attacks the credibility of STATS, the organization that houses the Genetic Literacy Project, where I work. She falsely claims it is funded by “ideological groups with a deep anti-regulatory bent,” citing the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation, and the Cato Institute—none of which give STATS money. Even if it such allegations were true, it is irrelevant even as a matter of context. The Genetic Literacy Project, which I founded and brought to STATS, gets no money from STATS or any of the groups named—zero dollars; it’s housed at STATS and George Mason University.

The JS could have been misled. Lots of people are misled. Often, that happens because one doesn't consider the possibility that there is MONEY in the Science of Scary.

...conflict of interests can cut all kinds of ways. Endocrine disruption is a hot area, with universities, advocacy groups and governments, including the United States under the stimulus, offering tens of millions of dollars to research the hypothesis, often with an a priori expectation that problems will be found. Needless to say, negative findings are not rewarded with lucrative grants or public notoriety in papers like the Journal Sentinel...

Just like AGW, eh?

Well. Not everyone holds onto the Science of Scary after the evidence is in.

...Richard Sharpe, director of the Centre for Reproductive Biology at the Medical Research Institute in Edinburgh and Europe’s top expert on endocrine disruption, had long embraced the BPA-is harmful hypothesis. Last year, as a clearer scientific picture of BPA emerged, he changed his mind. In a stunning article in Toxicological Sciences, he wrote, “As scientists, we all like our ideas and hypotheses to be proved correct; yet, there is equal merit in being proved wrong.” Sharpe now publicly advocates that governments stop diverting precious research funds into studying the endocrine effects of BPA, which he suggests is a dead-horse theory. Ultimately, he says, the evidence stands on its own—regardless of who funds the research. The missing step is that journalists have to report objectively what science finds.

The JS' favorite (and damn near ONLY) source, a fellow in Missouri, won't like being told he's riding a dead horse. Too bad, but endocrine studies will continue; he'll find something to do.

It wouldn't take much for George Stanley to say that he and the JS were misled, would it?

We'll see. The Science of Scary is a very seductive mistress.

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