Dr. Andy

Reflections on medicine and biology among other things

Thursday, March 24, 2005

"Toxic Dust" = Credulous reporter

Would it be that hard for the press to clearly distinguish between real science presented in a peer-reviewed journal and a "report" produced by advocacy organizations?

These kinds of "news" stories, where pseudoscience put out by advocacy groups via unquestioning reporters drives me crazy. This "report" is put out by several organizations whose sole purpose is to try to remove various chemicals from use, others have goals like "eco tax" and "dematerialized economy." These may or may not be admirable, but a reporter should have the sense to be a bit less credulous in acting like the "report" is some sort of peer reviewed publication.

The report which is impressively professional, is just a scare document. It carefully reviews all the bad things linked to each outcome and all the serious diseases that may or may not be related to them. It gives levels of various chemicals in dust samples, but doesn't give any idea what those levels mean. In a brief moment of almost honesty, they authors write:

The degree to which these trends can be linked to hazardous chemicals exposure is not the main issue. The real question is why should we take chances?
If the effects of these chemicals is not the main issue why are you writing this report?

To his or her credit, the reporter does identify the sponsors as "environmental groups" but looking at some of their websites, I don't think that goes far enough. These are pure advocacy groups. At least chemical industry representative is given some space to defend the industry.

Googling on the authors I find a Greenpeace employee (Pat Costner), a "consumer advocate" (Beverly Thorpe) and a "project director" (Alexandra McPherson). Not a graduate degree among them.

As a kicker, check out this article from 9 months ago. The same groups released and almost identical report about "toxic dust," this times from reporters.

Maybe these toxic chemicals are harming us, but this report does zilch to address the issue. Instead it is designed to scare people, with the help of incompetent reporters.


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