In a review of American media coverage of the controversy of bisphenol A, researchers at STATS (a nonprofit, nonpartisan Statistical Assessment Service affiliated with George Mason University), say the media failed to properly weight different studies based on their size and research methodology and relied too heavily on sources like the University of Missouri biologist Frederick vom Saal (bio page), a man STATS takes pains to discredit.
The report’s thesis:
Scientists, regulators, and politicians in Europe, Australia, and Japan have all rejected the evidence that the chemical is harmful as methodologically flawed, badly conducted or irrelevant – with some warning that banning it could actually endanger the public. Now that the National Institutes of Health has acknowledged it funded a lot of poorly-designed research on BPA – the very research that activists touted as evidence that the chemical is deadly – it’s time to ask whether America has been spun by clever marketing rather than clever science.
STATS focused much of their effort on the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel‘s coverage, critiquing the paper’s methodology and motivation in reporting and researching BPA.
Did the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which wrote over 30,000 words on BPA in 2008 get lost in the evidence, and end up being seduced by a storyline that made for great journalism but not very good science?
The 27,000-word review includes the case against Vom Saal (pages 10 through 18), a related critique on the Journal-Sentinel‘s sources (pages 30 to 34), an illuminating tea analogy (page 15, infobox), and an explanation of how some studies are determined to be more valuable than others for risk-assessment purposes (pages 12 and 14, infobox). On pages 40 and 41, STATS mentions one of those valuable studies, from 2009, and questions why it was not covered in the media. Finally, those looking for the report’s most inflammatory language will find it in the conclusion (page 49).
It’s important to note that “STATS was contacted by Journal Sentinel reporter Meg Kissinger on June 15 with the complaint that the claim STATS contacted reporters at the paper was false because she has no record of being contacted.” STATS goes on to explain that it tried to contact Kissinger’s co-author, reporter Susanne Rust, and Mark Katches, deputy managing editor for projects, and that neither responded.