Writing for STATS, a research organization affiliated with George Mason University, Robert Lichter reports on a study of “how experts view the risks of common chemicals” that says “the media are overstating risk,” according to toxicologists.
Based on the survey responses of about 1,000 industry and academic toxicologists, the study was conducted by STATS, The Center for Health and Risk Communication at George Mason University, and the Society of Toxicology.
According to the survey, toxicologists say the news media overstates risk. Among the media, TV networks get the worst rap, the print media does slightly better and public broadcasting is seen as doing the best “with ‘only’ two out of three toxicologists describing PBS and NPR as overstating chemical risk.”
Also among the survey’s findings:
- Toxicologists “tend to downplay the dangers to human health” from chemicals and only a minority of them find cosmetics (one in four) or food additives (one in three) to be particularly risky. The majority saw more risk in pesticides and endocrine disruptors.
- Almost all say the amount of a toxin matters more than its mere presence, and deny that organic/natural products are inherently safer.
- Most agree that the regulatory system’s doing a good job, but that the media and regulators aren’t doing enough to accurately communicate with the public on these issues.
- In a sidebar titled “The Internet – a sober corrective to unruly journalists?” Trevor Butterworth reveals that toxicologists viewed WebMD and Wikipedia as far more accurate than mainstream media like The New York Times.