July 22 2014

There's a Demand For Junk Science

Julie Gunlock

Last week, Hank Campbell wrote in the Wall Street Journal that corruption of the peer review process is harming scientific credibility.

Academic publishing was rocked by the news on July 8 that a company called Sage Publications is retracting 60 papers from its Journal of Vibration and Control, about the science of acoustics. The company said a researcher in Taiwan and others had exploited peer review so that certain papers were sure to get a positive review for placement in the journal. In one case, a paper's author gave glowing reviews to his own work using phony names.

According to a 2011 report in the monthly journal Nature Reviews Drug Discovery, the results of two-thirds of 67 key studies analyzed by Bayer researchers from 2008-2010 couldn't be reproduced.

That finding was a bombshell. Replication is a fundamental tenet of science, and the hallmark of peer review is that other researchers can look at data and methodology and determine the work's validity. Dr. Collins and co-author Dr. Lawrence Tabak highlighted the problem in a January 2014 article in Nature. "What hope is there that other scientists will be able to build on such work to further biomedical progress," if no one can check and replicate the research, they wrote.

Campbell’s WSJ piece will surly interest scientists and those who write and follow the field of science. Yet, another group of people – moms – should be aware of how the corruption of science affects them.

Environmental groups, food advocates, public health officials, as well as a new category of activist—the self promoting food blogger (Example: The Food Babe), often use this corruption to their advantage by promoting studies that have either already been debunked (for instance, the Wakefield study on vaccines and autism), or by endorsing studies that don’t even meet the basics of scientific standards (for instance, the Breast Cancer Fund’s in-house “study” on BPA in the canned food children love).

But it isn’t just loosening scientific standards that have created this mess and millions of terrified moms. Members of the media and regulatory officials demand junk science. Why? Because these dubious studies are useful to trot out when they need to get the public riled up and nervous. 

Just take a look at this shocking work of fiction in last week’s Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call penned by Reps. Edward Markey, Lois Capps and Grace Meng. The headline pretty much sums up the alarmist message: “Ban BPA and Other Toxic Chemicals.”

The terrified trio writes:

In 2012, a six-year study was published that examined the occupational history of more than 1,000 women, finding that those who worked in the automotive plastics and in the food packaging industries were five times more likely to develop premenopausal breast cancer than women in the control group. One of the main chemicals used in their workplaces? Bisphenol A, better known as BPA. Two years earlier, the President’s Cancer Panel, an advisory committee attached to the National Cancer Institute, identified a variety of toxic chemicals, including BPA, that may be causing “grievous harm.” And yet this chemical is still in products Americans consume every day.

I would have taken the time to check the study mentioned in the threesome’s fear-inducing op-ed but they didn’t provide links in the online version of the piece. Of course, one doesn’t really need to provide links to studies when the intent is to terrify.  It’s better to make it harder for folks to check the facts.

Of course, I didn’t actually need to look at the specific study to figure out that it wasn’t anything on which to base policy or regulation. Just reading the description of the “cancer study” suggested corruption. For instance, the study examines a bunch of women who all work at the same location and then finds something with which they come in contact on a daily basis and POOF! that’s what’s causing all this cancer!

See? Get it?

But, what the study didn’t examine was all the other items, products, food, habits, behaviors, etc., that these women might also have in common. Maybe the majority of these women smoke. Perhaps they’re overweight. Maybe the job doesn’t require much physical activity. Maybe they’re exposed to other environmental toxins outside of their work place. The point is, we could make any number of associations.  In this case, it was convenient to make the connection to BPA, but there’s no actual evidence that it’s the BPA that’s causing the cancer.

And if you examine better studies on BPA, it’s clear that the chemical isn’t responsible for these cancers. For instance, most recently, after exhaustive analysis of chemical exposure among pregnant women, Health Canada issued this statement:

“Based on the overall weight of evidence, Health Canada continues to conclude that dietary exposure to BPA through food packaging is not expected to pose a health risk to the general population, including newborns and young children.”

Markey and his gang of alarmists will continue to try to scare moms into backing his regulatory measures and as long as they demand these questionable scientific studies, unscrupulous scientists eager for funding and publicity will produce them.

Women deserve better.  They deserve the truth, safe and affordable products, and science-backed information on these products.  

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