Wednesday April 19, 2017
KUOW's Science Coverage Needs Peer Review
On Monday morning, my local NPR station, KUOW, ran a piece in which various scientists talked up the March for Science this Saturday. One is marching, she says, despite politics (“If there was a Democratic president who was doing the same things, I would feel the same way”), one feels marching reinforces partisan politics (i.e., “scientists have their own political agenda”), while a third gets into the squishy areas of liberal thought rather than the hard facts of science (“We are marching to defend an inclusive and diverse culture inside of science”).
It was a kind of “meh” piece, to be honest. I wondered: Are these three supposed to be representative of the scientific community? Are they outliers? Does the media tend toward the outlier, which feels like a story, even when it's supposed to be doing a representative piece?
But whatever. I was shaving. I was moving on with my day.
Then KUOW had to add a coda.
The piece seemingly over, they suddenly introduced Alex Berezow, a Senior Fellow at the American Council of Science and Health, with a Ph.D. from the University of Washington. For some reason, Mr. Berezow's thoughts aren't even part of the transcribed portion on KUOW's website. What were his thoughts?
Republicans, he said, may be known for denying climate change and evolution, but what about the left, which denies the benefits of GMO and the safety of nuclear power? “So I don't just buy that this is a one-sided war on science,” he said.
The he told a story of that infamous anti-vaccer, Barack Obama.
Specifically, he talked about the vaccine shortage during the 2009 flu epidemic and the response by the Obama administration's FDA, which didn't use adjuvants to extend the vaccine, because some thought they increased the chance for autism. “The Obama administration's FDA had given in to a couple of very fringe ideas, and as a result we had a vaccine supply shortage,” he said. “So I don't buy this idea that the war on science comes from the right, I don't really buy that it comes from the left; I buy that politicians are politicians, and they will throw science under the bus whenever they think it suits them.”
That was the end of the piece. No follow-up, no fact-checking from KUOW. Although it did add this, cryptically, about the American Council of Science and Health:
On its website, the council says part of their mission is to fight back against activist groups that have targeted GMOs, vaccines, nuclear power and chemicals.
Wikipedia is more explicit. The ACSH is a pro-industry group, often funded by the Scaifes and Exxons (and nearly the Phillip Morrises) of the world. I don't know why KUOW didn't just tell us this. Because this is my thought: Businesses are businesses, and they will throw science under the bus whenever they think it suits them.
As for Berezow's line about “the Obama administration's FDA” caving in to “a couple of very fringe ideas”? That leaves a little something out. This is from a New York Times piece on Senate hearings from Nov. 2009. Dr. Lurie is Nicole Lurie, chief of preparedness and response for the Health and Human Services Department:
Dr. Lurie said the adding of adjuvants had been discussed repeatedly but would have meant pulling doses off the production line. Also, she said, because anti-vaccine activists have expressed a fear of adjuvants, even though they are naturally occurring oils that have been used safely in Europe for a decade, public confidence in the vaccine was “not as robust as we'd like it to be” and officials feared some people would avoid shots.
I spent half a day researching for nothing what KUOW couldn't bother to tell us. Well, at least I learned how to spell “adjuvant.”