Scientific Research Corrupted: Where to find balanced perspectives?

Dismissing science as a strategy to accept a certain political philosophy or policy is no stranger to the history of our country. In terms of public health initiatives, scientific evidence and studies have been brushed under the rug in order to support an agenda. This manipulation of science is to further some ideas for a certain purpose. The purpose being more support or advocates for a certain cause.

Most recently many claims of scientific manipulation had fingers pointing to the food industry. The recent election in California with Proposition 37 sparked this debate. The industry is being accused of manipulating science in order to deceive the public and win the political power at stake. Recent voting on Prop 37 in California has sparked this debate and conflicting information is through left and right.  Monsanto and the GMO/food industry is saying one thing about science than what some scientific entities are saying.

Huffington Post Article describes the source of funding for research based on food industry and conflicting information.  And this Scientific American article investigates the same issue.

While they vary in their positions, slightly, and the voices are different, an alternative viewpoint is hard to find. An independent view from journalism supporting the food industry, the profit-making side, is not popular. Without being explicit, how does a journalist present both sides? And if an article is missing both perspectives, what does this do to the credibility of the article? When an unfavorable position is presented, the public can be weary of the manipulation of presented material because of too much influence from the “industry.”

How do the presented articles present opposing sides in a fair way? And are you able to find any examples of reasonable or appealing articles written that seem to support the industry or profit making sides?

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11 Responses to “Scientific Research Corrupted: Where to find balanced perspectives?”

  1. Hi Mariah, great post! Very well written and you’ve definitely summed up the main points well. I think that when it comes to any news regarding scientific or public health issues, it is rare that you are going to find something without an agenda- that is unless, it is coming from a very well-researched academic source. This is because, just in general, science and public health are really controversial issues and people already have distinctly different views on how the government should appropriately manage them. High profile people or corporations (including print publications) that favor or work for a certain political administration, will be reluctant to reveal the truth when it comes to the truth about food- e.g. whether the food that the public are eating are really increases rates of cancer or not- because they don’t want to reveal anything that conflicts their interests. Similarly, people that are very antagonistic towards a certain administration will find a way to make every minor public health slip-up seem like the end of the world. In saying that though, I don’t like to eat food that is genetically modified because I know that it isn’t the healthiest possible alternative for meat and vegetables and what’s worse is that I don’t particularly like to be lied to about it’s health detriments either. In the Huffington Post, Dr. Ronald Kleinman says that there are no links cancer risks and agriculture produced through biotech. Even without any research, it’s impossible that there is no health risk to eating modified foods. Sometimes the industry has way too much input in the facts and figures it promotes. There needs to be improved regulation to make sure that everything that is advertised and claimed by scientists and politicians is as close to accurate as possible.

  2. Mariah! I love this post. As a huge food advocate, I had been following the debate surrounding California’s Proposition 37 very closely this election season. I was very disappointed that it did not pass. At the very least, I hope it raised awareness and made people think about what they eat. That being said, I’m probably not the best person to answer the questions you posed for this week.

    I know I am biased when reading any article that supports the profit-making side of the food industry. I automatically assume that either the author has some kind of tie with the industry or is simply naïve and misinformed. However, in order to be a “good” journalist, one must present every side of the story. I think the best way to go about this without alienating or angering readers (like me!) would be to change the way journalists present the proponents of GMOs. Many times, as in the Huffington Post article, scientists are framed as trying to convince the public as to why GMOs are safe. Someone trying to convince me that something is safe only serves to make me more skeptical of it. Instead, journalists could frame the pro-industry/pro-GMO side as discussing the benefits and “wonders” of GMOs. Although journalists need to discuss the controversy surrounding this debate, their role is not to convince, but rather let the reader come to his or her own conclusion.

  3. It’s really difficult to know the distinction between when to give an unbiased article, and one with opinion. While it is important to give all sides of a story, can journalists not share their ideas and give some of their personality to the story. I assume most often, this will cause a biased viewpoint to come out, and that should be avoided. But, does this change for different types of magazines/papers/journals? If you’re writing for the Huffington Post, then I guess it needs to be very even, right?

    I think it’s important to be able to do more than just present the sides of a story, all evenly, because it will be bland and uninformative. But what is the journalists duty? To their publications or to the public? Or to the issue and their own views?

  4. Mariah this is great that you shed light on the issue of philosophically based “science.” Scientists have always had their own agendas, dating back to the times when the church was almighty, and probably even before. I took a history of science course at Michigan last year, and scientists pushing skewed results in favor of their philosophies was not uncommon.

    So, how can journalists discern what is real and what isn’t? I don’t think that there is a clear answer, but I think that with some research and background knowledge, this task can be made a little easier for these journalists. However, I think that it is very difficult for a journalist to challenge a scientist on his/her research, given the different educational backgrounds of each party. I think that is why we see some skewed science still today. All that journalists can do is write a story that shows both sides of the issue, and hope for the best. It’s a tricky topic, but I think it is something that will continue to be a paradigm.

    Thanks again for posting this!

  5. Interesting post, Mariah. I think it’s extremely important for scientific research to be portrayed accurately. This is especially crucial in the food industry. Personally, I like to know exactly what I’m putting into my body when eating. I think we as consumers have the right to know whether a product is grown organically or is genetically modified.

    I found it kind of shocking that in the Huffington Post article Dr. Kleinman said there were no cancer risks whatsoever “associated with agriculture produced through biotech.” Can they really know that for sure? Haven’t GMOs only been around for a couple decades? Just because the study done at University of Caen needs further review doesn’t mean that GMOs are perfectly safe.

    The article also states that Dr. Kleinman has associations with General Mills and Coca Cola, which were both fighting against Proposition 37. I feel as though this makes him a biased source, and a biased scientist. I find it kind of scary that scientists have the potential to release biased statements depending on where funding is coming from.

    I think it can be rather difficult for journalists to decipher between true and not so true information. However, I also think it is their duty to do this so that they can present the right information to their readers. It’s important for journalists to consider both (or multiple) sides of a story so that they themselves do not appear biased. Journalists should try their best to remain unbiased while digging deep and finding the real information behind a story.

  6. Excellent psot, Mariah! When I look at this issue, I’m remined of the fact that information and findings can be bent to “statistically” validate any perspective. On that note, however, I think it can be very difficult to decipher the difference between actual findsing, specutations and skewed interpretations of those findings. Jounalists play a huge role in not only figuring out which player is which, but also in figuring out every player’s intention.

    When looking at the Huffington Post article, it becomes clear that the relations that Dr. Kleinman has with General Mills and Coca Cola, are obvious journalistic red-flags. But, what if those relationships aren’t crystal-clear. Here, I believe that investigative reporting really becomes an important tool for journalistic excellence.

    Figuring out what is ‘real’ and ‘unreal’ isn’t necessary always depented upon a scienctific mind, but rather dependent upon a journalistic mind–that seeks to figure out what relationships, motives, and other factors are at play.

    By exposing these ‘facts,’ I’d argue that journalists don’t figure out what’s ‘real’ and ‘unreal,’ but rather present data to their intended audience about a larger picture. In the case of the genetically modified food, it is without question that there are extrinsic factors at play and thanks to Lynne Peeples we approach these research findings with caution!

  7. Thanks for sharing! The topic of food studies, especially relating to GMOs and pesticides is incredibly interesting and obviously highly debated. Since research on this subject is fairly young, considering it has only been a short time since industrialization and the overwhelming consumption of highly processed foods and fast food restaurants, I think that this topic should still be highly covered from all sides.

    That said, I think that articles should stay away from definite health claims from food, and instead go deeper and investigate what truly goes into our food. That way people can be the judge for themselves about the outcomes of what they are ingesting. I think that a main problem with this whole topic is that people are relying on studies to just tell them flat out what they should or should not eat, which is diverting people from actually learning about food themselves, and therefore not understanding or realizing the “things” that they are putting into their bodies.

  8. Great post! I understand your struggle to find articles that portray both sides of the issue, because the issue of GMO’s in my opinion is polarizing. However, I love the relatively different articles you did choose. The Huffington Post article, like many have been saying, puts GMO’s in a terrible light and definitely exposes the alliances made in the food industry. However, i loved the Scientific American post because it almost takes the side of the farmer during the negotiation process, which we don’t often see. It was very interesting to see all the hoops that the farmers have to jump through just to plant the seed, and the regulations seem to only help the manufacturers of the seed against potential test and scrutiny. Now, why can’t journalists put the interesting things about both sides into ONE article?!
    Good find and great questions raised!

  9. Awesome topic. I was really interested in the vehement opposition against Proposition 37 in California. On the one hand, it seems permissible, because there is SOME research that shows that GMO’s are safe. On the other hand, when you see research that says GMO’s cause cancer, it seems crazy. Despite contradicting pieces of science, I would like to know if my food has been genetically modified whether or not the food poses a threat to my health. I understand, however, that this is a minor detail if it does not manipulate my health, but I like to eat natural foods.

    In terms of conveying GMO risks to people, I think an issue arises where sensationalism of journalism, and a desire to sell news, blends with the important step of giving the public the whole, unfettered truth. The Huffington Post article mentioned that studies only need to be conducted for 90 days before getting a genetically modified crop approved. The author points to the fact that some rats, like the ones studied, don’t start developing tumors until 4 months! The fact that some researchers are shortcutting and not doing reliable research leads me to be suspicious about the results gleaned and then applied to public policy. I do not suspect that all of the studies that support the idea that GMO’s are safe are incomplete, messy, loophole-sneaking–giving premature results just so they can say the result they want to, that GMO’s are safe. I think there are some legitimate research findings for GMO’s being safe. Still, even if some of these studies are included in the bunch that support the safety of GMO’s, the public is being given faulty information on which they are to make important health decisions. We are voting with integrity to the extent that we are using the knowledge that we are given; but what about when that information is a lie? I definitely think the rules for these studies need to be amended so reliable results are better guaranteed. Such a move would ensure that we are voting with integrity based on accurate information.

    Under Proposition 37, the food industry does not have to label foods that have been genetically manipulated. So, passively, they are showing that they confirm research that shows GMO’s have no health risk, and denying research that shows they do. As the Huffington Post article shared that there is evidence for both sides of the argument, and did not say that one is overwhelmingly more convincing or in higher quantity than the other, it seems like California people would be jumping the gun by passing a law that implies that GMO’s are safe.

  10. Really interesting articles Mariah! I really liked the focus on the food industry because it’s something that we all come directly in contact with every single day. I thought it was very shocking that research could be manipulated like that in the food industry.

    I think it’s important for a journalist to be as unbiased as possible, however I think it’s unrealistic to expect that. Every publication catering to a different audience and have different political and social biases. It’s usually safe to assume a journalist’s bias based on where they work and who they are writing for (however not always the case).

    In my opinion journalists have a responsibility to sort through information and present it as straightforward as possible and that includes their sources. A journalist should be able to identify what biases their interviewees have (For example Dr. Kleinman).

  11. This was a really interesting post, thanks. It does seem true that scientists have their own agenda — and I think a heavier emphasis could be placed on investigatory journalism in this area.

    I agree with Adam that it is hard to challenge a scientist’s research without being qualified yourself — so difficulties my arise. But there could be instances where news agencies hire their own experts to aid the journalist and back their story with solid numbers and facts.

    Maybe instead of questioning journalists numbers, we should question scientists numbers and see how their experiments are set up and whether they are just trying to get a result that they desire.

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