Manipulating Science Reporting

Friday, September 28, 2012


Last week, a group of scientists in France released a study linking genetically modified food with cancer. Journalists who wanted to see an advanced copy of the research had to sign a confidentially agreement that ensured they wouldn't be able to get other scientists to weigh in on the study. Brooke speaks to science writer Carl Zimmer, who says the researchers were trying to manipulate journalists in order to skew the coverage in their favor.


Carl Zimmer

Hosted by:

Brooke Gladstone

Comments [9]

Rob Blakeney from Concord NH

The study and it's fallout do not pertain to genetically modified food generally, but speciically to Monsanto Round-Up Ready corn, AND to the pesticide itself. OTM's obfuscation of this point is telling. This week's Living On Earth podcast somehow managed to do a balanced examination of the study without simply regurgitating Monsanto's written statement -- as OTM did in the guise of expert objective criticism. Very shoddy and/or ethically corrupt on your part.

Oct. 02 2012 06:09 PM
previouslyon from Sacramento

"Living on Earth" covers this topic from a different perspective: listen here:
I don't have young children, consequently take all this info with a-you-can't-turn-back-the-clock indifference.
I buy organic because I know how hard those artisans work to do what they do.

Sep. 30 2012 08:59 PM

Nothing new here, nothing to see, move along.

As long as people, money, and power are involved you'll have gaming going on. Just look at how the Brits held to the Piltdown Man fiasco for so long - halfway out of misplaced patriotism.

You have this today among astrophysicists inventing one "epicycle" after another to prop up the more and more clearly wrong "big bang" hypothesis out of their own religious biases. Missing mass, dark matter, dark energy, 35 1/2 dimensions, unicorns, and leprechauns. Anything to avoid giving up on a pet theory that is worn out around the edges, up the middle, and to the core.

Don't expect scientists not to be people. Don't expect groups and factions to be unlike any others in society.

Sep. 30 2012 07:29 PM

You completely failed to look at what the study actually did. The study added a well-known GMO-soybean companion-pesticide to the drinking water of rats--within a limit said to be in line with public health requirements.

Given this novel approach it's no surprise, at all, that the results came out
the way they did. Pesticides are a very serious threat to health--rat or

Yes, the rat "model" is prone to cancer in the first place, and all kinds of unecessary experimentation takes place with such "models."

But given the way this same system been used already to claim proof for
many dubious claims about food, so be it. The GMO makers have been forced
to take a taste their own medicine--both in the study, and in the manner of its presentation. It's a very well-deserved taste, indeed.

I thought, by the way you advertised this story, that you were going to be
looking at the amount of unnecessary experimentation that goes on; and that
food "scientists" seem to have lost their ability to reason any other way
than by killing and deforming rats.

What's wrong with GMO-plus-companion-pesticide is that it's unnecessary and "too good to be true." It's not sustainable, and there's long-term harm.
You won't buy the Brooklyn Bridge. Don't buy GMO. Common sense.
GMO pushes heirloom varieties--and diversity of varieties--to extinction,
while degrading habitat for traditional soybeans, other plants, animals,
and humans. Wake up.

Sep. 30 2012 05:40 PM
Kimberly schwartz

I agree with the above comment that Zimmer is naive, indeed I found the whole discussion which focused narrowly on debunking the reports about the dangers of genetically modified ood. With so many well documented instances of "science" used on behalf of industry (see Marion Nestle's book Food Politics for example, or many documented studies on drug safety) it is odd why onlt the genetically modified food study is held to close scrutiny, as opposed to many other examples. Clearly, by going so squarely after this report rather than give a broader context, On the Media nd Zimmer show their bias.

Sep. 30 2012 02:46 PM
Thomas Collins

It's hard to say which is worse, religion or science reporting.
Reporters generally would rather be fed than go hunting. Add to that, science reporters (with a few notable exceptions) who aren't smart enough to be scientists.

Given the competitive nature of journalism it's probably too much to expect reporters to boycott embargoed stories. But they could include in the first paragraph, "No journalists or independent scholars were allowed to verify the study's claims so it may be totally worthless." or some such.

Sep. 30 2012 08:32 AM
Cynthia McWilliams

While Idfon't question the veracity of your reporting on the GMO corn study.. I do question why you were not as rigorous with the Stanford Organic Food Study.. Both studies were sesationalized and distorted. Now it may be that noone was asked to sign releases for the Stanford study..but. i suspect your choice was more likely determined by corporate interests that support NPR.. Archer Daniel Midlands & Cargill..

Sep. 29 2012 05:09 PM
Bob Blaskiewicz from Eau Claire

Science (or scholarship) by press conference is never promising. Another recent case was the announcement of the so-called "Jesus' wife" papyrus fragment. As soon as that was announced, the entire relevant academic community ripped it apart (figuratively).

Sep. 28 2012 08:59 PM
Roger Witherspoon from Cortlandt Manor, NY

Mr. Zimmer's closing comment is well intentioned but naive. Most journalists these days rewrite the executive summary of scientific studies without any serious analysis provided by interviewing others in the field or even by reading the entire report.

Sep. 28 2012 08:31 PM

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