Fake Science News

Fakers to the left; fakers to the right. Everyone has his or her knickers in a knot over fake news these days.  But who will speak out against fake science news?

Oberle Communications LLC[1] puts out a “Product Safety Letter,” with almost daily emails that link to published articles of interest to lawyers and others who are concerned with product safety. According to its self-description, Product Safety Daily is a “fair-use news-link service,” and its owner claims not to be responsible for the accuracy, or truthfulness, of linked articles.

Sounds like Facebook; no?

The Guardian is British newspaper, with affiliates in the United States and elsewhere, owned by the Guardian Media Group, which in turn is owned by The Scott Trust Limited. The Scott Trust declares that it exists to produce The Guardian, and “to safeguard the journalistic freedom and liberal values of The Guardian free from commercial or political interference.” Lofty goals, those are. Oberle Communications might feel secure in pointing to an article in The Guardian, on product safety. As far as newspapers are concerned, The Guardian enjoys a good reputation, and has won awards for its investigative journalism, most recently on unlawful government surveillance.

Recently, the Product Safety Letter linked to an article by an Assistant Editor of The Guardian on supposed health effects of plastics. Chukwuma Muanya, “How Plastics Cause Autism, Diabetes, Cancer, Birth Defects,” The Guardian (London, England) (Dec. 13, 2016).

The Mr. Muanya’s headline shouts about causation, but there is nothing in the text of the article to support, even remotely, anyone’s conclusion about causality. The text of the article states, without support, that “[r]ecent studies have associated the rise in autism, diabetes, cancer and birth defects to increase in the use of plastics in making everyday containers, toys and baby teethers or pacifiers.” One would think, hope, pray that The Guardian would know the difference between association and causation, but there is no evidence in this article to support an imputation of knowledge or understanding.

A photograph of baby bottles contains a caption that ramps up the Guardian’s rhetoric and propaganda:

KILLER PLASTICS… The invisible chemical cause neurological and behavioral disorders like autism and attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). They also affect IQ. And they manipulate hormones in a way that can cause cancer, diabetes, male infertility, and endometriosis. PHOTO CREDIT: http://www.viewzone.com/plastic-header.jpg

Wow.  These plastics are bad-ass actors. They manipulate; they cause; they kill.

From causation, to association, the author moves to the most abused journalese term in science reportage: “link”:

“the presence of toxins commonly found in plastic that have been linked to increased risk of cancer, heart disease and obesity.”

Mr. Muanya references, without link, citation, or mention of authors, a study by the American Chemical Society, which apparently reported that infants’ pacifiers contained Bisphenol A (BPA), Bisphenol S (BPS) or Bisephenol F (BPF), and that many also contained parabens, and antimicrobials such as triclosan and triclocarban. But the Society’s paper was about chemical content, not about health consequences. Without any reference or citation to published or unpublished studies, Mr. Muanya labels BPA, BPS, and BPF as “so-called endocrine-disrupting chemicals,” and tells us these chemicals “manipulate hormones in a way that can cause cancer, diabetes, male infertility, and endometriosis,” and that these chemicals “cause neurological and behavioral disorders like autism and ADHD,” and that they “also affect IQ.”

Apropos of nothing having to do with endocrine disrupters, or human disease, Mr. Muanya inserts a discussion of a Japanese study, reportedly published at the PLoS (but without providing link or citation) about how older male mice have offspring that exhibited “hyperlocomotion.” Still, Mr. Muanya, who has been billed as “Head Insight Team, Science & Technology,” does show that journalists can provide, when it suits them, actual references at least to authors by name. Nothing in the mouse study, however, explains the hypocognition exhibited by the Guardian’s science editor, or the shoddy journalistic practices.

So here we have a respected newspaper publishing a news story that at best is internally inconsistent and un-sourced, and which grossly misinterprets or overinterprets the available scientific evidence. Behold fake science news.

[1] 4915 St Elmo Ave, #204, Bethesda, MD 20814; Phone: (301) 215-9236.

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