CSPI responds to Guidelines
The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is an organisation that we have not always viewed as being the true champion of balanced and evidence-based debate. In its pursuit of "improving the safety and nutritional quality of our food supply and on reducing the carnage caused by alcoholic beverages" it has, in our view, generated more than a few unfounded scares and unnecessary panics. A report on shellfish titled "Death on the Half Shell" is typical of the alarmist style. Its current campaign to "Save Harry Potter" from Coca Cola, who have the marketing rights to the movie, might also be seen as lacking a little in humour: "Coke and other soft drinks are JUNK, and certainly not what Harry would want kids to drink."
In contrast, however, to what Tufts Nutrition Navigator has described as their "sensational and alarmist tone", the CSPI has taken a remarkedly sane stance on the issue of genetically modified foods. Indeed, it went so far as to accept a $200,000 donation from the pro-biotech Rockefeller Foundation to "broaden public debate on genetic engineering in agriculture". In Of public interest" we applauded their press release which announced that "Genetically Engineered Foods On The Market Appear To Be Safe".
Now the CSPI has responsed with reciprocal enthusiasm to our Guidelines on Science and Health Reporting. In their letter they say:
"We applaud [SIRC’s] new Guidelines on Science and Health Communication. It provides much needed guidance on responsible reporting in science and health."
The CSPI, of course is primarily concerned that news media and scientific journals are being used, in their view, "as marketing tools for pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies". At SIRC we agree that sources of research funding should certainly be disclosed in press coverage. But other factors, such as ideological commitment, are equally potential sources of bias. Research on the alleged link beween abortion and breast cancer, for example, conducted by an anti-abortion, pro-life campaigner, must be subject to particularly critical scrutiny. (See Science or Pro-Life Scaremongering?)
In the spirit of genuine, open debate on these issues we have provided the full text of the CSPI response here. We are happy that the Guidelines and the CSPI comments should be considered when judging the content of articles and bulletins on our own web site. We feel sure that the CSPI will welcome a similar approach when reading their publications and assessing their credibility.
7 January 2002