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Small pond, same big issues...

It looks like the US faces the same problem as us – their media appear intent on promoting scary headlines and shy away from good news stories that could allay consumer fears.  In his blog, Trevor Butterworth says that ‘despite answering the key question in one of the biggest scientific controversies of the past decade’ and having ‘fundamentally important implications for public health’, a recent study on BPA has had very little coverage from the media.

The study, described as ‘beautifully designed and executed’, has shown that ‘for the adult human population exposed to even very high dietary levels, blood concentrations of the bioactive form of BPA throughout the day are below our ability to detect them, and orders of magnitude lower than those causing effects in rodents exposed to BPA’. This corroborates other independent studies and adds to the evidence that BPA is rapidly absorbed, detoxified, and eliminated from humans – therefore is not a health concern.

This is a robust and detailed study and should be a positive story used to reassure consumers – it’s a shame it’s not getting the coverage it deserves.  But more than simply being a shame, it is important to recognise that this reporting bias towards scary stories has a real impact: it diverts attention and resources away from the issues that are really making people sick, such as campylobacter and E.coli.

I’d be interested in your views in how we deal with this.

9 Comments

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Comments:

Sadly, UK media is not interested in debunking of conspiracy throries. It's difficult to shout about good news. Also, you could do more: the FSA web page on BPA requires you to open the next document before you reach the "does not represent a food safety risk for consumers" conclusion.

Posted by Guy Rickett on July 27, 2011 at 05:34 PM BST #

I think the media machine has gone out of control. What is and isn't considered news anymore is becoming increasingly harmful to the public and it's time to turn things around. News service is meant to keep people informed, not keep them afraid. I can think of two ways to solve this problem.

The first one involves petitioning the networks to follow up on stories that spread fear and untruth. If people in the know start raising the bullshit flag on national television and work hard to destroy the dominance currently held by pundits, the general populace can stop living in fear and start thinking for themselves.

Other than working with the existing networks, well informed persons can join together in starting a new network dedicated to debunking fearmongers. The Mythbusters have a large following and a successful model for doing just that. Truth can be entertaining.

The movement can even take a cue from Fox news because people take pleasure in proving "respected" sources wrong. We have the technology to make this work. All we need now is the people.

Posted by Matt on July 27, 2011 at 06:21 PM BST #

very good point - the link to BPA then points me to the FSA Q&A which starts by scaring me that BPA may interact with human hormone -
seeing that the problem papers have to deal with is people switching off and jumping to wrong conclusions - or not even reading it at all without catchy dramatic headlines and gripping opening paragraphs I wonder if your web site page on BPA might not be better having a headline changed to "Good news! - its harmless".

Posted by Patrick C Graham on July 27, 2011 at 07:19 PM BST #

Dear Dr Wadge
Does psychology give any indication of the circumstances that lead to a reduced ability to take in quiet but important messages? If not an investigation of this might need to be added to the FSA research programme?

Posted by David Whitley on July 28, 2011 at 10:54 AM BST #

Author comment

Thanks for your comments. I'll see what I can do about making our BPA advice more reassuring.

Posted by Andrew Wadge on July 28, 2011 at 04:15 PM BST #

I read the article and the comments. I still don't know what BPA or the issues. Thanks for the letdown

Posted by Ron Watts on July 29, 2011 at 02:56 AM BST #

So many scientifically incorrect ideas are also still thrown around as common knowledge. A little more light on the lighter subjects and positive discoveries might stop some people passing on old wives tales as fact.

Posted by Cat on July 29, 2011 at 02:05 PM BST #

It's bizness as usual, so it isn't news worth reporting: forcibly expose the whole population to a substance and then wait till people start asking questions before launching a safety study.

What about BPA impurities? There must be some. All drugs have impurities, which are investigated *before* clinical trial applications are submitted.

Posted by Christopher R Lee on July 31, 2011 at 01:44 PM BST #

Author comment

It sounds like we’re all in agreement. There is more that the media could do as part of its social responsibilities, but I’m also acutely aware that their overall motivation is profit. If the media is to change, then people’s appetite for a scare story also needs to change – we can only do this through education.

David Whitley raises an interesting question about the circumstances under which people are more susceptible to taking in messages – we do a lot of social science research alongside our more fundamental research, but this isn’t something we’ve considered before. It would definitely be worth a trawl of the published studies to see if we could glean any useful gems of information.

I tend to agree with Matt, mythbusters do tend to have a large following, but they aren’t as vocal in their opinions as the ‘myth spreaders’ meaning that the rational voices are often a minority – if you believe in something don’t be scared to speak out. This and other blogs provide a perfect forum for your voice to be heard, so please share your views.

As a result of your feedback we’ve updated our BPA advice, hopefully this is now a better reflection of what we know about BPA and is more reassuring. If we can do any more to improve our advice, please let us know.

Posted by Andrew Wadge on August 02, 2011 at 02:05 PM BST #

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