Confessions of a Quackbuster

This blog deals with healthcare consumer protection, and is therefore about quackery, healthfraud, chiropractic, and other forms of so-Called "Alternative" Medicine (sCAM).

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Health Group Advises More Skepticism About Activists’ Health Claims

Health Group Advises More Skepticism About Activists’ Health Claims
Posted: Friday, June 10, 2005

Publication Date: June 10, 2005

New York, NY -- June 2005. Journalists can improve their coverage of public health topics by more critically considering health claims made by activist groups. These claims are frequently not based on sound science. In a new publication, Good Stories, Bad Science: A Guide for Journalists to the Health Claims of "Consumer Activist" Groups, the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) explores the issue by analyzing claims of four such groups: the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), the Environmental Working Group (EWG), the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM). ACSH suggests some questions that journalists might use to determine the scientific validity of claims made by such groups.

Examples of activists' misleading alarms include:

• CSPI urges consumers to be wary of acrylamide, which it calls a "cancer-causing chemical," but CSPI neglects to mention that acrylamide has only been found to cause cancer in high-dose animal tests, not in humans.

• EWG has been scaring people about PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) in foods for years. But PCBs have not been demonstrated to be human carcinogens at the levels to which people are typically exposed.

In both these examples, the groups use data generated from high-dose animal tests as the basis for claiming compounds are carcinogens. If journalists asked questions about such background information, and included the information in their stories, it would help consumers put the supposed danger into a more realistic perspective.

These and other examples of misleading health claims are explored in ACSH's new publication. "It is our hope that both journalists and consumers will be better equipped to critically evaluate claims from such groups after reading this report," stated Dr. Elizabeth Whelan, ACSH president.

ACSH suggests that journalists take into account the bases for activists' health claims. Important considerations include the scientific data, the type of publication (mere independent publication by the group vs. publication in a peer-reviewed journal ), whether or not the data agree with other studies on the topic, and whether or not the data are based on animal or human studies.

Jeff Stier, associate director of ACSH, stated: "We hope journalists will find our suggested questions helpful in establishing the scientific veracity of claims by these and other activist groups."

Related Links
Good Stories, Bad Science: A Guide for Journalists to the Health Claims of "Consumer Activist" Groups

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