Balancing Act

Nancy Hepp, MS
Research and Communications Specialist

As editor of CHE’s almost-daily news feed, I have a lot of leeway in choosing which items to include. I draw from several dozen sources, looking for news, research articles, editorials, announcements, calls for proposals, job openings, and events involving the intersection of environment and human health. My one guiding principle in choosing articles and editorials is that they be based on scientific research and have a civil tone (following CHE’s motto: “science & civility”).

Sometimes I struggle with whether to include an item. A few times I’ve chosen a news report or announced a website that raises hackles of some CHE partners. I’ve received feedback telling me that this journalist or that corporate entity is biased in favor of the chemical industry or against government regulation, and I should not have provided the air time to that item. This is a valid criticism. Keep in mind, however, that virtually every news article written on any environmental health topic, from endocrine disruptors to climate change or nutrition, is biased. Every scientific study by definition displays bias in interpreting data. Bias isn’t the real cause of complaint—it’s bias against our perceived interpretation and analysis. However, news and resources that conceal their industry funding sources, that rely exclusively on industry-funded studies and not peer-reviewed studies, and that draw only from industry-employed “experts” for views do need to be called out.

In all, my view is that CHE’s concern does not lie with too much exposure, but with too little. Pro-industry news items, editorials and resources are available to a wide audience, and often they are portrayed as unbiased, scientifically accurate sources of information (see www.kidschemicalsafety.org, for example). I believe CHE does not meet our obligation to inform our partners and further a civil discourse if we ignore these items and pretend they are not there. If a lot of people are hearing, reading or using these items, CHE’s silence is almost complicit. I think a better approach is to alert the public to these items and let our partners choose whether to respond to the editor or publisher. CHE partners are magnificently perceptive, analytical and informed, as a whole, and are able to rebut misinformation, if they are aware of it. I’m trying to make them aware of it.

However, I’ve not accomplished this goal, for currently there is no analysis or discussion among CHE partners on these items, and it would be easy to assume that CHE passes these items on as valid by including them in our news feed. Therefore, I’d like to treat these items differently from other news feed items. From now on, with the consensus of CHE’s core decision makers, I’ll write a brief editor’s note commenting on the source or the funding when I perceive a distortion of scientific information on a topic. CHE partners are always welcome to comment.

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