Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Whole Truth?

Whole living is intelligent living. It's finding the information we need to make sound decisions for our own lives and related to the wider world we live in.

I recently read the article “What’s Wrong with the National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) for Fine Particulate Matter (PM2.5)?” and it brought clearly into view the problem the general public is faced with when trying to become well informed about important issues in science.

The intention of the article was to prove that the EPA’s regulation of certain kinds of air polution, PM2.5 particulate matter, is unnecessary and attempted to discredit research that shows a causal relationship between PM2.5 pollution and human illness. It was surprising, considering that there is an abundance of information available that proves PM2.5 negatively impacts human health and regulation is vital to reducing the risks for all of us.

But my biggest problem with this article, was its source. The first logical step in evaluating the credibility of information, whether it be from a journalistic or scholarly article, is to determine the credibility of the source. A little digging showed that this particular article originated from Cambridge Environmental for the journal Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology. The website for Cambridge Environmental plainly states that it is a business with industry clients. (http://www.cambridgeenvironmental.com). The journal is the product of the International Society of Regulatory Toxicology & Pharmacology, an apparently shady non-profit with a history of conflicts of interest in the research community, and which is funded by the tobacco, pharmaceutical and chemical industries. It was also accused of having a pro-industry bias that lacks credible peer review. (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regulatory_Toxicology_and_Pharmacology). Gio Batta Gori, the journal’s editor-in-chief, is one of 17 scientists accused of writing an "editorial critical of the European Commission's plan to regulate endocrine-disrupting chemicals (that) have past or current ties to industries.” (http://www.environmentalhealthnews.org/ehs/news/2013/eu-conflict-list).

Further more,  “Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology is owned by the International Society of Regulatory Toxicology & Pharmacology, which has been supported by the American Chemistry Council, Dow AgroSciences, Coca-Cola, Monsanto, and The Weinberg Group.” (http://www.environmentalhealthnews.org/ehs/news/2013/eu-conflict-list). The Center for Media and Democracy’s Sourcewatch stated that the International Society for Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology (ISRTP) is "dominated by scientists who work for industry trade groups and consulting firms," and "Its leadership consists of corporate and product defense scientists and attorneys, along with a small number of government scientists who have apparently bought in or who do not know better.” (http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/Regulatory_Toxicology_and_Pharmacology) The ISRTP was underwritten by the Weinberg Group which identifies itself as a "product defense firm.” (http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2014/03/tritan-certichem-eastman-bpa-free-plastic-safe).

It would be fool-hardy, at best, to rely on information from such an apparently biased and unethical organization as the ISRTP and its journal. But if all someone does is read the article assuming it's from a credible source, it could sound convincing. And unfortunately, there has been a huge marketing trend in which companies set up their own "studies" to prove the safety and efficacy of their products or practices. This is known as "junk science" and  I've seen it done in multi-level marketing companies, for products that are purchased off the health food store shelves and for political issues, as well as industrries with vested political interests, as in the article mentioned above.

So how does someone wanting to live a whole life increase their odds of getting the whole truth to make their purchasing and other decisions by? Dig. Then dig some more. Don't just look at information that agrees with what your hoping to find. Look at everything, and research the sources of the information to be sure that they are not just carefully cloaked agents of the entity that wants your money, your vote or anything else you have. Don't assume any entity is worthy of your trust and until you've seen a consistent pattern of unbiased accuracy. Spend some time researching the agencies and journals that are relevant to topics you care about, so you know which sources are reputable when an issue comes up that you want more information about.

We live in a world which technology has literally put information at our fingertips. The challenge now is learn to distinguish information from misinformation.