Spiked Online, the spunky, skeptical British publication dedicated, in its own words, to “waging a culture war of words against misanthropy, priggishness, prejudice, luddism, illiberalism and irrationalism in all their ancient and modern forms” has a go at the mushrooming paranoia over Bisphenol A, or BPA (for short).
In The Great American Baby Bottle Scare, New York writer Nancy McDermott, a mother of two, laments the the way the media, environmental activists and the public have succumbed to a hermeneutic of suspicion that works against the very foundational principle of rational thought: pro and contra reasoning:
When scientists find nothing in claims about BPA, for instance, it is dismissed as the product of chemical industry manipulation rather than genuine and profound weaknesses with the entire thesis. Large, well-designed studies conducted by independently audited contract labs are suspect because they are ‘industry funded’. Apparently even Harvard University’s Center for Risk Assessment is merely a shill for the chemical industry because their 2000 report on BPA was commissioned by the American Plastics Council. In fact, anyone who dares to be critical of the BPA scare is accused of using the tobacco industry’s ‘delaying tactics’.
Most problematically, some now call for ‘independent science’, untainted by any ties to industry. The term is deceptive. Science is science. It stands or falls on its own merits. The notion of ‘independent science’ trivialises the whole notion of objectivity and betrays contempt for the individual men and women involved in scientific research, both in terms of the way they conduct their own work and in the way they review the work of others.
The problem with the BPA scare is not just that individual parents have been frightened out of their wits about a basically benign chemical, or even the potentially huge cost of identifying alternatives and scrapping entirely safe and effective manufacturing processes. The real problem with the BPA scare is the way it elevates fear above dispassionate consideration of the evidence, and makes it into an organising principle for all of society.
In other words, politicians, journalists and activists have created a narrative for legislative action on BPA that mimics the Bush administration’s narrative for action on WMDs in Iraq, otherwise known as the one-percent doctrine: if you think there might be any chance of a risk, then there is a risk, therefore action is warranted. Suspicion, therefore, and not evidence, is the criterion for action.