Consumer Affairs unhappy with STATS

Consumer Affairs, a publication that should not be confused with Consumer Reports, has reported STATS material before;  but this morning, it isn’t happy with us. In fact, it’s so unhappy that we criticized Consumer Reports for its new study on BPA in cans, that it made a few errors of its own.

For the record, I do not have degrees in philosophy from Trinity College Dublin, as the publication claims.  My STATS bio and my own personal website indicate my education, and I don’t actually describe what I read for at Trinity (BA Hons in English and Art History, M.Phil in Reformation and Enlightenment Studies – an interdisciplinary degree that did include some philosophy – for those interested).  I do note that I did  graduate work in philosophy at Georgetown University. I also have an MS in journalism from Columbia University.

Consumer Affairs claims that STATS is “loosely affiliated” with George Mason University in Virginia, as if this was merely a gloss.  But the author fails to note that STATS Research Director, Dr. Rebecca Goldin,  is an Assistant Professor of Mathematics at GMU, or that STATS president, Dr. S. Robert Lichter, was a founding professor of the University’s Center for Health and Risk Communication, and that STATS and the Center collaborated on a groundbreaking survey of toxicologists on chemical risks. Would a close affiliation require us to sleep on the Fairfax campus ?

Consumer Affairs, which runs advertisements for BPA-free products and trial lawyers, and which only appears to run BPA stories about studies which find evidence of risk, no matter how tentative  (BPA makes girls mean) while neglecting to run stories about studies which refute the claims of a risk (last week’s massive EPA study), criticized STATS for:

“findings [that]are nearly always presented in an adversarial, take-no-prisoners format that leaves little room for disagreement or scientific discourse.”

STATS primary findings on BPA are contained in a 27,000 word, 50-page analysis that extensively cited the lead authors of three risk assessments, including that of the European Union. In fact, I can safely say that no non-academic publication has reported the issue in such scientific detail. And if God is in the details, so is the devil.

As Consumer Affairs claims,

“Federal guidelines currently put the daily upper limit of safe exposure at 50 micrograms of BPA per kilogram of body weight. But that level is based on experiments done in the 1980s rather than hundreds of more recent animal and laboratory studies indicating that serious health risks could result from much lower doses of BPA.”

But how can we not sound adversarial when we note that this reference dose was affirmed by the European Union in 2006 and 2008 as being safe. (In Europe it is called the Tolerable Daily Intake, or TDI). This can be checked by going to the EU’s risk assessment. A visit there will also explain why the “hundreds of more recent” studies were rejected as methodologically flawed. So the reference dose is not out of date, and the FDA’s recent decision on the safety of the chemical relied on the work done by Europe.

We do not believe its in the interests of scientific discourse to pretend that this – and masses of other statistically rigorous data – doesn’t exist. Or that its impossible to distinguish reliable from unreliable research. We also believe that the European Union’s regulatory apparatus – especially given its deference to the precautionary principle –  is more rigorous than the testing capabilities of Consumer Reports.   If the mainstream media reported the European Union’s findings on BPA – or those of Japan, Australia or New Zealand, or even California, which did not find any cause in the data to restrict BPA –  STATS would have no interest in following this topic.

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