Reporting science: Journalistic deficit disorder-A case of NK603 longterm study.


Sound scientific reporting has been a challenge for a long time.  This goes to the scientist and the reporters alike.  The scientist ought to lay out the facts clearly to be understood by the scientists and the laymen, especially when the findings  affects the general population. On the other hand, the journalists ought to fully understand the findings and present them to their audience in a simple, correct and easy to understand format.

Here is an extract from The Economist, Reporting science :Journalistic deficit disorder

“What newspapers don’t say matters as much as what they do”

“The matter goes beyond simply not believing what you read in the newspapers. Rather,
it is a question of remembering that if you do not read subsequent confirmation,then the original conclusion may have fallen by the wayside.”

Natures Editorial Poison postures on the way papers reported a study(Long term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize) published in the peer-reviewed journal Food and Chemical Toxicology,  clearly shows fallacious reporting by the journalists and the failure by the researchers to clearly state the facts on the study.

The study looked for adverse health effects in rats fed with NK603 maize , developed by  Monsanto to resist the herbicide Glyphosate and approved for animal and human consumption in the European Union, United States and other countries. The paper reported that rats fed with NK603 developed  tumors  earlier than the control leading to their early death. However, some scientist have already questioned their methodology and findings.

The study will energize the opponents of GMOs. However, for the results to be deemed credible, its methodology and results have to be independently assessed. The results also need to be replicated by another independent study. This fact was not put forward by most online articles reporting on the study, simply passing the message  that GMOs have been proven to be poisonous for human consumption. That is not true because even if the study is replicated, it will only be proving that NK603, is unfit for human consumption and not GMOs in general. GMOs should be assessed on a case by case level.

My previous post, GMO Maize Debate in Kenya, shows debate over the safety of GM crops as reported  by the Kenyan journalists in July 2011. It shows how biased and fallacious reporting blew the debate out of proportion.

There is, therefore, need for scientists and Journalists to pass new finding to the public in a clear and objective manner.

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