Monday, September 6, 2010

Communicating Uncertainty: Ever Changing Evidence

The New York Times article by Denise Grady, "In Feast of Data on BPA Plastic, No Final Answer" brings up some interesting issues not only on BPA plastic itself, but also on communicating science and how "experts" can become mistrusted when, to the public, the "facts" seem to constantly change.

Bisphenol-A, more commonly called BPA, is a chemical found in some plastics. For over a decade researchers have had inconclusive findings with regard to whether or not it is safe to be exposed to BPA (or in what quantities, in what forms, etc.) yet, most people are constantly exposed to it from plastic bottles, and other products. BPA is a public health concern because the chemical has been shown in studies on lab animals to mimic estrogen, which makes the chemical an endocrine disruptor. 

Whether or not exposure to BPA causes harm to humans is still up for debate, and has become a hot topic for researchers, activists, parents, and politicians. Grady's article does a good job explaining how it is possible for researchers to come up with different results from identical studies (causing all the confusion) but still be good scientists. Research at its core is based on searching for answers, sometimes the answers are elusive, but that doesn't make the researchers inept. Even in the face of public outcry and demands for answers that won't seem to come.

I like Grady's article because I think she does a really good job going through the history of the BPA issue, showing what findings are new and relevant, and explaining the holdups and problems that have caused different research findings. Overall, I think the article is a good example of science journalism, and how to strip down an issue to simplify it, while building it up at the same time to give the audience all of the information they need to understand the topic. 

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