Science Media Hype: Scaremongering Over Viral Research

I first wrote this post for Science on Google+ and the response has been highly emotional and very far removed from the evidence presented. My interest in this story is on the epidemiology of disease, given my work on the sociology of health. Misinformation on the spread and management of infection can severely impede public health campaigns. While bioethics is an important issue to openly debate, the fact is that this particular story about virology research has been hyped up by journalists. The media created a moral panic using doomsday scenarios about what might happen if this research “escaped the lab,” without seriously reviewing the researcher’s body of work, as discussed in the post below. 

I’ve previously written that when people think about scientific risks regarding a topic they are uninformed about, they are less likely to support such risks if they have vested interests such as political or personal biases. I’ve also shown how public trust in science is also influenced by education and belief systems. Bad science reporting only serves to complicate things by presenting sensationalist views (see my post here).

Continue reading Science Media Hype: Scaremongering Over Viral Research

Public Science: Lead in Lipstick

I’m seeing a lot of activity about Deborah Blum’s interesting article on the hazardous metals used in lipsticks. The article has been shared widely in my circles and certainly got me engaged. Having just read Johnathan Chung’s statistical critique of the studies below, there is more to think about.

After first reading Blum’s article, I went back to the research published in Environmental Health Perspectives. I was initially struck by the methodology, where the researchers measured the impact of metals in lipsticks using comparisons to metals in water consumption. They did this because the materials used in lipsticks are not regulated in the USA. Blum notes that manufacturers have shown that they can manipulate the levels of these metals when they want to. I commented on Gaythia Weis’ post that these findings represent a powerful argument against self-regulation by industry. I think this comment stands, however, Chung argues that the sample and statistics overstate their case. It doesn’t change the fact that the metals used are dangerous, but Chung notes that the ingredients need to be put into statistical perspective and in context of how they are used. We don’t drink lipstick and our bodies don’t absorb these metals to the extent being reported.

The broader issue that I see arising from Blum and Chung’s analyses is that ordinary consumers are often unaware of the properties used in everyday products. While many of us have read other articles that warn about the dangerous compounds in make-up, new studies lead to a new wave of concern. The public is hungry for scientific guidance on how to respond to conflicting research. For these reasons, I love seeing scientists engaging with research in public forums, as both Blum and Chung have done.