Here We Go Again

“Flawed study” is on its way to becoming a new catch phrase, as citizens try to work out the practical meaning of scientific research. Journal articles published last year and this year seem to cast doubt on the health benefits of organic food – but their strongest finding was that there is not enough research on the subject. As a faculty member at Saybrook University, where I teach graduate students and sit on dissertation committees, I have some experience in evaluating published and unpublished research. Here is one suggestion for evaluating research you read about in the news: Ask yourself, Who conducted the study? If it was funded by chemical manufacturers, it is likely to defend the use of pesticides. If it was paid for by an environmental organization, any financial benefit is less likely to bias the researchers. Did you know that research is sometimes squelched if the funders don’t like the results? Scientists can be asked to sign an agreement saying that the funder owns the results and may publish them – /or not./ So for every study that defends a chemical, there may be others — unpublished — that found it to be dangerous for people or the planet.

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