Friday, April 11, 2014

Are Reporters Challenging Mangano's "Junk Science"?

The story in the April 2014 issue of Popular Mechanics that debunks Joe Mangano's anti-nuclear research has just been published online and has gotten some additional attention -- including a link from UT-Knoxville law professor Glenn Reynolds, better known as Instapundit.

There are plenty of great quotes in the Popular Mechanics piece, but this passage really sticks out:
The Mangano and Sherman paper is a prime example of a troubling new trend in which junk science is becoming harder to distinguish from rigorous research. It is an example of activists using the trappings of science to influence public opinion and policy. Today there are cottage industries that produce and disseminate skewed research in publications that masquerade as legitimate science journals. Celebrities and mainstream media outlets then tout the results, so that even retracted or clearly biased research can reach larger audiences than ever before. These studies cause real harm—for instance, by denouncing lifesaving vaccines and vilifying foods that could ease famine in developing countries.

People who produce junk science often come from outside the scientific mainstream, and they bend the rules of research in an attempt to legitimize their personal beliefs, says Mark Hoofnagle, a surgery resident at the University of Maryland who runs the science-monitoring blog Denialism.com. "What if your ideology is simply not supported by the evidence?" he says. "You can change your mind or you can hijack the system."
But while it's nice to see others picking up on the fact that Mangano's research has more than a few holes, I'd like to see more reporters follow the advice that Reporting on Health, a blog published by the USC-Annenberg School of Communications, gave about Mangano back in 2011. Two separate contributors there warned reporters to "proceed with caution," regarding Mangano's studies and that they should "demand details," when interviewing him. As it turns out, there are more than a few indications that's actually happening.

Mangano has most recently been active in and around the Diablo Canyon Power Plant on California's Central Coast. Working with the World Business Academy, Mangano is claiming that cancer rates have increased in the vicinity of the plant since it opened, but reporters now seem to be on to his game. Here's George Lauer at California Healthline:
State and county epidemiologists said the study's author "cherry-picked" statistics and ignored standard scientific procedure to get desired results.

Ann McDowell, epidemiologist for the San Luis Obispo County Public Health Department, said the county is preparing a written response to Mangano's study, which she said is "fundamentally flawed."

"This study used inappropriate measures to make its point," McDowell said. "It was designed in a particular way to get a desired result. We refer to it as cherry picking."

John Morgan, epidemiologist with the California Cancer Registry, agreed.

"The author of this study did not adjust for changes in age distribution and did not take into account other factors, so his conclusions are not supported," Morgan said.
Let's hope this is a trend. Want other tips for spotting bad science? Check out this infographic.

1 comment:

jimwg said...

Good article, But --

Re: "...but reporters now seem to be on to his game."

When I see either CNN or Fox or MSNBC or the NY and LA Times or Washington Post pick up on this then I know that statement truly has meat on it.

James Greenidge
Queens, NY