Bad science gets busted

High-profile cases show the importance of questioning academic research — especially when it has a corporate tie.

David Sirota in Salon:

ScreenHunter_05 Sep. 27 08.32As any P.R. hack worth his weight in press releases knows, the most persuasive content is that which doesn’t look like propaganda at all.

If you want to influence a mass audience, for instance, you can try to do what the Pentagon does and subtly bake slanted information into entertainment products such as movies and television shows. If, on the other hand, you are looking to influence a slightly higher-brow audience, you can embed disinformation in newspapers’ news andopinion pages. And if you are looking to brainwash politicians, think tanks, columnists and the rest of the political elite in order to rig an esoteric debate over public policy, you can attempt to shroud your agitprop in the veneer of science.

While these are all diabolically effective methods of manipulating political discourse, the latter, which involves corporate funding of academic research, is the most insidious of all. But the good news is that the last few weeks provided important reminders about the problem — and why scrutiny of sources is so important.

At the national level, media organizations frothed with news about Stanford University researchers supposedly determining that organic food food is no more healthy than conventionally produced food. In the rush to generate audience-grabbing headlines, most of these news outlets simply regurgitated the Stanford press release, which deliberately stressed that researchers ”did not find strong evidence that organic foods are more nutritious or carry fewer health risks than conventional alternatives.”

More here.