Cancer research: A good reason not to just “trust science”


What’s hot? What’s not?/Niklas Bildhauer, Wikimedia

Every so often a story like this one from Kate Kelland at Reuters provides a backdrop for hand-wringing in science journals along the lines of “Why, why, why doesn’t the public trust science”:

Documents seen by Reuters show how a draft of a key section of the International Agency for Research on Cancer’s (IARC) assessment of glyphosate – a report that has prompted international disputes and multi-million-dollar lawsuits – underwent significant changes and deletions before the report was finalised and made public.

One effect of the changes to the draft, reviewed by Reuters in a comparison with the published report, was the removal of multiple scientists’ conclusions that their studies had found no link between glyphosate and cancer in laboratory animals.

Reuters found 10 significant changes that were made between the draft chapter on animal studies and the published version of IARC’s glyphosate assessment. In each case, a negative conclusion about glyphosate leading to tumors was either deleted or replaced with a neutral or positive one. Reuters was unable to determine who made the changes. More.

This is dreadful news for the environment litigation industry that makes a living in part off raising costs for everyone via high damages for plaintiffs on questionable claims.

The remarkable thing is that Reuters is actually publishing this information instead of retailing the usual cancer scares—which has been a much more profitable eyeball farm for traditional media.

One way the internet has changed the world is that anyone can find this stuff out from Reuters now without waiting for Big Media to sift through it. Big Media are still having trouble adjusting to the new approach: If you want trust, be trustworthy.

Also, keep up to date with Retraction Watch for legitimate reasons to doubt what we read.

Note: As a home gardener, I (O’Leary for News) do not use any pesticides or herbicides. Plants that are kept only for psychological reasons (decoration, recreation, landscaping) should either adapt to their environment or give place to those that can. Feeding the world is an entirely different matter, of course.

See also: Crisis in replication


Extra! Extra! A handy guide to the normal fake news: Surviving information overload