How America became obsessed with BPA
What if BPA were tea? An analogy
Imagine I’m a scientist who comes to you, a newspaper reporter, with the following story: “I did this experiment where I injected six mice with tiny amounts of tea and they all developed heart disease. You need to warn the world that drinking tea is putting millions of people at risk of heart attack.” Do you as a reporter say, “stop the presses – we have a new story for page one,” or do you think, well this sounds a little odd, but he has a Ph.D, he’s been published in peer-reviewed journals, and has a job at a University, so let’s check him out and see what other scientists make of this theory?
Imagine you then find out that very few other scientists think my research has any merit – in fact, some tried to replicate my experiment, but couldn’t get the results I did. You come back to me and tell me all this. “Pshaw,” I say, “these guys are Tea industry scientists and you can’t trust anything they say; their work is a joke, a mockery of research.” But you respond, “Actually, there are these two-year studies that used far more mice, many more doses of tea, controlled for a whole bunch of factors you didn’t, and they still didn’t find your results. They were funded by industry but supervised by international protocols. What’s more, the US EPA did a wholly independent two-year study on rats, to see if they could find what you found – the lead researcher even once collaborated with you – and they found nothing either.”
But I say, “Look, I’m challenging the entire worldview of toxicology – my research is ushering in a paradigm shift in the way we think about drinking tea and chemical risk. These protocols are a joke – they’re keeping good research from saving lives – look, here are more studies that find tea is linked to obesity, breast cancer, genital defects, and neurodevelopment problems. Tea is incredibly dangerous substance and needs to be banned.” You reply – “but the body that funded many of these studies won’t fund this kind of research any more because it says these studies all have design flaws. The National Toxicology Program convened a bunch of statisticians, and they all said these studies were flawed. And Europe, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, along with the FDA, also said these studies are flawed – and they all keep saying that injecting tea directly into the blood of mice is not the way to assess the risk of drinking tea. We drink tea - so you should be feeding them tea. And I reply, “I am one of the world’s leading tea researchers, all these people know nothing about tea. They are all beholden to the tea industry.”
Would you, as a reporter, not only take me at my word, and write page-one stories warning about the risks of tea and an industry cover up, but also bury all the research saying tea is safe and that my research is irrelevant? Ignore scientists who warned you that my tea research was lousy? Construct a narrative dominated by people who only reflect my viewpoint or who I have collaborated with? This may be a cartoon analogy, but when you boil down the BPA story, this is, in essence, what much of the American media did and why BPA is a hot-button political issue.