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Scientific American Science Panel May Get Lost in Translation

money, megaphone

money, megaphone

Image credit: Shutterstock

Is science explained fairly in the media? This Thursday, scientists and journalists will gather in Washington, D.C. to consider that question at an event called Lost in Translation, hosted by Scientific American. Given the sponsors and panelists, Friends of the Earth has serious concerns that scientific integrity and a balanced perspective may be what’s lost in translation.

The event cosponsor, GMO Answers, is a PR and marketing website for genetically engineered foods funded by Monsanto, Syngenta, BASF, Bayer, Dow and DuPont. Created in 2013 by a biotech trade association to “help clear up confusion and dispel distrust” about genetic engineering, GMO Answers regularly over-hypes the benefits and downplays risks associated with GMOs, including growing weed resistance, increased use of pesticides and related health concerns.

As Friends of the Earth’s report “Spinning Food” documents, agrichemical companies and their allies are spending tens of millions of dollars a year on tobacco-style PR tactics to flood news outlets and social media platforms with misleading messages about the safety and necessity of GMOs and chemical-intensive industrial agriculture.

While being framed as a serious discussion about communicating science accurately, the Scientific American event looks like a continuation of this industry PR campaign; as it offers only pro-GMO speakers and no dissenting perspectives on the topic.

• Keith Kloor, a freelance reporter and part-time journalism professor at New York University who has promoted “clean coal” and is a regular defender of GMOs who attacks critics as unscientific and “politically stupid,” according to PolluterWatch;

• Tamar Haspel, a freelance journalist who has received funding from the agrichemical industry to moderate industry sponsored panel events and seminars on communicating positive attributes of GMOs, according to a Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting article;

• Nina Federoff, an emeritus professor at Penn State University who also works at OFW Law, which is a powerhouse food and agribusiness lobbying firm. OFW Law is registered as having lobbied for the Council for Biotechnology Information and Syngenta.

Industry panelists also include Kate Hall, managing director for the Council for Biotechnology Information; Seema Kumar, vice president at Johnson & Johnson; and Donna Nelson, president of the American Chemical Society.