Saturday, December 25, 2004

On May 22, 2003, the Los Angeles Times printed a front-page story by Scott Gold, its respected Houston bureau chief, about the passage of a law in Texas requiring abortion doctors to warn women that the procedure might cause breast cancer. Virtually no mainstream scientist believes that the so-called ABC link actually exists — only anti-abortion activists do. Accordingly, Gold’s article noted right off the bat that the American Cancer Society discounts the “alleged link” and that anti-abortionists have pushed for “so-called counseling” laws only after failing in their attempts to have abortion banned. Gold also reported that the National Cancer Institute had convened “more than a hundred of the world’s experts” to assess the ABC theory, which they rejected. In comparison to these scientists, Gold noted, the author of the Texas counseling bill — who called the ABC issue “still disputed” — had “a professional background in property management.”

Gold’s piece was hard-hitting but accurate. The scientific consensus is quite firm that abortion does not cause breast cancer. If reporters want to take science and its conclusions seriously, their reporting should reflect this reality — no matter what anti-abortionists say.

But what happened next illustrates one reason journalists have such a hard time calling it like they see it on science issues. In an internal memo exposed by the Web site LAobserved.com, the Times’s editor, John Carroll, singled out Gold’s story for harsh criticism, claiming it vindicated critics who accuse the paper of liberal bias...
-- from Blinded by Science by Chris Mooney in Columbia Journalism Review, an interesting article on how media reporting often tends to distort science.

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