American Beverage Association

March 20, 2013

Enough. Science By Press Release Needs to Stop

Too often, PR shops play the role of the wizard behind the curtain, spinning and shaping scientific abstracts and studies without offering context or perspective. And just as often as those releases are churned out, the media picks them up and reports on them.

It’s dangerous that news releases passing for science are so readily repeated in the media. There’s no check on claims made and rarely any balance provided – just screaming headlines.

A blog called “Science Reporting Gone Wrong” explains, “the science reporting process is a complicated one. The process requires honest researchers, informed PR writers, investigative journalists and savvy, critical bloggers to ensure that public audiences receive accurate big-picture representations of scientific research and discovery.”

Unfortunately, this type of rigorous reporting is rare today.

The latest reckless piece of science-by-press-release came yesterday from a group of scientists claiming there may be an association between sugar-sweetened beverages and mortality. You may have seen the sensational headlines:  “sugary drinks linked to 180,000 deaths worldwide” or some such. If it bleeds, it leads.

First, there’s not even an available study yet. Literally. (If there was, we’d link to it so you could read for yourself.) But there was a press release issued on behalf of the authors. Until late today — hours and hours after the media had long reported on the news release — there wasn’t even an abstract available for public review. The scientists making these claims still haven’t shown their work for scrutiny beyond their own cabal.

The skeptics in the scientific community are emerging as well. A doctor with the Cleveland Clinic referred to it as “weak research.” But there’s one thing all these studies that attack soda have in common: they can’t and don’t show that soda alone is a unique cause of obesity – there is no cause and effect. And most of these studies actually bury deep in the research a disclaimer to the effect that there is no causation and more study is needed.

Yes, certain sodas and other beverages have calories. But many don’t; in fact, 45 percent of beverages sold today have zero calories. But if you over-consume any food with calories without working those calories off, it’s going to create an imbalance. That’s not unique to soda or any one food. Calories in must equal calories out to maintain weight – that’s a standard embraced by science and common sense.

Yes, we represent the soft drink industry. Yes, we have a proud bias towards our products, which we know to be safe and refreshing beverages. We also know we must do our part to address the complex problem of obesity – just go to www.deliveringchoices.org to learn how we are doing just that.

We work very hard to deal in facts and in a straightforward manner – whether you agree with our positions or not. But we’re never so reckless as to let press releases pass for legitimate science. That’s irresponsible.


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