Scientists fight back against false narratives

This week is all about dispelling myths and misperceptions. In addition to John Oliver’s popular new video on science reporting, in Europe, a handful of scientists are willing to stand up and defend their field. In their press release they openly reject the misleading narrative created by “certain scientists, NGOs and well-funded pressure groups” that endocrine active substances are a priori harmful.

As the Commission is working to develop criteria to identify endocrine disruptors, Prof. Sir Colin Berry, Prof. Alan Boobis, Prof. Wolfgang Dekant, Prof. Daniel Dietrich, Prof. Helmut Greim, Prof. Pat Heslop-Harrison and Prof. Richard Sharpe met with European Commissioner for Health Dr. Vytenis Andriukiatis to discuss a significant element of the debate: the presentation of endocrine active substances to the public. They highlighted that the narrative has been exceptionally one-sided and that it takes a position that has not been substantiated by science.

In their statement, the scientists who met with Andriukaitis note:

  • Most of the robust evidence shows that there is no impact on human health from endocrine active substances
  • Endocrine active substances are well controlled within existing regulatory frameworks. The current level of knowledge about EDC and hormone action is such that it allows scientists and the regulatory bodies to identify compounds with potential endocrine activity and to address their potential to cause harm to humans or to the environment via well-established processes
  • The low-dose theory is not supported by robust (i.e. reproducible) scientific data.

This supports a 2013 letter signed by 71 scientists written to the European Commission which expressed concern that the Commission was taking steps to regulate substances based on interest group pressure, and not based on scientific fact.

A wider group of scientists, convened by the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) in order to determine a consensus-based approach to setting crieteria for the identification of endocrine disruptors, also recently issued a document reiterating that endocrine activity can occur from a wide range of both natural and man-made substances (see our blog explaining the difference between endocrine disruption and activity). The report also notes that rules banning certain substances, such as BPA, when the identical reaction happens in response to sweet mustard (containing BPF) are illogical.

These scientists are respectable members of their profession, often considered as top in their fields. Their objective is to analyse and present what the evidence shows and use terms of probability and likelihood. This is why it is unfortunate that their statements sometimes somehow seem weaker than that of more vocal pressure groups basing their claims on mostly experimental, un-replicated “à la carte” lab studies.

Going forward, it is important that the public, and the media, take note. As our blog earlier this week about media coverage of science remarked, it’s not often that the media says ‘nothing really going on here’ when an exaggerated headline gets more readers. But scientific robustness and accountability are essential as well.

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