Editorial | Reading beyond the spin
Published: Monday, September 17, 2012
Updated: Monday, September 17, 2012 07:09
A scientific study published in August suggests a relatively inexpensive way to cure blindness caused by Vitamin A deficiency in 500,000 children a year.
A scientific study that took place in 2008 in the Hunan province of China used potentially unwitting Chinese children aged six to ten as guinea pigs for genetically modified food.
Both of these potential ledes to a news story elicit an emotional response in the reader. Upon first glance, the first study looks to be a scientific breakthrough, while the second study appears to be morally reprehensible.
But in reality, these studies are identical. They serve as a prime example of how phrasing can manipulate the truth of a situation. A scientific study did take place that could save children from blindness, and that same study did feed Chinese children genetically modified rice. This much is certain. The rest of the story is messy speculation.
The study in question was published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, and lists as its lead author Guangwen Tang, an associate professor at the Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy. In order to come to its eventual breakthrough, scientists needed to feed genetically modified rice to children. The rice was modified to contain Vitamin A-rich beta-carotene, and the scientists determined that this so-called “Golden Rice” — called golden because of its yellow color — can help malnourished children get the vitamins they need. Distributing Golden Rice could save two million lives every year, according to the study.
Also according to the published study, scientists received consent from the participants’ parents, approval for the project from the Tufts Medical Center Institutional Review Board and approval from an ethics review board at Zhejiang Academy in China. The International Rice Research Institute, a nonprofit, told the Daily in an e-mail that the beta-carotene found in Golden Rice is the same amount found in other regularly eaten foods, making it safe for human consumption. The New Scientist magazine published an editorial last month in favor of the study.
So why aren’t we out in the streets jumping for joy over this potential scientific marvel? The negative press the study has received this month all leads to one source, the same source that was in contact with the Daily this week: Greenpeace.
Although the Golden Rice study in question first came under fire in 2008 from a group of 32 scientists who then penned an open letter to the Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Greenpeace published its own report in August that became a top story — first in China, then in print and broadcast media outlets around the globe. In its email to the Daily, Greenpeace claimed that the children involved in the study did not give “informed consent” and that the Golden Rice is definitely not safe for human consumption — two claims completely at odds with what the researchers as well as independent voices in the science community maintain to be the truth.
When consuming the news, or indeed any media, a discerning reading is key. As for what that truth truly is in this particular instance — well, it might not exist in any neat package currently online or in print. The truth here depends on which sources you choose to believe.