The Tribune series on the “mercury menace” has the eerie feel of Janet Cook. Cook was the Washington Post staff reporter who fabricated a sensational series on the fictitious life of a child crack addict. The Tribune reporters evoke similar sensationalism by uncritically reporting self-diagnostic anecdotes from an “expert” who has publicly discussed tragic struggles with a “lifetime” of mental and emotional problems. ( See http://www.salon.com/mwt/col/waldman/2005/05/09/pregnancy_meds/index_np.html).
Even more disturbing, the Tribune reporters’ “science” is further buttressed by references to proven flawed studies on male heart attack risks (http://ff.org/centers/csspp/pdf/20050119HGHeart.pdf), an internet hoax (“a teaspoon” of mercury “contaminating” a “small lake, http://www.heartland.org/Article.cfm?artId=14560) and a non-existent “government study” (410,000 babies a year at risk, http://ff.org/centers/csspp/misc/opeds/hg/20050815.pdf).
Such irresponsible reporting may put at serious health risk the very populations for whom they claim concern–pregnant women and fetuses–by falsely alarming them away from nutrition shown to decrease risks for pre-mature birth, post-partum depression, and suicidal ideation and increase fetal benefits of visual acuity, strong brain development, and enhanced IQ (http://ff.org/centers/csspp/pdf/mercury092804.pdf).
In all, the Tribune series appears a perfect case of what the late Julian Simon described as media “hoodwinking” a science-challenged nation–40 percent of whom believe humans and dinosaurs cohabitated.
Center for Science and Public Policy