PR Before Peer Review – Incomplete advice, damaging food safety reputation
By Douglas Powell | July 23, 2014
My grade 7 teacher in Canada, Mrs. Patrick, was the grammar police and instilled a strong value in getting things right (write?). My wife has now taken over that role.
I explain to students and my kids that grammar is like traffic signals: maybe it’s not efficient but it’s some rules we can agree on so that I can get to the idea of what you’re trying to express.
Science or evidence-based, has its own rules.
Whether it’s a grasp for headlines, funding or ego, press releases before publication continue, and continue to be a bad idea.
Food safety types can do better.
In Sept. 2000, I called Procter & Gamble to substantiate claims their consumer-oriented Fit Fruit and Vegetable Wash removed 99.9 per cent more residue and dirt than water alone.
The PR-thingies hooked me up with some scientists at P&G in Cincinnati, who verbally told me that sample cucumbers, tomatoes and the like were grown on the same farm in California, sprayed with chemicals that would be used in conventional production, and then harvested immediately and washed with Fit or water. The Fit removed 99.9 per cent more, or so the company claimed.
One problem. Many of the chemicals used had harvest-after dates, such as the one tomato chemical that was supposed to be applied at least 20 days before harvest.
That tidbit wasn’t revealed in the company PR accompanying Fit.
Back in 2000 I asked why the results hadn’t been published in a peer-reviewed journal, and the P&G types said it was an important advance that had to be made available to consumers as soon as possible, without the delays and messiness of peer-review.
Things haven’t changed much. What I still don’t quite comprehend is why researchers who do go to the effort of getting published in peer-reviewed journals – which isn’t easy – feel the need to share results publicly before peer review or publication. It lessens their effort.
Maybe it’s a culture thing.
Culture encompasses the shared values, morals, customary practices, inherited traditions, and prevailing habits of communities. It’s when one food service or farm or retail employee says to another, dude, wash your hands, without being told by the boss or the inspector.
Or one when PhD tells another PhD, press release before peer-review sorta sucks. And that’s the culture of science.
Or should be.
In July, 2014, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control took some bi-partisan hits for poor tracking of dangerous pathogens, to which director Tom Frieden responded the agency had corrected the specific defects cited in previous investigations, but had not realized there was a deeper problem with the culture of safety at CDC— which he will now address.
For me it’s a hockey-coaching thing: try to do better than last week, have fun, and pay attention – before a 10-year-old runs over the 5-year-old. Keep your stick on the ice and don’t take wooden nickels.
And don’t produce food that makes people barf.
Press release before publication is always a bad idea – cold fusion?
Dr. Douglas Powell is a former professor of food safety who shops, cooks and ferments from his home in Brisbane, Australia.
DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the original creator and do not necessarily represent that of the Texas A&M Center for Food Safety or Texas A&M University.