The good news about organics: And why the media tend to ignore it
In the long-running debate about whether organic food is more healthy and nutritious than the conventional variety, the press has shown a preference for covering research rejecting the averred value of organics.
Such was the point of a clever, but incomplete piece of criticism that appeared in The New York Times’s weekly Science Times section on Tuesday. Using a head-fake lede, the paper’s Kenneth Chang reports that:
A team of scientists laboriously reviewed decades of research comparing organic fruits and vegetables with those grown the usual way. They found that, as many had suspected, the organic produce, farmed without synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, was more nutritious, with more vitamin C, on average, and many more of the plant-defense molecules that in people help shield against cancer and heart disease.
That is probably not the study you heard about.
The findings, by scientists at Newcastle University in England, appeared in April 2011 and barely made a ripple in the news media or in the public consciousness.
But last month, after a team from Stanford University conducted a similar review of many of the same studies, they came to opposite conclusions — and set off a firestorm.
It’s an excellent point, and crafty setup, but the piece isn’t the mea culpa that it should be. Chang goes to blame the “chasm” between the low coverage of positive results and high coverage of negative results on the different ways scientists conduct broad reviews of the scientific literature, called meta-analyses…