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Transparency in Health/Nutrition News: Stripping Away the "Emperor's New Clothes"

Rowe, Sylvia MA; Alexander, Nick BA

doi: 10.1097/NT.0b013e3181fd59c6
Nutrition and Communications

One of the current buzzwords in communication, science communication, and nonscience journalism is "transparency." It is supposed to be juxtaposed against something like "secretive" or "hidden." But the issue of transparency carries a lot more beneath the surface: it raises such matters as privacy concerns (when is exposure too much exposure?), intellectual property rights (why should everyone in the world have access by right to data that a scientist has worked hard to gather?), and in general, the broader issue around public versus private (is there ever a case where the public has no legitimate business to intrude on an individual's private life?). This article examines recent calls for greater transparency in communicating nutrition science and other information; it highlights positive consequences but also explores possible pitfalls of and obstacles to achieving greater transparency; and it raises the question-when might there be too much transparency?

What does transparency really mean when it comes to nutrition communications?

Sylvia Rowe, MA, is an adjunct professor at Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy and at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She is also the president of SR Strategy, a health, nutrition, food safety, and risk communications and issue management consultancy located at Washington, DC. Previously, Ms Rowe served as president and chief executive officer of the International Food Information Council (IFIC) and IFIC Foundation, nonprofit organizations that communicate science-based information of food safety and nutrition issues to health professionals, journalists, government officials, educators, and consumers.

Nick Alexander, BA, is former senior media counselor for the IFIC Foundation, Washington, DC. He holds a degree of bachelor of arts from Harvard University. A former network correspondent with ABC News, Mr Alexander has been, for the past decade, tracking and writing about science communications issues and the evolving challenge to public acceptance of credible science.

Correspondence: Sylvia Rowe, MA, 1100 Connecticut Ave, NW, #1000, Washington, DC 20036 (

© 2010 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.