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Conflicted Science: Can Nutrition Communicators Be Biased Too?

Rowe, Sylvia MA; Alexander, Nick BA

doi: 10.1097/NT.0000000000000073
Nutrition Communications
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Much has been written in the peer-reviewed literature about conflicts of interest in scientific research, including food research. Some authorities have called for more stringent management of such conflicts. Some have pointed out the relationship between financial conflicts of interest and other kinds of biases that may affect the direction or interpretation of research. Relatively little if anything has appeared in the literature about the possible biases of those who report or comment on nutrition and other health research. In this article, such “communication bias” is explored in some depth, and strategies are discussed for disclosing and managing the philosophical, emotional, value-based, or other biases that influence the interpretation of nutrition and health science. At a minimum, the authors argue for greater awareness and disclosure of such influences on the reporting of diet and health information.

Sylvia Rowe, MA, is an adjunct professor at Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Boston, Massachusetts, 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 in 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 a former senior media counselor for the IFIC Foundation, Washington, DC. He holds a bachelor’s of arts degree from Harvard University. A former network correspondent with ABC News, he has been tracking and writing about science communications issues and the evolving challenge to public acceptance of credible science for the past decade.

The authors have no conflicts of interest to disclose.

Correspondence: Sylvia Rowe, MA, 1100 Connecticut Ave NW, #1000, Washington, DC 20036 (rowe@srstrategy.com).

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