Saturday, July 15, 2017

Takedown …

 NY Times Goes Mac & Cheesy with Science | American Council on Science and Health.

Ms. Rabin's article cannot have simply been a result of a journalist simply misunderstanding science. From the misleading and manipulative title - "The Chemicals in Your Mac and Cheese" - to the content itself, this was designed to promote fear of chemicals. 


  1. Perhaps. But please note that the EU limits the use of phthalates in food-contact materials for what is apparently a good reason. See

    And I don't get what's so difficult about cooking up a large batch of mac-and-cheese yourself, even if you're busy, and for convenience freezing a portion for later use. (BTW, I prefer glass freezer containers to plastic ones. Call me an alarmist, if you like, but I prefer to be cautious. And glass is a lot more aesthetically pleasing than plastic.)

    And it's not manipulative nor misleading if there are actually chemicals in the mix, no matter how they migrated there.

    1. Actually, that was my thought. I have never used packaged mac and cheese=. I make my own. That said, I think it is another reason why we should be skeptical of much of what passes for journalism these days.I remember once, when I was a copy editor and discovered that a reporter had simply re-written a news release. Not good. You can't believe everything you read and make acts of faith in name publications.

  2. Furthermore, Bloom does a bit of manipulating himself. Witness:

    'There are three substances, possible all in your home, that are serious and potent estrogen receptor binders (aka "endocrine disruptors") and are known to elicit a physiological response in humans:

    Birth control pills

    All of these will absolutely swamp any possible effect that you might (but won't) see from a box of noodles.

    Now, doesn't this cheese nonsense seem rather silly? The Times should do way better than this.'

    Just because other substances may be potentially stronger estrogen receptor binders, depending upon a number of factors including concentration, this doesn't mean that plasticizers are necessarily safe. And the issue is not a single box of noodles, despite Blloom's rather lame attempt at snark.

  3. Then there's this info about the American Council on Science and Health, for which Bloom works:

    Are the claims/allegations accurate? No idea. I just think it's a good idea to evaluate sources.

    1. Yes. Including the New York Times.

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  5. Bloom has added a comment which belies his so-called scientific objectivity:

    'My point is that people regularly use products that have REAL estrogen-like properties and think nothing of it.'

    Some people do think about it, some don't. What kind of argument is that? Some people also continue to smoke.

    As to the 'REAL estrogen-like properties' and possible risks of phthalates, the science doesn't seem to be quite settled yet -- one of your favourite points, Frank, isn't it?

    I agree, though, that the NY Times piece could have been more carefully researched and written. Slate does a better job:

    And both Slate and Bloom are correct to caution about scare-mongering.

    Still, Slate's semi-sarcastic advice to pregnant women not to eat too many boxes of mac-and-cheese per day doesn't quite cut it either, not if you consider the multiple sources of plasticizers in our diet.

  6. Then there's this from Bloom:

    'It is very unlikely that Rabin's use of macaroni and cheese was an accident. The meal has a reputation as being either "junk" or "comfort" food, which immediately gives it a negative connotation. In reality, the story has nothing to do with macaroni and cheese, just its package. Had she used virtually any food the story would have been the same, but "The Chemicals in Your Kale" would have sounded ridiculous, even though it is scientifically no more or less so than the title chosen.'

    This type of argument (cheese vs. kale) is misleading in the extreme. All of these pieces is based on a recent study of cheeses and cheese products. Why cheese? See the following report:

    And CNN for a fairly balanced summary:

    Why am I pursuing this? Because I find it distasteful that a scientist like Bloom thinks he can get away with spurious arguments (or even 'cheap tricks' like the kale comparison) in the name of scientific rigour and objectivity.

  7. But what about a journalist like Rabin doing much the same thing, especially given how many people are likely to trust the NYT.

  8. Frank, please reread the NYTimes article. I agree that Rabin could have handled it better, but the piece essentially discusses a particular study of cheeses, which Rabin is careful to point out is not peer-reviewed:

    'The report, which was conducted by an independent laboratory and paid for by environmental advocacy groups, has not been published in a peer-reviewed journal.'

    In other words, Bloom should be finding fault -- which is certainly justified -- primarily with the original report at KleanUpKraft. Yes, he discusses the report, but his piece tends to conflate the original report's results and conclusions with the 'Food Babe's' write-up.

    Compare his citing of the following quotation with Rabin's:

    "Although the concentration of phthalates in food may be quite low, measured in parts per billion, they are still present at higher levels than the natural hormones in the body..."

    Bloom neglects to menion that that is a quotation from '... said Heather B. Patisaul, a professor of biological sciences at the Center for Human Health and the Environment at North Carolina State University in Raleigh.'

    In other words, misleading.

    Bloom strikes me as someone more keen to take others down than assess the actual state of the research into phthalates risks.