Issue Date: July 2, 2007
Second opinion on studies
"BISPHENOL A ON TRIAL" carries the subtitle, "Only an unbiased panel with appropriate expertise can resolve apparently conflicting results of health studies" (C&EN, April 16, page 38). An unbiased panel has done exactly this. The AFC panel of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) published its assessment of the data in January of this year (www.efsa.europa.eu/en/science/afc/afc_opinions/bisphenol_a.html).
What I find particularly disturbing is that the article repeats Frederick S. vom Saal's statements that the less numerous industry-funded studies are the only ones that could be biased and therefore they must be wrong. Thus arises the implication that the studies without industry funding must be "right," because they are more numerous and (supposedly) unbiased.
As for the number of studies, I was taught that science is not an election and we don't just count "votes." Academic research can have significant bias, especially research that reaches publication. How many researchers would be willing to embark on a study of low-dose effects if they thought they would not find any? How easy would it be to publish a result that merely shows the absence of any effect? And isn't it far easier to get the next grant for your research if you have just shown that there is a problem needing further study? The combination of all of these aspects introduces significant bias on what gets published from the nonindustry side as well.
So let's stop just counting a show of hands or looking at the funding and consider the actual results. What studies have large enough sample sizes to be statistically significant? What results are reproducible? What results make sense? If I've understood EFSA's analysis correctly, current uses of bisphenol A in food-contact applications are safe.
As an ACS member, I would hope that C&EN would exercise more care in deciding which opinions to publish. The disclaimer at the bottom of the page is not enough. C&EN should not publish such one-sided articles.
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