Eveline Lubbers on 16 Feb 2001 15:47:40 -0000


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<nettime> Trust Us, We're Experts


Interesting book:
John Stauber en Sheldon Rampton
Trust Us, We're Experts! How Industry Manipulates Science and
Gambles With Your Future (Tarcher Putnam, $24.95).

Stauber is the founder of the non-profit Center for Media and Democracy, a 
public relations watchdog group in Madison, Wis. He and Rampton write the
center's newsletter, PR Watch. http://www.prwatch.org/

NYT (1/31/01) featured Trust Us, We're Experts! in an opinion page 
advertisement from Tompaine.com. Tompaine.com liked the book so much 
that they arranged for an excerpt and decided to feature it in their NYT spot.
You should be able to see that advertisement and related information
as early as this evening on their website at: 
http://www.tompaine.com/

> USA TODAY
> February 14, 2001
>
> Their message: Don't trust experts The public must be skeptical, authors
> say
>
> By Anita Manning
> USA TODAY
> Media critics John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton would like American
> consumers to become better spin detectors. Behind much of what we read
> in newspapers or hear on TV, they say, are not cold, hard facts but
> public relations specialists who are masters at ''spin control,''
> directing what information is presented, by whom and in what context.
> ''We rely on journalists and the news media to explain to us what's
> going on in the world,'' Stauber says, ''but the PR industry, this
> multibillion-dollar corporate business, is primarily composed of former
> journalists. Their job is to manage perceptions.'' On any given day, he
> says, ''40-60% of what we see, hear and read as news and information in
> the media is actually the product of public relations.'' Stauber is
> founder of the non-profit Center for Media and Democracy, a public
> relations watchdog group in Madison, Wis. He and Rampton write the
> center's newsletter, PR Watch, and are co-authors of the recently
> released Trust Us, We're Experts! How Industry Manipulates Science and
> Gambles With Your Future (Tarcher Putnam, $24.95). How the media are
> manipulated by the public relations industry, he says, has a lot to do
> with ''independent'' scientists who are on the payroll of big
> corporations, ''non-partisan'' public interest groups whose real
> allegiance is to the bottom line, and a climate of instant journalism
> that keeps reporters reacting to the latest scientific study without
> looking beyond the surface. ''The most important message in the book is
> that we shouldn't trust experts,'' Stauber says. ''We should demand to
> know of experts their own financial background, their personal biases,
> and we should be forthright in asking those questions.'' Everyone is
> biased Clearly, Stauber and Rampton have their own biases, and they own
> up to them: ''If we didn't have an agenda,'' Stauber says, ''there
> wouldn't be a book.'' Stauber says that everyone, himself included, who
> writes non-fiction has an agenda. Since its formation in 1993, his
> watchdog group's agenda has been to reveal how propaganda is conducted
> in democratic societies, he says. ''I was brought up to think propaganda
> was a dirty word,'' Stauber says. ''We like to think it doesn't exist
> much in democratic societies, but what I have learned over the last
> seven years is that in countries like the U.S. and European nations, we
> are the most propagandized nations in history.'' Many consumers suspect
> as much, Rampton says. ''A lot of people are already skeptical about
> what's behind a news story or scientific study,'' he says. ''When I turn
> on the TV to watch the evening news, I'm always asking myself if (what
> I'm watching) is a video news release. Simply posing that question can
> help you pick it out.'' Video news releases are reports written and
> filmed by PR firms, then sent to local television stations, which often
> air them without disclosing their origin. ''VNRs are used heavily by the
> pharmaceuticals and food industries in particular,'' the authors write,
> ''which provide a steady stream of stories touting new medical
> breakthroughs and previously unknown health benefits that researchers
> attribute to oat bran, garlic bread, walnuts, orange juice or whatever
> product the sponsoring client happens to be selling.'' Consumers often
> are confused by dueling scientists. One says product X will cause
> cancer, another says it won't. That's not spin, counters Edward Brandt,
> professor of health administration and policy at the University of
> Oklahoma's Health Sciences Center. That's honest disagreement, he says.
> ''Science evolves, and too often, the public thinks of scientific
> advances as 'breakthroughs,' when, in fact, science sort of inches
> forward,'' Brandt says. It's not surprising that scientists will
> disagree about the significanc e of findings. Even without any
> manipulation or attempt to deceive, competent, ethical scientists may
> disagree and therefore give differing opinions on an issue, he says.
> ''The fact that they disagree is not necessarily the result of anybody
> manipulating them or their wanting to spread propaganda,'' Brandt says.
> Look for credibility And, says Carole Gorney, a professor of journalism
> and communications at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa., corporate
> interests aren't the only ones fluent in the language of spin. ''We have
> consumer groups and lawyer groups that are doing virtually the same
> thing,'' she says, ''using third parties (as experts) and purporting to
> be independent, and they are not.'' Complicating matters is ''the fact
> that so much of the news is so technical in nature that the average
> consumer wouldn't understand it,'' says Elizabeth Powell of the Darden
> School of Business at the University of Virginia. ''Someone needs to
> translate the science into an idiom the common person can understand,''
> she says, and often that job is left to public relations people. When
> there is disagreement, ''it's hard to know what's spin and what's
> true,'' she says. She cites as an example the ongoing public discussions
> surrounding genetically engineered food. On one side are scientists who
> ''portray genetically modified foods as actually just an assisted way of
> furthering or speeding natural evolution of things.'' ''In some ways, I
> think that's not an untrue statement.'' But on the other side ''are
> legitimate concerns about whether if you take a gene from one sort of
> animal and inject it into a vegetable, are you really messing with
> Mother Nature and all that. It comes down to the consumer's ability to
> investigate to his or her satisfaction.'' When seeking truth, Powell
> says, ''source credibility is probably the thing to look for, as well as
> the preponderance of evidence.'' The fact that ''someone's been on the
> payroll or the company has done the research doesn't mean you should
> reject it out of hand,'' she says, but ''it's always good to get
> information from multiple sources, so it's not just the makers of a
> product supplying the information, but it's also consumer groups and
> activists.'' Trying to sort out the truth from the outpouring of
> verbiage that assaults us daily is ''not much different than following
> political candidates and needing to make up your mind,'' she says.
> ''Fortunately, we live in a society where we get opposing viewpoints.''
>
>  Copyright 2001 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

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