Two weeks ago I posted at the Knight Science Journalism Tracker on a Stanford study that found that organic food was no more nutritious or less risky than conventionally grown food. Not terribly controversial, I thought; people who like organic food will likely continue to buy it. And those who disagree will look for research that supports their view; no single study provides a definitive answer to these kinds of questions.
I was wrong about all that. According to Rosie Mestel at The Los Angeles Times, the study was followed by "days of heated reaction," and activists have now launched a petition drive demanding that the researchers retract their "fatally flawed" study.
Mestel reports that activists set up their petition drive at Change.org, a liberal-leaning website (my characterization, not hers) that aims to promote social change. Recent campaigns have successfully opposed credit-card fees, opposed anti-gay discrimination, and supported the Lorax's pro-tree agenda. The anti-Stanford petition drive tries to link the study to other unrelated issues, such as genetically modified foods, mercury in the food supply, and high-fructose corn syrup, Mestel reports.
Then she neatly proceeds to dismantle the petition. The study, she writes, "wasn't about the entirety of everything that people think is wrong about the way our food is grown and produced today. It wasn't even about every type of difference between organic and conventionally grown food. And did we miss something -- or didn't the authors actually report differences that come down in favor of organic food?"
The petition also attempts to link the study to dubious tobacco industry research, claiming that one of its authors developed a technique that allowed tobacco companies to lie with statistics. Mestel demolishes that attempt.
She ends with the lightly edited views of five authorities, including some who criticize the study. Her story charts a clear path for us through a nasty thicket.
Even so, a week after her story appeared, the petition continues to gain signatures. When Mestel wrote her piece on Sept. 12, the petition, she said, had more than 2,900 signatories. It now has 3,724. A similar petition that I stumbled onto at thepetitionsite.com (Stanford! Don't Lie About Benefits of Organic Foods!) has 1,956 names on it.
Mestel reports that Stanford University has said, "We stand by the work and the study authors." And she says the study's authors have not commented on the petition.
This post originally appeared at the Knight Science Journalism Tracker.