Newsweek senior editor and science blogger Sharon Begley just can’t get enough of the politics of personal destruction and the food scare. Her hit piece on political operative Mark Penn yesterday is a perfect example.
Upon hearing the news of Penn’s resignation from Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, Begley jumped at the chance to use his company’s “efforts on behalf of mercury” as a new hook for ignorant seafood propaganda:
Burson-Marsteller’s work on behalf of the high-mercury fish industry is an excellent way to get even more neurotoxins into babies’ developing brains. Burson-Marsteller has worked tirelessly to persuade people—especially pregnant women—that the mercury that tuna (especially albacore) is laced with is nothing to worry their pretty little heads about…
But as one of Newsweek’s senior science writers (even one without an advanced science degree), shouldn’t Begley know that the scientific literature contains zero documented cases of fish-related mercury poisoning in the United States? Did Begley miss the warnings from Harvard University researchers telling us that the real health risk comes from not eating tuna and other fish? And the studies in leading medical journals suggesting that pregnant women who eat the most fish have the smartest children?
No. Begley didn’t “miss” any of the scientific evidence exposing her mercury claims as junk science and activist hype. We told her all about it in January.
But in the world of some determined activists, science takes a backseat when there’s an axe to grind — even if the only available avenue is public-health malpractice. And inevitably, some of those axe-grinders are journalists. Utterly ignoring the latest news about the benefits of eating fish while pregnant, Begley is essentially condemning Mark Penn for encouraging pregnant women to do the right thing for their unborn babies.
This willful omission should be reason enough for Begley to attend a refresher course on the difference between science and political science.
As real science journalism moves past activist sound bites, agenda-driven bullying from scientific know-nothings is likely to get even nastier. Newsweek should re-evaluate Begley’s tenure as Senior Editor before she turns the magazine into a full-time activist tabloid.