Something Fishy About A Coalition Without Consensus
When I had the opportunity to serve as the Dean of Discipline for the 8th grade in my school a couple of years back I once faced the task of investigating a curious letter sent by the local Yu-Gi-Oh! playing card society to my Principal threatening a hunger strike if their confiscated cards were not returned immediately, and they were allowed to play again during lunch.
As absurd as it was to be faced with students pondering a hunger strike over such a seemingly small matter I suspected this would be an entertaining investigation, and I was certainly not disappointed. For as I began to call down the quite studious and card-carrying members of this Yu-Gi-Oh! playing lunch table, it became apparent quite quickly that these were not the sort you'd expect to find in my office. In fact I don't believe I'd ever heard of any of them before except for the one who'd delivered the letter. And as they entered my office both flustered and confused, each with large piles of books cradled in their arms I sought to find the truth.
My opening line of questioning was in a rather loud and supposedly irritated voice, and went something like this "What gives the group of you the audacity to threaten us with a hunger strike over Yu-Gi-Oh! cards?" In an instant their puzzled looks vanished, and beads of sweat broke out across their collective brows as their eyes grew round as saucers and they visibly backed away from their fearless leader with mouths agape. "You, you, you " one finally sputtered. "A hunger strike?" asked another in a quavering voice. And now I was confused, as clearly they were both deeply concerned and genuinely confused by all of this, though their names were quite legibly signed beneath the petition threatening a hunger strike.
Turns out their ringleader had asked them to sign a blank piece of paper, and then wrote the petition before delivering it without so much as giving them a glance at its contents. And I suspect that members of the Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies coalition like the American Society of Pediatrics, Food and Drug Administration, and the National Institutes of Health had much the similar response as the students in my office that day when they turned to the Washington Post or TreeHugger on Thursday, discovering that the supposedly respectable coalition they were part of was about to issue a declaration, albeit quietly funded by fishing industry trade group the National Fisheries Institute, that eating more than 12 ounces of fish was just fine for pregnant or nursing women. In fact, it was encouraged.
Of course that advice ran directly contrary to accepted health advice offered by the FDA back in 2001 and reiterated in 2004. And according to NPR the storm built quickly and the results were predictable. By late Thursday many upstanding members of the 150 member coalition were either strongly distancing themselves from the advice or pulling out of the coalition with a level of speed and decisiveness you don't find often in either business or politics today. And why wouldn't they? If you're going to make an announcement that controverts important pre-existing advice it stands to reason that the members of the coalition had better be genuinely onboard with it behind sound scientific reasoning that has no industry funds attached to it.
And that's not to mention the fact that it would help if the Washington Post had taken the time to call the FDA for verification before making it front page news. After all, they're not exactly the National Enquirer in my book...
But need I say more?