Junkfood Science: Introduction and why I created this blog

November 13, 2006

Introduction and why I created this blog

My name is Sandy Szwarc, BSN, RN, CCP. I am a registered nurse with a biological science degree and 30 years in neonatal intensive care and emergency triage; case management; medical outreach and health communications; and research. I've written and reviewed clinical practice guidelines and, with biomedical research investigator certification, have written clinical trial protocols and assisted the Institutional Review Board. In my clinical practice, I have cared for all ages — newborns, children, young adults to the elderly. For more than a decade, I’ve been immersed in research, with a focus on issues surrounding preventive health and wellness; obesity, eating disorders and weight issues; diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease and other chronic diseases of aging; food and nutrition; analysis of research methodology, soundness of clinical practice guidelines, disease prevention programs, clinical trial protocols and public health policies; risk analysis; alternative medicine modalities; agriculture; hunger and food insecurity; environment and toxicology.

I won the international 2004 Bert Greene Award for Food Journalism for a research article on variant Creutzfeld-Jacobs disease, and was 2005 nominee for an analysis of the research on methylmercury toxicity for pregnant women and children, after more than a year of research.

I’ve also been in publishing for more than nineteen years (my second career), as a managing and content editor and writer for consumer and professional publications. Earlier in my career, I was managing editor at Meredith Corporation (Better Homes and Gardens), overseeing the budget, content and production of about twenty national consumer health and food publications. I am also a certified culinary professional, with a focus of study in nutrition and food safety. While editor and feature writer for the Dining Book in Dallas, it won the Tastemaster’s Award for Quality Journalism. During the early years of my career, I also had a weekly newspaper column for six years in the East Mountain Telegraph and was the founding editor and feature writer of La Cocinita Magazine and later food editor for New Mexico Magazine. As a former freelance writer, I have articles published in: Dallas Morning News, Austin Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor, Saveur, Bon Appetit, Gourmet, Cooking Light, Better Homes and Gardens, New Mexico Magazine, Hemisphere Magazine, Mountain Living Magazine, Newsday, Country Woman, Washington Times, National Review, International Quarterly of Community Health Education and International Food Forum Quarterly. I’ve authored and contributed to several books; and recently wrote, designed and produced Blue News for Kids, a health newspaper for children to address their health issues in a positive way.

For decades, I’ve followed the research on countless food, obesity and health related fears and issues, including obesity, bariatric surgery, diabetes, food production and processed foods, salt, sugars, high fructose corn syrup, dietary fats and cholesterol, foodborne illnesses, food additives, pasteurization, agricultural production methods, BSE, msg, mercury and methylmercury, dietary fiber, super foods, antioxidants, organic foods, aquaculture, eating disorders, vegetarianism, low-fat and calorie restrictive diets, breastfeeding, genetically modified ingredients, “junk food” to “health food,” vitamins, dietary supplements, chemicals, health insurance and healthcare, pharmaceutical industries, health risk factors and guidelines, aging, preventive health screenings, privacy of health records, wellness programs, cancer and heart disease prevention, exercise, alternative medicine modalites, etc.

The more I’ve learned, the more horrified I’ve become. Science is being misused for marketing and political purposes. Evidence is being distorted and bias has inundated media, research, government policies and clinical guidelines. Unsound information proliferates in professional and advocacy organizations, academic institutions and journals; and even professionals aren’t reaching beyond beliefs to critically examine studies and recognize credible information. So much valuable and critically important information, and the very best science — well documented in careful, objective, evidence-based research — is almost never reported by mainstream media. Fear sells and unfounded scares, exaggerations and “what-ifs?” are being used to terrify people about their foods, bodies and health.

And all of this is costing, frightening and hurting people.

For years, I have traced virtually every science, food and health story in media to their original press releases, which are reported verbatim. Literally everything we hear and read today - on the internet or mainstream media - is marketing and created by those trying to sell us something: a belief, cause, product, service, or themselves. That’s why we hear “science” finds something one day, and something entirely different the next. “Pop” science, what is popularly believed and marketed as “science,” is oftentimes really the junk science.

I’ve also gone to the original source, the study behind each of those stories, and been even more alarmed to realize that the evidence is nothing like what we hear, or even what appears in the conclusions of many study abstracts. In fact, it’s often the exact opposite! Simultaneously, I’ve watched the very best science that counters popular beliefs and could put fears to rest, go unreported. And after a decade of unsuccessfully trying to get any mainstream or alternative publication to publish articles with more fact-based information, I realized it wasn't possible.

That’s not right. I believe people deserve to know the truth and not be taken advantage of, needlessly terrified or put at risk.

People also deserve the soundest facts to make informed decisions for themselves and their loved ones, and so we can all ensure public policies and clinical guidelines are based on sound evidence and risk analysis.

My personal commitment is to give people information that is as true as I know it to be.

The soundest information is not determined by the credentials, notoriety, industry- or special interest-connections, or popularity of the source. It’s often not popular at all. It’s impossible for us to know what to believe and what is true by how many studies or experts agree, because all studies are not created equal and consensus of opinions is not good science. It can only be found in the scientific evidence itself. The best path to the truth is to embrace good science, no matter where it takes us ... and even if the evidence debunks some of the things we’ve also come to believe. I am passionate about helping people understand the scientific process and decipher media and unsound marketing. That’s the only way we can all protect ourselves.

Science isn’t scary. It brings reassuring good news. Through uncovering the evidence, I hope you’ll come to know there’s really nothing to fear about your body, the foods you eat, how you live and the world you live in, after all.

© Szwarc 2006

Reviews for JFS found here, plus:

“Her blog is now a beacon in the fog of fraud and propaganda that obfuscates the landscape of food and drugs.” — Dr. John Brignell, Ph.D., Number Watch

“I should have mentioned Sandy Szwarc's blog, Junkfood Science, long ago. I am impressed by the depth and thoroughness of her analysis… Blogs like hers give citizen journalism a good name.” — Dr. Gary Schwitz, University of Minnesota School of Journalism & Mass Communication

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