Consumer Reports publishes unscientific analysis

Grandpa Folta liked Consumer Reports, the magazine that would help him find maximum value in his oil filters and bacon bits. They have been recognized for a long time as an objective source of critical side-by-side analysis of consumer goods, and I’ve made decisions based on their recommendations. The magazine is still popular, and is well known for its independent evaluation of consumer goods, helping the consumer make better buying decisions.

My friend Chris alerted me to a little Consumer Credulity. The latest version shows that even an source claiming objective and technically sound analysis, is not immune from the bias of bad information.  A recent article on Milk Alternatives: Should You Sip or Skip provides a short evaluation of the various consumer milk substitutes, stuff like coconut milk, soy milk, almond milk and other dairy alternatives.

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You can read about the pros and cons of milk substitutes in the latest Consumer Reports.  Unfortunately their reviewers have caved in to non-scientific influence.  That’s a mighty blow to a magazine claiming to be able to make objective analyses based on evidence. 

The article lists the pros and cons of each beverage.  They basically throw all of them under the milk truck for one reason or another, mostly for trace amounts of heavy metals that are biologically inconsequential, or for having close to no nutrition. Soy milk is reported to have some unique “cons”.

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The recommendation is not just scientifically wrong, it is an ad for the Non-GMO Project! 

Consumer Reports makes two critical mistakes: 

1.  It gets the science wrong by saying that it is “grown from genetically modified seeds” as a “con”, when there is absolutely zero scientific evidence to why being GM is a detriment.

2.  The magazine then endorses organic and non-GMO verified (the Non-GMO Project) brands.

Isn’t Consumer Reports supposed to make decisions based on evidence?  Isn’t endorsing a different brand based on no accurate scientific information in stark contrast to how this magazine should we evaluating products?

This is a major blow to their credibility.  If they can’t get this simple science right, how do we trust them with more important products like medicines or tires?

Here is where you can report back to Consumer Reports and complain about this egregious violation.

 

Kevin is a public scientist that enjoys illuminating hot-button scientific issues for non-scientists using an evidence-based approach. Kevin is always uncomfortable referring to himself in the third person.

Posted in Commentary
9 comments on “Consumer Reports publishes unscientific analysis
  1. James Cooper says:

    I have been criticizing them whenever I can for stuff like this ever since I found a CU site where they hype Judy Carman’s work as significant. I simply don’t trust them any more and have said so in my articles more than once.

  2. MaryM says:

    Huh. I looked there before I bought my last tires. Now I’m worried about their judgment.

    Why does this topic cause otherwise sane people to disconnect their critical thinking?

  3. genre41 says:

    I haven’t uncritically accepted CU reviews since they blasted Alar and refused to retract when contrary evidence surfaced. That doesn’t make them useless, but does underscore the need to also consult other sources. And I found what they said about snow tires to be bang on…

  4. Keith Hayes says:

    I suspect that Consumer Reports sees the Non-GMO label as adding value somehow for the consumer and that a significant number of their readers are seeking this label in the products that they buy.

  5. Eric Bjerregaard says:

    Keith, there is a woman named Hemmelgarn[sp?] who calls herself the food sleuth. She showed up on the linked in sustainable ag group’s many arguments on this subject. She backs Michael Hanson and claims that because he receives no industry funding. He is impartial. When I pointed out your possibility. That many C.U. subscribers pay his salary and that there could be a backlash if he came out in favor of G.E. safety. She temporarily disappeared and never attempted to counter my argument. You are on to something. I believe there is a lack of gumption among folks and a craving for the adulation received for telling folks exactly what they want to hear. Those 2 factors may lead to a reluctance to stand up for truth. Have you noticed the lack of articles about hanson or others criticizing lead wacko adams for his recent threats against those who simply stand up for truth?

    • Kevin Folta says:

      Wow, you guys nailed it! Consumer Reports is the publication by the Consumer’s Union! They have rallied against the 2,4-D stack corn, and they are tweaked on labeling. This is a good relationship to explore. Awesome!

  6. Eric Bjerregaard says:

    Mary perhaps there is a lot of peer pressure and thus a reluctance to buck the PC norms. The desire to be accepted can be strong. My own parents still claim to have certain political leanings. But never say so in discussions with their friends.

  7. crf says:

    CR are also pretty squishy on alternative medicine.

  8. First Officer says:

    Until now the anti-gmo stance of CU had been kept out of their product evaluations. Now i have to reconsider renwing my prescription. As MaryM implies, how far and deep will their ideology color their reviews? For instance, Consumer Reports may give undeserved negative reports for Audi automobiles because they expressed interest in GE algae directly producing diesel and ethanol (Joule Unlimited). They may do this against other car companies and even airlines, causig consumers to make unwise decisions.

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/matthewdepaula/2014/01/31/audi-tests-synthetic-e-fuel-derived-from-microorganisms/

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