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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    New BPA study discussed with science journalist

    Bisphenol A-free products might be as bad as BPA: a discussion with a scientist-turned-journalist
    From the courtroom to the laboratory to the newsroom, Susan E. Swanberg has done it all. After practicing as a criminal defense lawyer for 17 years, she decided to pursue her childhood dream and become a scientist. She completed her doctorate in genetics at the University of California, Davis and worked as a researcher for six years. In 2014, she completed her master’s degree in journalism at the UA. Her science stories have been published in numerous outlets, including the Arizona Daily Star, Tucson Weekly and the guest blog of the Scientific American Blog Network. We sat down with Swanberg to talk about a new paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science that linked Bisphenol S, a BPA alternative found in many BPA-free products, with abnormal neurodevelopment in zebrafish embryos.

    Daily Wildcat: How did you become interested in BPA?
    Swanberg: I’ve always been aware of environmental toxicants, and I did some autism research at the MIND Institute at UC Davis. It was there where I studied how environmental toxicants affect development and can contribute to developmental disorders.

    Have you ever written about BPA as a journalist?
    This new article is something I want to write about. I’m thinking of writing a blog piece about how science is continuous and it grows in increments and changes. Just because journalists came to a conclusion that BPA is bad and we need to substitute something else for BPA doesn’t mean it’s the end of the issue. This new article finds that BPS, the BPA substitute, is just as bad [as], if not worse than, BPA.

    In the study, scientists removed zebrafish embryos from the mother and then exposed the embryos to BPA or BPS . Do you think removing the embryos would accurately model the interactions human embryos would have if the BPA and BPS did not have to pass through the blood and placenta?
    Not necessarily. [The scientists’ method] may be more direct, which could lead to the embryos being exposed to a higher concentration. I bet there will be follow-up studies, because the removal of the embryos is a potential weakness in the study.

    Do you think the zebrafish embryos were a good model of human embryos?
    Choosing your model organism can make or break your study. Zebrafish are a classic model organism, but you cannot entirely extrapolate from zebrafish data. Zebrafish … develop differently than humans. There are certain stages in development, however, that are very similar between fish and humans.

    I thought the last sentence of the discussion was very interesting because it called the public to action against BPA, BPS and similar compounds. Do you think that was appropriate?
    That was really interesting to me too. I had a similar reaction because it was a call to action in a scientific article. Traditionally, that would be frowned upon and would be considered inappropriate. But PNAS is a highly respected journal, and I wonder what happened during [peer] review. I wonder if the comment evolved or if it became stronger or weaker. I think it can be dangerous to issue a call to action in a scientific article, and I think I would be more conservative. I might say, ‘This should be reviewed further to see if laws should be changed.’

    Do you think scientists are too entrenched in what they study to make a statement like that?
    [Calls to action] could be indicative of a bias. I think what you should  do as a writer is be transparent. If you feel that a call to action is important, don’t hide it. Be clear who is funding your research and who is behind your research and let readers decide how they will respond to your call to action.


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