Monday, August 01, 2005

Flacks working for government scientists - Liberals bristle, PRSA defends

In a July 18 story, the New York Times reported that the government's Office of Research and Development at the EPA was "seeking outside public relations consultants to polish its Web site, organize focus groups and ghostwrite articles 'for publication in scholarly journals and magazines.'" (Please note the writer's nearly visible "finger-quotes")

The article was placed against the backdrop of criticism of the Bush administration's public relations policies and noted several groups taking issue with the projected $5 million expenditure.

Donald Kennedy, the editor of Science magazine and a former head of the Food and Drug Administration, said in a telephone interview on Saturday that he found the idea of public relations firms ghostwriting for government scientists "appalling."

In the picture above, Kennedy demonstrates with his hands just how appalling he either finds scientists who can't write or PR folk.

The undertone permeating the article was that: 1) the Bush administration was going to stretch the truth about environment science and; 2) that PR people were just the people for the job.

PRSA's Counselor's Academy rightly came to the defense of the profession today, with a letter to the editor from its chairwoman, Deborah Radman. She put it plainly - some scientists can't write, some don't have time to do so, and there's nothing unethical about PR people doing it.

I'm not one to be generous with praise for the PRSA, nor stand up for the Bush administration, but this was precisely the right response necessary to defend the profession. It's downright offensive and baseless to imply, before any firm has even been chosen, that the people the EPA hired would apply "spin" to the point of scientific deception.

At least I certainly hope so. We'll have to rely on the firms that win the contracts to mind their ethical compasses.

I'll be unhappy both as a liberal and a PR practitioner if we see anything strange eminating from the EPA and landing in scientific journals.

Worry not, I'll keep a look out for articles extoling the virtues of "happy brown clouds."

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