MEDIA ALERT: Reporting On Ocean Mercury Level Study

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Reporters Warned; This is Not a Human or Fish Healthy Study

Washington, DC August 7, 2014 – Reporters, producers and editors working on stories about newly-released research into the amount of mercury found in the oceans need to be careful and precise about what they report:

  • This study is not about mercury levels in humans or fish.
  • Neither mercury levels in humans nor fish were tested.
  • This is not a nutrition or human health study.

 

Unscientific extrapolation is not only a violation of journalism standards it has the potential to negatively impact public health by unnecessarily scaring people away from healthy seafood.

The study, by a group that includes researchers from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), Wright State University, Observatoire Midi-Pyréneés in France, and the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research, appears in this week's edition of the journal Nature.

Speculation that increased mercury levels in water translate directly into increased mercury levels in fish and or humans is unsupportable and is in fact contradicted by independent, published, peer-reviewed work. Science shows mercury concentrations found in samples of fish nearly 100 years old match levels found in modern fish.

This study is a about water and not fish.

While it’s convenient and doesn’t take much thought or understanding, illustrating this story by showing pictures and video of seafood is misleading.  Keep in mind the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics says, “make certain that headlines, news teases and promotional material, photos, video, audio, graphics, sound bites and quotations do not misrepresent. They should not oversimplify or highlight incidents out of context.”

If you are reporting on this study please keep these notes in mind and feel free use the National Fisheries Institute as a resource.

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