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Gina Kolata

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Gina Kolata is a science reporter for the New York Times, a position she has held since September 1987. Prior to that Kolata had worked at Science magazine which she joined as a copy editor in 1973 and then as a writer in 1974. [1]

She has a bachelor's degree in microbiology and a master's degree in applied mathematics from the University of Maryland. [2] She also did one and a half years study of molecular biology at the Massachusetts Institute of technology. [3] [4]

In a presentation in 1997 to Rowan University in New Jersey, Kolata recounted that she got her break in journalism by writing free articles. "Kolata started her writing career as a reviewer for a science magazine. She asked the editor if he would consider running an article that she had written for free. He looked over the article, and he ran it with her byline. Kolata continued to do free articles for that magazine solely to get her byline published, and she also did free-lance work for other publications," a summary of her presentation by the university noted. [5]

Her sister was the late environmental activist Judi Bari. [6] (Gina has occasionally been referred to as Gina Bari Kolata). [7]

In 1990 ACT UP protested against Kolata's reporting on the AIDS epidemic with stickers stating she was "the worst AIDS reporter in America". [8]

A 'Sound Science' Award for Kolata's Reporting on Silicon Breast Implants

In 1995 Steven J. Milloy's corporate front group The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition (TASSC) awarded Kolata its "Sound Science in Journalism Award." Announcing the award TASSC Chairman Garrey Carruthers praised Kolata "who responsibly detailed in a series of stories how science has been distorted and manipulated to fuel litigation concerning silicone breast implants." [9]

Explaining their award to Kolata TASSC wrote that she "wrote several articles on how science has been distorted and manipulated to advance implant-related litigation. Why it was chosen: Everyone seemed to be afraid to talk about it -- the FDA has treated the issue like a hot potato and respected scientific researchers and medical professionals were criticized and harassed when they spoke out . It would have been an easy issue to avoid, but Kolata courageously took it on. Her articles were well-balanced and presented the strong scientific case -- and why it had been distorted in the first place -- for silicone breast implants." [10]

Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber mention Gina Kolata in their article "Science Under Pressure: Dow-Funded Studies Say 'No Problem'", PR Watch, volume 3, number 1, First Quarter 1996. Rampton and Stauber wrote: "Breast implant makers and plastic surgeons have spent vastly more money on PR, attorneys, and lobbying than the women who are suing them for damages. Thanks to PR, the industry has achieved a remarkable reversal, persuading large sectors of the news media that it is the victim of politics, greed and junk science. New York Times reporter Gina Kolata has typified the trend, penning stories such as "Implant Lawsuits Create a Medical Rush to Cash In," which portrays the 400,000 women who have joined a class-action lawsuit against the industry as greedy opportunists goaded on by slick attorneys. Similar stories have appeared on 60 Minutes and PBS-TV's Frontline." A public version of Science Under Pressure has been place on SourceWatch to be updated and enriched by SourceWatch contributors.

Kolata, Endocrine Disrupters and the New York Times

In a July 1999 article for The Nation environmental journalist Mark Dowie sampled 100 of the more than 600 articles Kolata had written since she started at the New York Times. "When it comes to developing sources, procuring documents, researching complex data and breaking a hot story in clear and dynamic prose, she has few peers," he wrote. [11] What puzzled Dowie was "why are so many of her associates at the paper, including her admiring colleague, so upset with her? And why is she held in such low esteem by so many scientists?"

While describing her coverage of pure science as "terrific" and her reporting of mathematics similarly "with one exception", he found fault with her environmental reporting. In an interview Dowie described her reporting on broad environmental topics as being characterised by "a hard, pro-technology, pro-corporate line on products or issues that are very controversial: silicone breast implants, irradiated food, experimental AIDS drugs, and breast cancer. In fact, Gina took a strong position that breast cancer has no environmental etiology at all, and took every opportunity to make that point even as her sister, Judy, was struggling with breast cancer. Gina reviewed "Rachel’s Daughters," a film made on breast cancer, and strongly criticized the film’s inquiry of environmental causes." [12]

Dowie described that on investigating the sample of Kolata's stories and contacting her named sources he found that "there were many she had, in fact, interviewed at great length and had not included in the stories. I’m not saying she’s a dishonest person, but I am saying she has practiced dishonest journalism and wasted a great talent in those stories." [13]

Dowie zeroed in on Kolata's reporting on endocrine disrupting chemicals such as organochlorines and their impact on the health and fertility of wildlife. Following a meeting between the New York Times science editors and Dr. Theo Colborn, Dr. John Peterson Myers and Dianne Dumanoski, about their book, Our Stolen Future, the story was assigned to Kolata. In her March 1996 article Kolata cited TASSC adviser Bruce Ames of the University of California, Berkeley, and Dr. Stephen Safe of Texas A&M in response to Colborn and her colleagues concerns. [14]

Dowie noted that "both Safe’s and Ames’s names were on a list of "experts" circulated to the media by the Chemical Manufacturers Association, the American Crop Protection Association and the American Plastics Council in response to Our Stolen Future. Another name on the list is that of Michael Gallo, a professor of toxicology, whom Kolata quotes in the main piece describing Colborn’s work as "hypothesis masked as fact"-a phrase used repeatedly throughout chemical industry briefing materials." [15]

While the NYT's science editors had been provided with a statement by a senior environmental health researcher supporting the authors hypothesis and recommendation. "If she saw them, Kolata ignored them all. Instead she repeatedly misstated the authors’ conclusions in terms that echoed the twenty-two-page press advisory circulated by the Chemical Manufacturers Association." [16] Dowie notes that many scientists complained about Kolata's coverage but none were printed.

Too Much Fat in Kolata's Coverage?

Writing for the Columbia Journalism Review's CJR Daily, Felix Gillette criticizes a February 2006 story by Gina Kolata on a major study examining a low-fat diet for postmenopausal women and finding little positive impact. Gillette says Gina Kolata's article in the New York Times hyped the study: "[T]he warnings about the potential shortcomings of the study were surrounded by quotes from doctors pumping up the study's 'Holy Geez!' index." [17]

The third paragraph in Kolata's front page story reported: "These studies are revolutionary," said Dr. Jules Hirsch, physician in chief emeritus at Rockefeller University in New York City, who has spent a lifetime studying the effects of diets on weight and health. "They should put a stop to this era of thinking that we have all the information we need to change the whole national diet and make everybody healthy." [18]

"So revolutionary, in fact, that over at the Wall Street Journal, editors found the perfect spot to highlight their story on the same study -- deep, deep, deep inside the paper. Specifically, under a one-column headline on page D5. And even though the Journal's article about the federal study was less than half as long as the Times' piece, it managed to bring to the topic twice the skepticism," Gillette wrote. [19]

Gillette compliments other reporters, saying "perhaps the best article of the bunch was penned by one of the skeptics quoted in Kolata's story," low fat diet proponent Dr. Dean Ornish. [20]

Ornish pointed to a number of major limitations in the study:

  • The study participants did not reduce their dietary fat very much--29 percent of their diet was comprised of fat, not the study's goal of 20 percent. Even this may be an overestimation, since it's very common for people to report that they're following a diet better than they really are.
  • They did not increase their consumption of fruits and vegetables very much.
  • The comparison group also reduced its consumption of fat almost as much and increased its consumption of fruits and vegetables, making it harder to show between-group differences. Neither group significantly changed its consumption of grains.
  • As a result, LDL-cholesterol ("bad cholesterol") decreased only 2.6 percent more in the low-fat diet group than in the comparison group, hardly any difference at all. Blood pressure decreased hardly at all in either group, by only about 2 percent in both groups.
  • The study did not last long enough to expect to see a difference in preventing cancer.
Also, this study didn't distinguish between fats that are beneficial and ones that are harmful," he wrote. [21].

On Newsweek's web site Ornish "provided a clear and nuanced take on the study. 'The real lesson of the Women's Health Initiative study is this: if you don't change much, you don't improve much. Small changes in diet don't have much effect on preventing heart disease and cancer in those at high risk. Fat is only part of the story. What we include in our diets is at least as important as what we exclude.' Ditto for good journalism -- what a paper such as the Times chooses to include on its front page is at least as important as what it excludes. On this one, we recommend a little less Kolata in the diet, and a few more caveats." [22]

Books

  • The Baby Doctors: Probing the Limits of Fetal Medicine, Dell; Reprint edition, October 1991. ISBN 0440210119
  • by Robert T. Michael, John H. Gagnon, Edward O. Laumann and Gina Kolata, Sex in America: A Definitive Survey, Little Brown & Co, Hardcover October 1994, ISBN 0316075248 (The softback is listed as co-authored by by Gina Kolata, Edward Laumann and Robert T Michael, Warner Books, September 1995, ISBN 0446671835
  • Clone the Road to Dolly, and the Path Ahead: The Road to Dolly, and the Path Ahead, William Morrow & Company, January, 1998, ISBN: 0688156924 (Softcover Quill, January, 1999. ISBN 0688166342 )
  • Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus that Caused It, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, November 1999. ISBN 0743203984 (Softback edition by Touchstone, January 9, 2001. ISBN 0743203984
  • Ultimate Fitness: The Quest for Truth about Health and Exercise, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, May 1, 2003, ISBN 0374204772 (Softback Picador, May 1, 2004 ISBN 0312423225)

Other SourceWatch resources

External links

A Selection of Articles by Kolata

Articles About Kolata and Her Writing