Far from it. STATS is affiliated with George Mason University in Virginia, and its president is S. Robert Lichter, a professor at George Mason and also president of the university's Center for Media and Public Affairs, which also describes itself as "nonpartisan." The Center has long been supported by funds from numerous right-wing donors, particularly the Scaife Foundation and the Olin Foundation. Some of the background to this is provided in the Center's Wikipedia entry, which is a good place to get started, as well as Sourcewatch's profile of the organization; other background was provided by Michael Massing in a 2005 article in the New York Review of Books and a letter exchange with Lichter, who had written to criticize Massing's characterization of CMPA. As Massing put it in that exchange:
In my article, I described how the Center for Media and Public Affairs was set up with conservative foundation money in the mid-1980s as part of a growing effort by the right to portray the American press as liberal and out of touch with mainstream America. In a phone conversation, Robert Lichter acknowledged to me that the center's funding in its initial years came almost entirely from conservative sources, with Olin and Smith Richardson in the lead. Beginning in 1991, the center became a regular beneficiary of two foundations controlled by the very conservative Scaife family. According to mediatransparency.org, CMPA since 1986 has received $1,172,000 from Scaife, $730,000 from Olin, and $417,000 from Smith Richardson. The other institutions Lichter cites became supporters much later, and their contributions have been dwarfed by those from these highly conservative groups. It's also worth noting that, at the time Lichter was setting up CMPA, he was a fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.
Furthermore, a survey of the articles that Lichter wrote in the period under discussion shows that they were overwhelmingly—indeed, almost exclusively—conservative in orientation. In contributions to The Wall Street Journal's editorial pages, for instance, Lichter condemned the press for writing too negatively about nuclear energy, too favorably about Anita Hill (a reflection of "the growing influence of feminists at major media outlets"), too critically about Dan Quayle, and too much about the homeless (a "blueprint of advocacy journalism".)
The STATS report on BPA begins with the disclaimer that "Neither STATS.org nor the author [of the report, Trevor Butterworth, editor of Stats.org and a senior fellow at the organization] received any payment from any industry or other source associated with the manufacture, use, or distribution of bisphenol a." But that statement is an obfuscation, because both Butterworth and Lichter have taken a strong advocacy position against BPA's critics.
Kolata could have found all this out for herself in a matter of minutes, and she owed it to her readers to do so. Indeed, any time an organization calls itself "nonprofit and nonpartisan," as so many chemical industry and other corporate groups do--often hiding behind names that obscure the organization's true motives and identity--the first instinct of a journalist should be to ask whether or not that is really true.
I personally have no strong views on whether BPA is dangerous or not, because I have not studied the matter. But I do know that given the source of the STATS report, I should read it skeptically. It's just too bad that I had to figure that out on my own.
Followup. Please see the comments section below for an exchange with Trevor Butterworth about this blog post. Criticisms of Gina Kolata's sometimes problematic science journalism have a very long history. For more details, please see this entry at SourceWatch.
More on missing the Madoff machinations. If you get a chance to read today's story in the Washington Post about SEC lawyer Genevievette Walker-Lightfoot, who was suspicious of Madoff back in 2004 but told to investigate something else, be sure to get as far as this part:
Walker-Lightfoot's supervisors on the case were Mark Donohue, then a branch chief in her department, and his boss, Eric Swanson, an assistant director of the department, said two people familiar with the investigation. Swanson later married Madoff's niece, and their relationship is now under review by the agency's inspector general, who is examining the SEC's handling of the Madoff case.
And also to this part:
At least five times over nearly 20 years, the SEC has investigated Madoff's business, but it never discovered the tremendous fraud. In 2007, for instance, the agency reviewed his activities after warnings from a one-time rival, Harry Markopolos, that Madoff was probably running a Ponzi scheme.
Actually Markopolos was warning the SEC about Madoff long before 2007, as those who have followed the case closely know (I know it and I am not following it all that closely.)
Israeli war crimes. Amnesty International is the latest human rights group to weigh in with an investigation into Israel's actions in Gaza. The report also condemns Hamas for firing rockets into Israel and killing civilians.