When PBS comes calling

Getting interviewed by journalists has to be one of the most uncomfortable things for a scientist to experience.  You want to be accurate, clear, concise.  You want to share important information in a way that is accessible to everyone.  The problem is that we are used to talking in terms that make things less clear – we don’t talk in black and white but in grey.  We speak in very technical language to other people who are used to speaking likewise, not with people who need plain speak.  Communicating our ideas becomes problematic when things aren’t yes or no.  With practice, I hope to get better at this.

Recently, I was approached by  a science journalist at PBS’ Nova Next about being interviewed for an article about human drugs in the environment.  As this is something we focus on in the Wilson lab, I agreed and sent some of our recent publications.  As always, I asked for a copy prior to print and as always, I didn’t get one.  Weirdly, I found out this was published by a colleague emailing to ask, “Did you really say that?”  which is not a good sign.  In the end, there are a few misquotes but much of the article is correct and interesting.  So what is wrong?

1. Human drugs are in the environment because we take drugs, not because we dispose of drugs incorrectly.  Yes, you shouldn’t flush unused medication down the toilet but we excrete the drugs, or a metabolite of the drug, from our body (i.e. pee them out).  This is the major contributor to drugs in the environment.

2. Acetaminophen, but not all drugs, are well removed by conventional wastewater treatment.  Acetaminophen, and some other drugs, are removed at rates up to 95-98% BUT other drugs, like some antidepressants and mood stabilizers, pass through wastewater treatment plants untouched.  This is a major point because we don’t yet have the solutions to water treatment.

So with these corrections in mind, feel free to follow the link to an article that quotes me profusely….