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July 2002: Volume 44, Number 7

Reader service, breaking news, misguided media -- and Aqua Europa, again
by Carlos David Mogollón, Executive Editor

First, two announcements. In this WC&P issue, you’ll find we’ve cut the heavy stock business reply cards for new subscriptions and our Reader Service Program. We’re not eliminating these altogether. We’re just doing it smarter.

Fewer people mail back cards these days, we’ve found. Instead, they photocopy and/or tear them out -- and fax them to us. This provides prompter response, whether you’re seeking company literature for an advertised product or service, or you want your subscription to start sooner.

Now, we have a page dedicated to new subscriptions and reader service requests. Again, you can just copy it (which we prefer since it allows the next reader to use the page also) or tear it out and fax it to us. Of course, you can still mail either request by putting them in an envelope and posting it to us. We’ll still honor cards mailed from earlier issues.

Considering continually rising U.S. postal rates, this also saves money. After all, not only do heavier stock pages add to postage costs to mail the magazine, but business reply cards require a permit. Keep in mind, in the latest postal increase in June -- the third in less than 18 months -- a first-class U.S. stamp is now 37¢. Overall rates are up on average 8.7 percent, with magazine rates jumping 10 percent.

And on our website this month, you’ll find we’ve streamlined “Breaking News” so only 100 items appear per webpage viewed. We still maintain an archive for these to November 2000, but now pages render faster for those wanting to see the latest industry developments.

Secondly, an item in The Wall Street Journal on June 5 discusses a Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) survey of 1998 newspaper reports that concludes the media tend to overplay research presented at major medical conferences. Duh!

Of the 147 research “abstracts” or statistical summaries reported in 252 newspaper stories surveyed, 25 percent were never published in a peer review journal and 25 percent were published in only “low-impact” medical journals, the JAMA article said. Often, news media take even minor studies that may prove later to have flawed methodology and blow them out of proportion by misconstruing the real impact in favor of eye-catching headlines. Reporters and/or editors frequently don’t grasp the nuances of how studies are done and broader scientific implications, confusing “absolute risk” with “relative risk.”

This is more than an issue of reporting on medical conferences, though. It also involves studies by activist organizations such as the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) or World Wildlife Fund (WWF). (Bottled water studies by these two organizations [NRDC, 1999; WWF, 2001] misconstrued an assessment of water quality. The first exaggerated the issue of heterotrophic (HPC) bacteria -- see On Tap, this issue -- while the second suggested bottled water was the same as tap water.) And it involves media-generated news reports such as the 1998 furor regarding a Los Angeles County survey of water vending machines and HPC bacteria that was later corrected by the California Department of Health Services.

That’s not to say these studies don’t raise any good points for consideration or may lead to some measures that better ensure public health, but the presentation is often designed to shock rather than inform correctly. Often, it just raises public distrust in any remedy toward better household drinking water. That’s truly a disservice.

Lastly, the Aqua Europa feud has claimed another casualty in addition to l’Union des Entreprises d’Affinage de l’Eau chairman Dominique Boucly, of BWT France -- chairman Tony Frost, of the UK’s Aqua Focus, chose not to seek re-election because he couldn’t reconcile compromising over ongoing disputes on HPC bacteria and a harmonized softener standard for the continent. Possible replacement -- vice chairman Peter-Lorenz Schmidt, of BWT Germany, or Luc Chantraine, Aqua Belgica chairman and president of Belgium’s Durlem S.A. Jockeying on the vote, to be held July 24, threatens membership in Aqua Europa for new Danish and Irish firms since BWT affiliates feel they might vote against Schmidt. Meanwhile, controversy rages in Spain because Aqua España members backed the more neutral Chantraine, but their representative from a BWT affiliate has opted to support HPC hardliner Schmidt.