By Russell K. King, HHRA Executive Director
Credibility is vital to any nonprofit organization, but it has even greater value to a nonprofit like the HHRA. Potential donors, grantors, and other supporters need to feel that their gifts will be used as intended before they’ll decide to give, especially when the nonprofit is too new to have established a reputation. The nature of our mission and the point of our work, however, increases the value of credibility for the HHRA: Food consumers, producers, and regulators all need to feel that the methods and results of the Heartland Study are valid–can be trusted– before they’ll decide to heed the recommendations we make. Only if we are believed, can we help preserve and enhance public health as we hope.
In short, our credibility is key to funding our study and to having the results of our study make a difference in people’s lives.
That would all be true even in normal times, but we don’t live in normal times. We live in an era when anti-science, pseudoscience, conspiracy theorists, the Dunning-Krueger Effect, and numerous grifters undermine scientific research and the people and organizations who perform the research. Many believe all research is corrupted by the chemical and pharmaceutical industries, the health and wellness industry, big business and big government in general, and others. The causes of the doubt vary from personal to political, from emotional to rational, from legitimate to fanciful, from compassionate to greedy. As a result, almost all research has a credibility problem, regardless of its source and regardless of whether it is deserved. As we have seen, doubting science presents grave threats to public health.
Amid this muddy morass of cynicism and dishonesty, the HHRA has a unique ability to find solid ground on which to build. The HHRA can be a source of research data that is independent of the perceived corrupting influences. Our strategic plan declares we put science first. We’re not seeking to validate a preconceived notion, we’re monitoring to see whether agricultural chemicals have health effects in mothers and children from, and–if there are—to determine the nature and severity of those effects.
Perception, however, is reality. The integrity of our research and validity of our recommendations will mean nothing if we are not perceived as credible.
How do we help the world see us as we are? Last month, the HHRA earned the highest rating for transparency from Candid (formerly Guidestar), which is a necessary but insufficient step. Our second—but far from final–step will be a greater focus on our study and our policy recommendations. You’ll notice this most on our website and social media—the public “faces” of the HHRA—as we sharpen our message.
There’s no path, no map, for finding our way through the muddy morass of our times, so I can’t say this will be easy. But I can say I’m happy for the work that has been done, inspired by our journey, and deeply grateful that together we are sharing this adventure.