Policy and Ethics

How should scientists respond to the rising tide of anti-scientific sentiment in the world? The backlash against modern technology is widespread: Protests against genetic engineering, vaccines, "chemicals," modern agriculture, neuroscience, nuclear power (and almost any other form of power), animal research, and embryonic stem cell research threaten to hold back, if not reverse, decades of progress. What can scientists do to address this problem?

The typical response, as elaborated in a report by the National Academy of Sciences, is "public engagement," which can range from education to the alignment of values between scientists and the public....

On Monday, a paper published by the UK medical journal The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology made waves claiming that endocrine-disrupting chemicals cost the U.S. $340 billion - over two percent of our GDP. In other words, the U.S. is losing the equivalent of half the federal defense budget in health care costs and lost wages due to low-level exposure to chemicals in everyday items, such as plastics or lined metal food cans.

Researchers theorize that these chemicals can cause health problems by interfering with our endocrine system, which produces hormones in our bodies. But it’s not just manmade chemicals that can interact with the endocrine system—these...

I was blind, but now I see.  

I read an article by an economics student where the author suggests Johnson & Johnson and new contact lens legislation are teaming up to deprive consumers of choice and the ability to get their contact lenses.

Relax, the free market is safe and optometrists are also not in cahoots with ophthalmologists (nor are they the same). 

Let’s break it down, as I underscore the importance of not being so readily convinced by everything you read.  In 2004, The Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act passed.  In summary, it insisted prescribers give patients copies of their contact lens prescriptions so they can...

It's long been known in the United States that anti-vaccine sentiment comes down along political lines the same way climate change does. Anti-vaccine sentiment also correlates strongly with anti-agriculture and anti-energy beliefs. But the rationalization among most journalists who didn't want to recognize such uncomfortable truths was that as long as their political elites were not saying it, it didn't count.(1)

Thus, when Mr. Trump made the maddening claim that vaccines cause autism, the issue became suddenly framed as not even bipartisan, but solely a right-wing position. Yes, President Obama had said the...

Tougher vaccine exemption laws are working

The measles outbreak at Disneyland, which came to the public's attention in January 2015, prompted several states to tighten their vaccine exemption laws. California, for instance, went from having one of the weakest laws in the nation to one of the strictest after it eliminated personal and religious objections for the parents of children enrolling in school or day care. 

Even before the Disneyland outbreak, Michigan was in the process of tightening its vaccine exemption laws. According to MLive, a Michigan news site, the state made it very easy for a...

Michael Pollan, food activist and journalist, is the proverbial man trapped in the past in his latest piece for the New York Times, criticizing the Obama administration for not catering to his bizarre beliefs about how food production actually works, and along the way taking the opportunity to smear...me.

And you. And about 300 scientists and doctors who help us at the American Council on Science and Health for no other reason than that they care about educating the public. To accomplish that, they don't cave into the shrill beliefs of people who self-identify with Pollan's Idyllic notions about feeding the world.

Pollan's...

There are few worse ways to awake a person than with a needle stick in the arm to draw blood. If you have ever spent the night in a hospital, chances are the first thing that happened in the morning was a vampiric nurse or lab technician, following doctor’s orders, standing over your bed and greeting you with a needle and a set of vials.

Most of us just grit our teeth, maybe close our eyes, and deal with it. After all, these tests are critical for our health, right?

Actually, as many as half of labs ordered may not be necessary. Cutting back can not only minimize the ouch but can also help lower costs. A group of colleagues and I have looked into this issue, and we found...

Kissing bug

Our public health system has a very bad habit of fighting the last war. This has resulted in a real-life version of American Horror Story. Like the plagues of Egypt, one exotic disease after another keeps washing ashore, catching scientists and public health officials flat-footed. 

First, it was Ebola. For decades, Ebola was a bizarre and terrifying disease associated with remote villages in Africa and a movie starring Dustin Hoffman. Out of sight, out of mind. Then, things "got real" when it killed a Liberian man in Texas in October 2014. Only after that public scare did Ebola research and prevention kick into high gear. Likewise, Zika was once an obscure virus, until...

Unlike our ancestors, who encountered it often, members of our modern society seem strangely detached from death. Many people have never even seen a dead body. When I was still an undergraduate in 2002, I witnessed four autopsies being performed at the New York City medical examiner's office. It was a life-changing experience. Watching as a doctor peels a corpse's face off its skull and systematically extracts organs (before stuffing them into a bag and shoving it in the chest cavity) has a way of bringing death to life, so to speak.

While many people may acknowledge death intellectually or philosophically, it still feels like a strange, otherworldly phenomenon that happens primarily to other people. The devastating biological process that is death -- and the...

CrossFit Inc.'s CEO Greg Glassman was once in a war on Coca-Cola - at least until it was revealed he was only in a war on Coca-Cola because Coke gave money to his competitors. Then he changed gears and claimed to be in a war against soda. But then it was revealed that he drinks a lot of soda - and a lot of margaritas - and switched gears to claiming he is not in a war on soda, he is in a war for public health, and simply believes that if a researcher has ever taken money from a company, they are unethical.

In the science community, when dealing with people who are either evangelists in a war they know little about or are simply anti-science, this is known as "moving the goalposts." Basically, you just keep changing your argument every time the old one is shown to be...