Dispatch: Listen Up

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Science journalist Chris Mooney, the author of "Unscientific America: Scientific Illiteracy Threatens our Future," urges scientists and policymakers to start listening to the public’s views on controversial science issues when drafting policies. Rather than focusing on the public’s lack of science education, Mooney argues that both politics and mistrust towards perceived industry-backed science seem to drive public fears.

Mooney’s piece coincides with the concerns expressed by author, consultant, and Harvard University instructor David Ropeik, who attributes people’s fears over controversial science issues to their perception that man-made risks are scarier than natural ones. Ropeik presents the example of herbal supplements, which a recent Congressional study found to contain trace levels of pesticides and heavy metals such as mercury. The public, however, has largely ignored these findings, while Ropeik says an uproar would result if the same contaminants were discovered in a pharmaceutical.

“This illustrates the difficulty we experience when trying to fight irrational fears with facts and evidence, which is all that we as scientists and medical experts have,” says ACSH’s Dr. Gilbert Ross.