Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), was recently interviewed by Bret Baier of Fox News about the worrying spread of Zika in Florida. (The video is embedded at the bottom of this post.)
He made an excellent point about public health policy that is very much worth highlighting.
Mr. Baier asked (starting at the 1:59 mark) what Dr. Fauci thought about research in mice that suggested Zika may adversely affect adult brains. He responded:
"I think we should be careful about making the connection between that study in a mouse model and anything that we're seeing with the adults, in which we have thousands and thousands of cases of human adults who are infected with no apparent deleterious consequences whatsoever. You want to pay attention to the studies in the mouse, but we have to be careful. It may not be applicable to anything in the human, although you don't want to just dismiss it."
Dr. Fauci concluded his answer with a statement that really ought be carved in wood and hung above the doors of all health regulatory agencies:
"When people do studies in animals, you pay attention to them, but you don't make any policy or any other conclusions related to that until you do good epidemiological observation in the human system."
That, in a nutshell, is the entire philosophy of the American Council on Science and Health. Of course, our late founder, Elizabeth Whelan, was saying that long before it was cool to say that, and she was pithier about it, too. She liked to remind us that "mice are not little people," and that we ought to stop banning chemicals "at the drop of a rat." Compare that logical, evidence-based approach to public health policy to the shenanigans of, say, anti-GMOers like Gilles-Éric Séralini. He is the "researcher" who unethically grew gigantic tumors in rats and spuriously blamed them on GMOs.
Even if his research methodology was legitimate (it's wasn't), there is still no evidence that GMOs harm humans. Thus, according to the head of the NIAID, there would be insufficient evidence to make a change in public health policy. We understand that this conservative (as in "cautious," not politically) approach to policymaking makes some people mad.
There is a lot of money to be made in scaring people about GMOs, food, BPA, vaccines, nuclear power, natural gas, nanoparticles, and any other technology. But, we ought not stifle innovation with premature bans and overregulation.
May the legacy of Beth Whelan live on.