“Sometimes scientists must make themselves heard.”

Credit: John Overmyer/Phila Inq

Dr. Steven M. Altschuler, chief executive of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, penned this editorial in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer. This was written as part of the Philadelphia Science Festival, continuing through April 28.
A good reminder that scientists have valuable information the public ought to learn so they can make better-informed decisions. (What’s not referenced, is that the public often also has valuable information scientists and policy makers ought to consider when assessing risks and societal implications of emerging fields of research and technology.)

Here’s an excerpt from Dr. Altschuler’s piece:

Often, it makes sense to extend their scientific findings beyond our patients and care providers by speaking out on public-health issues.
In the public exchange of ideas, scientists are not voicing just another set of opinions; theirs are backed by peer-reviewed evidence. The famous American physicist Richard Feynman is quoted as saying, “It doesn’t matter how beautiful your theory is; it doesn’t matter how smart you are. If it doesn’t agree with experiment, it’s wrong.”

To be clear, scientists don’t have all the answers; but they do have “evidence-based” information which should trump misinformed opinions and anecdotes.
It’s also important to remember that much of science is an ongoing process full of promise and peril and sometimes conflicting information: “red wine is good for you!” “red wine may increase chances of developing breast cancer.”

Don’t let incompatible media snippets turn you off. The last thing we need is another excuse not to make the effort to become better informed on important research issues. If you’re confused about what you read, dig a little deeper, or simply ask your doctor (or me) to point you to reliable sources of information. Read more about identifying reliable sources of medicine.
The good news is, there are mounting efforts underway to bring together the scientists, policy makers, and the public to confer on a number of emerging research topics such as geoengineering and synthetic biology. Don’t be surprised to receive an invitation to participate in one such effort before too long!
Until then, stay informed and don’t be afraid to ask questions and engage in dialogue with the scientists who are “making themselves heard.” I bet we’ll all learn from each other.