"Science" for Hire
The story is told of two friends walking down a country lane. One was a merchant, the other a scientist. The merchant looks into the adjacent field and comments, “Those cows sure are a pretty shade of brown.” The scientist replies, “Well, we only know they are brown on this side.”
Science at its best is about rigor and discipline. The scientist could only see one side of the cow, and was unprepared to comment on the color of the other, unseen side. I have had the privilege of knowing scientists like this – people who are absolutely wedded to data, who continually question, who always look to find flaws or mistaken assumptions in their conclusions.
Sadly, what we call “science” can sometimes be less pristine. People hold, or are paid to support, a particular perspective and then look for any clue, no matter how unreasonable, to endorse that perspective. I remember many years ago entering into a conversation with a person who worked in the lab at US Tobacco. This person was quite adamant in claiming that science had not proven that tobacco smoke causes cancer.
Now we have the blog from the president of the Indoor Tanning Association (ITA), who in boasting of the influence they have gained in Congress by raising money for key members, made this offhand comment:
“Going forward, because our opponents have decided to make what we do for a living more about politics rather than science, we have to continue to expand our political efforts and work even harder to get our message out to the media and to the public.”
In fact, the real science, done by those people who do not make claims they cannot support, universally connects tanning with skin cancer, including melanoma. The data has clearly been shown at the biochemical level and in animal models—not to mention through the epidemiology of melanoma in humans.
As the ITA continues to dispute this data, we should remember our history.
The first report of the dangers of smoking came out in 1930. Three years later the tobacco industry began an advertising campaign in the official journal of the American Medical Association—a campaign that lasted for 20 years! Part of that campaign included the now infamous ad that claimed: “More Doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette!”
Internal memos clearly show that the tobacco industry launched an intentional effort to convince the general population that the science linking smoking to cancer was still controversial, heavily debated, and unclear. Today, anyone casting doubts on the link probably has more in common with the Flat Earth Society than the science community. Yet, as clear as it is today, that misdirection and obfuscation led by tobacco groups led to countless deaths, not to mention staggering health care costs.
Now we have another cancer peddling industry, arguing that the science linking their product to cancer is unclear, disputed, politically motivated. That creates an urgent imperative for every true scientist, every family doctor, every reporter and every parent to be firm, clear and unambiguous – the industry is telling lies to sell a product.
Too many people were deceived for too long by the tobacco industry lies about science, and the consequences were terrible. We cannot afford to watch another generationsuffer the consequences of false security.