Science and Public Policy: an Interesting History

In summary, the conversation discusses the application of scientific knowledge for the benefit of humanity, specifically in the case of ionizing radiation. The discovery and use of X-rays in medicine resulted in both positive and negative consequences, leading to the establishment of regulatory agencies and standards for exposure. The Linear Non-threshold model, which suggests that any dose of radiation has a risk of damage, was accepted as the basis for radiation protection standards. However, Edward Calabrese's research into the history of this model reveals disturbing information about the human side of scientific research and its influence on public policy. The conversation also mentions a series of videos discussing Calabrese's study, which offers a summary and review of each episode for those who are unable to watch the entire
  • #1
gleem
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Generally, we try to apply scientific knowledge in some manner to benefit humanity. Often the application requires some standards or precautions so that the applications will have maximum benefit and minimal risk. One such application was that of ionizing radiation. X-rays were discovered in 1895 and found immediate application in medicine. Since it was seen to be innocuous as well as beneficial that their use quickly became widespread. Soon after practitioners of the newly formed medical discipline of Radiology, began to suffer burn-like lesions on fingers and hands due to using their hands to hold patients still for the x-ray exam. Some of these burns became necrotic resulting in the loss of fingers. Later more serious results occurred in the form of an increased incidence of leukemias among the radiologists. Observed biological effects resulted in the application of x-rays in the successful treatment of some cancers. The science of radiobiology was born and research on the biological effects began. One area that was studied early on was genetic effects in fruit flies ( drosophila) since genetic effects could be studied in many generations over a short period of time.

With the advent of nuclear power and the atomic bomb, uncontrolled human exposure to ionizing radiation became a concern resulting in the establishment of governmental regulatory agencies and scientific advisory committees to determine exposure standards/limits. The finding of these committees has had a widespread and lasting effect on society.

For ionizing radiation, the "consensus" was that biological effects were linear with dose and that any dose no matter how small has a risk and the damage incurred is not repaired. This was the basis for what is known as the Linear Non-threshold model. Edward Calabrese Ph.D., Professor of Toxicology, Umass Amherst, has delved into the history of this model and its acceptance as the basis for radiation protection standards. The Health Physics Society has put together a series of video interviews with him discussing the results of his study. There are 22 videos each about 25 to 35 minutes totaling about 10 hours.

While the history of the evolution of these standards is interesting, it contains some rather disturbing information that exposes the human side of scientific research and its use to determine public policy. Even if you are not interested in the LNT model it is worth watching for this alone. I encourage all to take the time to watch it.

http://hps.org/hpspublications/historylnt/episodeguide.html
 
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I have not had a chance to view any of these videos, but I am looking forward to them.

I first heard about Calabrese through Rod Adams' Atomic Insights blog. Rod has blogged extensively about LNT and its history. Fair warning: his blog is not everyone's cup of tea and it is certainly not moderated the way PF is.
 
  • #3
It has been over three weeks since I posted this thread. I am surprised that no one has commented so far. Has anybody looked at the videos? I know a twenty-two-episode series is a lot to watch (about 10 hours). For those who hesitated to begin and want a quick way for getting the meat of the series, there is a summary of each video at the end and a review at the beginning of each episode. One can bet a glimpse of the issues in about an hour
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In the OP I mentioned the human side. I found this series shows the influence of power, reputation, position, and impropriety used for public policy as well as ideology-driven research.

So, Anyone?
 

Related to Science and Public Policy: an Interesting History

1. What is the relationship between science and public policy?

The relationship between science and public policy is a complex and dynamic one. Science provides evidence and data that can inform and guide public policy decisions, while public policy can also shape the direction and priorities of scientific research. This relationship is crucial in addressing societal issues and promoting the well-being of communities.

2. How has science influenced public policy throughout history?

Throughout history, science has played a significant role in shaping public policy. For example, scientific discoveries in medicine have led to the development of public health policies and regulations. In recent years, climate change research has also influenced policies related to environmental protection and sustainability.

3. What are some challenges in integrating science into public policy?

One challenge in integrating science into public policy is the communication gap between scientists and policymakers. Scientists may struggle to effectively communicate complex scientific concepts to policymakers, and policymakers may not have the necessary background knowledge to fully understand the implications of scientific research. Additionally, political agendas and biases can also hinder the integration of science into public policy.

4. How can scientists and policymakers work together effectively?

To effectively integrate science into public policy, scientists and policymakers must work together collaboratively. This can involve creating partnerships and platforms for communication and collaboration, as well as promoting evidence-based decision-making. It is also essential for policymakers to seek out and listen to scientific expertise and for scientists to understand the policy-making process.

5. What is the role of the public in science and public policy?

The public plays a crucial role in science and public policy. As taxpayers and citizens, the public has a right to be informed about scientific research and its potential impact on society. The public can also provide valuable input and feedback on policies that affect their communities. Additionally, public support and engagement are essential for the successful implementation of science-based policies.

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