BIOTECHNOLOGY: Debates Need a ‘Scientist Statesman’
Debates over decisions in "medicine, the environment, even national defense" could better serve the "common good" if there was a "better ability to translate sound science into public understanding," Washington Post columnist Geneva Overholser writes in a Charlotte Observer column. Overholser argues that scientific research and studies have "a way of getting distorted in the heat of debate." With so "little clarity" in a variety of fields, "plenty of folks are ready to rush in to exploit" the uncertainty, "seeking recognition ... markets ... [and] political gain." The result, Overholser says, is "opinion in science's clothing," as "[o]ne side's research vies with the other's." Overholser says American Dreamer, a biography of Henry Wallace, FDR's wartime vice president, "reminded" her of how important it is to have political figures who can bring clarity and rationality to a debate. As a geneticist and statesman, Wallace saw that "millions were fed because of [his] championship of scientific farming, especially hybrid corn." Overholser contends today's debates over genetically modified food could be aided by a Wallace-like figure, who was "a politician ... but a scientist first." She reports that the "majority of scientists feel there's more fear about genetically modified food that good reason to fear it," but also notes that stance "requires great faith in the sufficiency of current testing" and questions whether such faith is "warranted." Citing the difficulty of determining scientific fact from opinion in such political debates, she concludes that "a scientist statesman [like Wallace] is a breed we could use more of today" (8/23).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.