MEDICINE & MEDIA: Politics Propagating Unsound Science?
Political ideology, media coverage, and "unfounded fear" are driving health care policy, subverting science and perpetuating unproven health warnings, according to panelists at a conference yesterday. The gathering of scientists, academics and physicians was sponsored by the Independent Women's Forum to examine influences on health policy and bring to light "disproven health scares, such as electromagnetic fields, radon, pesticides, chlorination, PCBs, olestra and Alar." Dr. Marcia Angell, executive editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, was among the "prominent" participants, expressing concern about "making judgements (about diet or behavior) not on scientific grounds, but on political grounds." Angell pointed to several decisions heavily influenced by political pressure. She said the National Institutes of Health created an office of alternative medicine after Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) claimed that bee pollen relieved his allergies; the FDA pulled silicone breast implants from the market before there was scientific evidence of harmful side effects; and a "massive letter-writing campaign" spurred legislation exempting dietary supplements from FDA approval. "What's new is the participation of academic intellectuals in the subversion of science -- all of whom come from a particular political point of view," said University of Virginia professor Paul Gross. Elizabeth Whalan, president of the American Council on Science and Health, agreed, pointing to "self-appointed feminists who are now discouraging women from using estrogen-replacement therapy" by exaggerating a "small risk of cancer" (Price, Washington Times, 2/18).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.