Episode Information

WWL: In Denial
Where We Live - with John Dankosky
Aired:
12/09/2009
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In this episode:

"Americans fear science at least as much as we embrace it." -Michael Specter

 

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49:01 minutes (23.53 MB)
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As climate negotiators continue talks in Copenhagen this week and lawmakers on Capitol Hill debate the future of health care in the US, one of the questions looming large is: will science play a leading role?

Author Michael Specter cautions that a growing mistrust of science, especially in the United States, threatens to imperil future progress, and lead to further damage to the planet and loss of human life.  Coming up, we'll talk with Specter about his new book Denialism and we'll explore the phenomenon that he identifies as "irrational thinking."    He points to skepticism surrounding vaccines, conventionally grown foods, and nuclear powerplants as examples of dangerous denial.

You can join the conversation.  Do you trust scientists? Leave your questions and comments below.


 
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Listener email from Kim

"Perhaps if the medical industry were more honest about risks, people would be less hesitant. Everything has a risk. Nothing is free of side effects.

If Mr. Specter honored his claim of rationality, he would admit that the medical industry doesn't test well for long term side effects. He would argue for balanced consideration instead of putting forth his extreme implication of zero harm. He would admit that his argument that Merck was lying weakens his argument rather than strengthens it. Many medical professionals need to get over their arrogance and start treating patients like thinking, responsible adults who don't need to be treated like fools.

I once had a doctor get very upset with me when I told him that I did not want to rush immediately into the next room for a medical test that, he told me only after I'd asked, could kill me -- instantaneously. I wanted to wait and do the research. After he expressed much disgust with me, he then offered an alternative test that turned out to be far less expensive and had, he said, no risk. When he explained why he didn't like the test, I could tell it was because the med people did not communicate clearly with patients about how to behave during the test, so results were sometimes unclear. I deduced what I needed to do during the test. The test was easy and quick. It yielded very clear results. He then strongly recommended surgery that had a high chance of causing permanent harm to my vision. He acted like there was no other rational choice. My condition cleared up on its own in a few weeks, as is typical it turns out.

I could share dozens more experiences in which doctors claim to be rational but aren't. Jody Heymann's _Equal Partners_ is a good read - based on the author's horrible experiences as a patient after her graduation from Harvard Med School."

Listener email from Ann

Two points--re: lots of vaccines at once: My great niece's rheumatoid arthritis was triggered by receiving multiple vaccinations at once when she was getting ready for kindergarten. We do believe it would have eventually shown up but it came on with a vengence due to the shock to her immune system.

Two: The British researcher who published research that said autism was caused by vaccinations, recanted his research within the last year stating he'd made the whole thing up.-

Listener email from Kate

People don't do things because they should but because they have to. 
If gas goes up above 10 bucks a gallon, people will change. Until then they'll bemoan sprawl but drive ten miles to the store because they have to.

Listener email from Eben

I am a scientist at UConn, PhD from Yale, and my concern is that training for scientists even at the highest echelons lack a circumspect and critical self-examination of methodology and ethics. We teach a "scientific method" that is not universally applicable to scientific knowledge-production nor is it an accurate description of the knowledge produced. Influences that sully a commitment to epistemic (truth-seeking) integrity, such as the pressure to publish spectacular results to succeed in academia, or to stilt results to favor the goals of the research sponsor are real and strengthening. The Enlightenment project of refining science as a patently undogmatic investigation for the benefit of humankind has fallen away, and I have found an aversion among scientists to a scienctific self-analysis that is often pejoratively dismissed as "philosophy".

Listener email from Fred

"I'm wondering how much the MEDIA itself is responsible for this phenomena? Science is neither good nor bad (mostly good) however it's the SPIN that clouds our thoughts, our decision process and fuels our denial. Science reporting JUST cannot compete with stories such as Tiger, etc.... but it remains so important in our everyday lives...... I eat up science reporting but it's getting less and less reporting from less and less sources media...... There are only a few sources of good scientific reporting that are not part of journals, NOVA, Scientific American, NY Times Science section etc,...and they are diminishing models...... "