Editor’s Focus: Science isn’t always friendly, but it isn’t the enemy

Somewhere along the line, it became sort of "popular" to denigrate science and scientists, and it's time to turn that trend around

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I am now old enough that while I’m not “old,” I find myself being alternately (and sometimes simultaneously) a mentor, peer and even mentee. This also means I am old enough to remember things like Saturday morning cartoon shows (before there was a Cartoon Network), and to remember very old (1950s) and not-so-old at the time (1980s) movies playing on the various non-cable broadcast channels in the afternoons and late at night sometimes.
And what I distinctly remember is that scientists used to be heroes.
Which isn’t to say they couldn’t also be villains—after all, that’s where we got many of our modern “mad scientist” tropes from—or even “bumblers” who got in the way of the dashing gun-toting, non-science hero (who, in the end, “got the girl”). But often it was because of the scientists that the threat of some monster or plague or whatever was discovered, and often through the scientist that the cure or solution was found.
We still see that sometimes in criminal procedural dramas on television, but so often now, science is denigrated both from the left and the right, whether it’s climate change deniers, anti-vaccination folks or what-have-you.
And recently in my inbox, a news release about Dr. John Ioannidis, a professor of medicine and health research at Stanford University, who told “The Recommended Dose” podcast that most developed countries are spending and wasting so much that healthcare has become “one of the leading public dangers for health.”
Now, Ioannidis is recognized as an influential scientist and for challenging the scientific status quo, and certainly there is nothing wrong with challenging convention. But I’ve also seen lots of pundits and experts on cable news channels and many online publications “challenge convention” just to stir people up or boost page-click numbers for a website.
While Ioannidis argues that we underuse medicine in some areas, his focus seems to be more on the presumed risk that overuse of medicine in healthcare poses, a sin he ascribes in particular to the United States, saying that “we're just spending so much and we're wasting so much that healthcare is one of the leading public dangers for health.” He adds: “It's possible that our society will disintegrate just because we're wasting too much on trying to do too much that has very little evidence or even has evidence that it is unnecessary.”
I’m not saying he’s wrong that there is overspending and a trend toward expecting too much and relying too much on things that eat up money but don’t give back enough value. But I’m going to call “hyperbole” on life sciences “disintegrating” society. I’d rather we keep pushing for new knowledge and new methods and new answers. I’d rather see the scientists be honored again, instead of being seen as the problem.

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