On Trusting Scientists With Respect To Toxins

Yesterday I posted up a video by C0nc0rdance, which received this comment from The Vicar, which I reposted in its own post.  I then wrote C0nc0rdance to see if he might give us a reply and, graciously, he has:

Life is not a risk-free environment. It is filled with trade-offs of one consequence for another. Sometimes decisions we make, in hindsight, seem not to have been the best. This is what it is to be human and temporally limited. The scientific method, so far, is the best logical tool we have for making the choices we will regret least. Fear and paranoia, on the other hand, are a very poor basis for decision-making. Fear of faceless pharmaceutical companies, fear of shadowy and corrupt government agencies, and the sense that people are basically greedy and amoral are not the equal of actual studies of toxicology, environmental impact.

In the examples you give, the risk is something that you are able to spot easily. Rainfall concentrates water-based pesticides. You could also have cited the trickle-up effect of DDT in the food web. Or the role rBGH-contaminated milk plays in breast cancer. I presume you think that a single corrupt politician gives these things some sort of rubber stamp, takes his bribe home to his wife, and never thinks about it again.

This is far from the truth. There are teams in Washington, regional health labs, and a mega-complex in the middle of the piney woods in Arkansas that spend months for each new submission of a chemical which might affect human health. Whole agencies composed of thousands of scientists, good people, who have dedicated their lives to preventing or reducing human suffering. A “good wage” for a scientist, in the US, is an average salary of 70K. That’s what you make after 10 years in college, working 60-70 hour weeks, being brilliant in your field.

Independent agencies are often called on to replicate the work of the government labs. Academic labs, medical schools, staffed by people from all walks of life. The results are published, the documents are signed by the responsible party. If fraud is committed, the person responsible will be investigated, and if you believe in any kind of justice, the whole collusion can be brought to light by the enemies of the parties involved.

Scientists are some pretty smart people, in general. If you have thought of something, there is a chance they, collectively, have too. Perhaps you should read an environmental impact report. See if there is something they missed. Try an FDA New Drug Application (NDA) report, as well.

I don’t deny that toxicity is a real problem. It absolutely is. But sometimes we must balance the evidence for potential outcomes. What is the evidence that vaccination causes autism? Correlation. What is the evidence that vaccination saves millions of lives? Causation.

That’s the message I was hoping to convey.

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