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The AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) is currently holding their annual meeting at Vancouver, B.C., and their plenary talk definitely gave me a lot of food for thought.
The longer I’m in academia, the bigger the gap between the scientific community and the general public seems to be. It’s frustrating that doing good science simply isn’t enough. At the same time, the publish or perish culture of academia makes it really hard for scientists to find time to communicate with the general public and decision makers. It’s one of the reasons why I’m not sure that academia is the right fit for me because for me, publishing peer-reviewed articles isn’t as invigorating as talking about science with non-scientists.
Today, I read something that reminded me of Barbara Ehrenreich’s 2001 article, Welcome to Cancerland, which I also highly recommend. It was an article on Komen for the Cure, and how its issues extend beyond just stepping out of their nonpartisan shoes. One of the bigger problems is their ignorance concerning the latest science on breast cancer screening (screening tests actually do not decrease the risk of dying from cancer) and their placement of a disproportionate amount of responsibility for fighting cancer on the women themselves (“What’s the key to surviving cancer?” “You”).
It’s a bit unfair to pin all that responsibility on women when there’s a huge list of chemicals that are carcinogenic and endocrine disruptors being released into our environment by industrial and agricultural activity. And yet, many companies (like ones that produce beauty products) that are releasing chemicals into the environment are the same ones with the pink ribbon, urging you to buy their products so they can donate your money to Komen. It’s sort of like Paula Deen becoming the spokesperson for a diabetes drug after years of encouraging people to eat excessive amounts of fats and sugars. It seems that they’re selling both the disease and the cure at the same time. So why aren’t we pinning more of the responsibility of fighting cancer on companies that are releasing carcinogens or organizations that support companies that release carcinogens?