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Editor's Page

June 9, 2008
Volume 86, Number 23
p. 5


Defending Science

AN ACS MEMBER recently wrote me to complain about the lead News of the Week story on CO2 and climate change in C&EN’s April 7 issue (page 9). In his letter, the member wrote that regulating CO2 “would change the national economy and decrease our standard of living” and, as such, “it is critical to know whether or not increased CO2 emissions would be a significant danger to the public.”

I chose not to publish the letter for reasons that will become clear in the remainder of this editorial. My correspondent does not think that increasing concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere contribute to climate change. To support that position, he cited a paper by Arthur B. Robinson and coworkers at the Oregon Institute of Science & Medicine (OISM) published in the Journal of American Physicians & Surgeons (2007, 12, 79).

Huh? The Journal of American Physicians & Surgeons (JAPS)? What has a journal with that name got to do with climate change? With all due apologies to my correspondent, the answer is: nothing.

Where does one start on this? There really is a right-wing effort in the U.S. to discredit widely accepted science, technology, and medical information. Probably the best known is the Junk Science website of Steven J. Milloy, the tireless antiscience polemicist who started out as an apologist for the tobacco industry and spends most of his time these days claiming that all climate-change research is, of course, junk science. It’s a catchy little phrase that Milloy applies to, well, anything that doesn’t match his right-wing concept of reality.

The American Association of Physicians & Surgeons (AAPS), publisher of JAPS, long predates Milloy. Founded in 1943, it claims to have thousands of members and, according to its website, is “dedicated to the highest ethical standards of the Oath of Hippocrates and to preserving the sanctity of the patient-physician relationship and the practice of private medicine.” It accomplishes this through opposition to Medicare and Medicaid, mandatory vaccination, gun control, and, of course, single-payer national health insurance.

JAPS is a curious entity. It is not indexed by Chemical Abstracts Service, Pubmed, or ISI’s Web of Science. It has published articles that question the link between HIV and AIDS and that link abortion to increased incidence of breast cancer and thimerosal-containing vaccines to autism. It is, in fact, the purveyor of utter nonsense. As far as I could ascertain, the Robinson paper is JAPS’s only foray into climate-change research.

OISM is a curious little entity, too. On its website, it says it was founded in 1980 by Robinson, his wife Laurelee, Martin D. Kamen, and, later, R. Bruce Merrifield. Kamen and Merrifield, although dead, are both listed as OISM faculty members. Robinson has real scientific credentials; he has a Ph.D. in chemistry from California Institute of Technology and he was an associate of Linus Pauling’s until the two had a falling out over vitamin C. In addition to its scientific work on proteins, OISM is also involved in developing home-schooling techniques and “emergency preparedness.”

Robinson is closely linked with the “Petition Project,” an effort begun in 1998 to collect the signatures of scientists who doubt the reality of human-induced climate change. Robinson’s JAPS paper, “Environmental Effects of Increased Carbon Dioxide” is a long, tendentious rehash of just about every already-rebutted argument made against human-induced climate change.

Why does any of this matter? Why not just ignore AAPS, JAPS, and OISM and the noise emanating from them? For the same reason science can’t ignore creationism and intelligent design: The goal of the antiscience movement is to endlessly cast doubt on legitimate science.

Of course there are questions about any scientific theory, gaps in knowledge that need to be filled in, whether it is the theory of evolution or the theory of human-induced climate change. That’s why we continue to do science. But the questions and gaps are not fatal flaws, as the antiscience advocates would have the general public believe. As scientists, we need to continue to make that case.

Thanks for reading.

Rudy Baum, Editor-in-chief

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.

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