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Epidemiology News Briefs - April 28, 2017

Epidemiologist Offers Advice To Scientists “Going Political”

As concerns about the Trump administration, facts, and science continue to capture the headlines, scientists are getting many calls to become more involved in the political process in the defense of science. As this appears to be “foreign territory” for many scientists, one epidemiology colleague has stepped up to offer advice from public health. Boston University epidemiologist and dean of the School of Public Health Sandro Galea writes in a guest blog in Scientific American about four lessons other engaged scientists should heed.

1. Changing science takes time. Changing attitudes takes even longer.
Galea uses the example of Semmelweiss and childbed fever to report that scientific activism is frequently a “slow, frustrating grind” which requires patience and consistent committed advocacy.

2. Now is a time for strange bedfellows.
Scientists may need to partner with groups which do not appear to be natural allies. Galea cites the example of  advertisers as “unnatural allies” who helped change the thinking about smoking and health.

3. Tell a story
Using the example of vaccines, Galea suggests that a positive story about an issue is also needed over and above the data about the topic of interest. The goal is to win hearts as well as minds, and stories can help, according to Galea.

4. Fundamentally, it is about influencing policy.
To make a difference with data, scientists must work within the political system while also applying external pressure such as with protests and marches. Galea believes that public health exemplifies an engaged, activist scientific class that can serve to instruct other disciplines.


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