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Scientists As Advocates

July 5, 2010 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 88, Issue 27

I couldn’t disagree more with the letter from Tony Pavone (C&EN, May 24, page 4). His statement, “There is a role for scientists and there is a role for crusaders, but you can’t pretend to be both at the same time,” implies that scientists need to stay closeted in their laboratories and not be engaged with society.

One example I would give of a scientist who maintained his research and advocated for changes in public policy is Mario Molina. He noted in his 1995 Nobel Prize autobiography that the findings on the effect of chlorofluorocarbons on the ozone layer were first published in 1974 and that the “years following the publication of our paper were hectic, as we had decided to communicate the CFC-ozone issue not only to other scientists, but also to policy makers and to the news media; we realized this was the only way to insure that society would take some measures to alleviate the problem.”

I compare the controversy about climate change to that of CFCs and the ozone layer from 30 years ago. When a scientist finds data indicating a negative consequence that will affect all of us, I think that scientist should become an advocate for change. The issue of climate change is highly technical, and if scientists won’t take an advocacy role, how will the public learn more about the issue and make informed decisions?

Daryl Young
Wilmington, N.C.


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