Is a Little Pollution Good for You? Incorporating Societal Values in Environmental Research

Is a Little Pollution Good for You? Incorporating Societal Values in Environmental Research

Is a Little Pollution Good for You? Incorporating Societal Values in Environmental Research

Is a Little Pollution Good for You? Incorporating Societal Values in Environmental Research

Synopsis

Could low-level exposure to polluting chemicals be analogous to exercise-a beneficial source of stress that strengthens the body? Some scientists studying the phenomenon of hormesis (beneficial or stimulatory effects caused by low-dose exposure to toxic substances) claim that that this may be the case. IS A LITTLE POLLUTION GOOD FOR YOU? critically examines the current evidence for hormesis. In the process, it highlights the range of methodological and interpretive judgments involved in environmental research: choices about what questions to ask and how to study them, decisions about how to categorize and describe new information, judgments about how to interpret and evaluate ambiguous evidence, and questions about how to formulate public policy in response to debated scientific findings. The book also uncovers the ways that interest groups with deep pockets attempt to influence these scientific judgments for their benefit. Several chapters suggest ways to counter these influences and incorporate a broader array of societal values in environmental research: (1) moving beyond conflict-of-interest policies to develop new ways of safeguarding academic research from potential biases; (2) creating deliberative forums in which multiple stakeholders can discuss the judgments involved in policy-relevant research; and (3) developing ethical guidelines that can assist scientific experts in disseminating debated and controversial phenomena to the public. Kevin C. Elliott illustrates these strategies in the hormesis case, as well as in two additional case studies involving contemporary environmental research: endocrine disruption and multiple chemical sensitivity. This book should be of interest to a wide variety of readers, including scientists, philosophers, policy makers, environmental ethicists and activists, research ethicists, industry leaders, and concerned citizens. "This is a timely, well-researched and compelling book.Elliott admirably combines insights and strategies from philosophy of science with those of applied ethics to carefully analyze contemporary science and science policy around pollutants and human health. There is a growing interest in the philosophy of science community in bringing the work of philosophers to bear on contemporary social issues. This book stands out as a model for how to do just that." - Sandra D. Mitchell, Philosophy, University of Pittsburgh "IS A LITTLE POLLUTION GOOD FOR YOU? by Kevin Elliott, is a wonderfully clear and insightful book dealing with the interplay between social values and economic and political interests in scientific research. He articulates an account of how societal values should and should not enter into science and illustrates his views with an extended discussion of research on hormesis-the hypothesis that chemicals that are toxic at high doses may be benign or even beneficial at low doses. The chemical industry has a strong financial interest in promoting scientific acceptance of hormesis, as this could convince regulatory agencies to loosen up restrictions on allowable exposures to pesticides and other chemicals. Elliott argues that because scientists have an obligation to minimize the harmful effects of their research, they must be mindful of the social context of their work and how it may be interpreted and applied by private companies or interest groups, to the potential detriment of public and environmental health. Elliott's book is a must read for researchers, scholars, and students who are interested in the relationship between science, industry, and society." - David B. Resnik, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, National Institutes of Health, author of PLAYING POLITICS WITH SCIENCE: BALANCING SCIENTIFIC INDEPENDENCE AND GOVERNMENT

Excerpt

Compared to many philosophy books, this volume is directed at a rather diverse range of audiences. I came to this research as a philosopher of science hoping to achieve two major goals: (1) to examine the range of methodological and interpretive judgments that permeate policy-relevant scientific research and (2) to explore ways of making these judgments more responsive to a range of public values—not just to the “deep pockets” that have abundant resources available to spend on research. in brief, I was interested in how science and democracy relate to one another. This is a project that intersects with many different scholarly disciplines, research projects, and practical concerns.

Nearly everyone with an interest in the environment—concerned citizens, environmentalists, scientists, industry groups, and policy makers—should find the book’s major case study, hormesis, of interest. Hormesis involves seemingly beneficial effects produced by low doses of substances that are normally toxic. Some scientists argue that this phenomenon could have important policy implications, such as weakening government regulations of toxic substances. Large sums of money are at stake in debates about government regulatory policy, and many interest groups are intensely concerned about these issues. Therefore, the book’s careful analysis of the methodological and interpretive judgments associated with hormesis research (especially in chapter 2) should be helpful to a variety of groups who want to understand the scientific issues at stake more clearly. Chapter 7 examines similar judgments associated with two other phenomena, endocrine disruption and multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS), which are also relevant to environmental policy.

Research ethicists will also hopefully find much of interest in the book’s analysis of the hormesis, endocrine disruption, and McS cases. Chapter 4 reviews a variety of questionable research practices that have been perpetrated by vested interest groups with a stake in the outcome of scientific research. the chapter argues that university conflict-of-interest policies are not sufficient to prevent worrisome effects of vested interests on academic research, and it suggests several alternative strategies. Chapter 6 examines . . .

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