Considering a Society of Environmental Health Science

By Schwartz, David A. | Environmental Health Perspectives, March 2006 | Go to article overview

Considering a Society of Environmental Health Science


Schwartz, David A., Environmental Health Perspectives


Although it may seem counterintuitive, the more we learn about science, the more complex it becomes. This is particularly true in the field of environmental health science. As the field has evolved, we've come to realize that the environment permeates nearly every. question of human disease and that various forms of environmental stress can be used to understand many of the secrets of human biology. And the challenges that lie before us in solving the mysteries of these relationships will require the combined knowledge of a diverse array of scientific thinkers. For this and other reasons, the time is ripe for the field of environmental health science to consider the benefits of establishing a broad, vigorous, engaged scientific society.

One definition of society is "a structured community of people." This also defines a predominant function of scientific societies: to provide a structured means for scientists to engage with other scientists. Never has this function been more important or necessary. The questions being asked by today's environmental health scientists require multi- and cross-disciplinary approaches to answer, as well as scientific cooperation and interaction on a broader scale than ever before. Toxicologists must talk to epidemiologists. Geneticists must talk to ethicists. Biologists must talk to physicians. And governments, industries, academics, and advocates must talk to each other. A broad-reaching society for environmental health science could help to facilitate and promote such interdisciplinary interactions in both traditional and innovative ways. Traditional activities such as conferences, meetings, and membership subsections would allow for regularly scheduled discourse. Meanwhile, newer tools including websites, e-mail newsgroups, Internet conferencing, and weblogs could be used by a society to promote nearly instantaneous interaction among its members.

Indeed, helping to coordinate scientific discourse and the dissemination of scientific information has always been a major role of scientific societies. The need for this is even more apparent today. New technologies in fields such as bioinformatics and genomics, with which environmental health science is inextricably linked, are producing mountains of potentially valuable data. To compile, organize, mine, and disseminate such data for application to real health questions are enormous tasks. A society of environmental health science could be instrumental in coordinating these activities by facilitating their development, supporting their growth, and ensuring their dissemination through a variety of means including a credible peer-reviewed journal encompassing all aspects of the field.

It is not only today's scientists that would benefit by membership in a vital and active environmental health science society. …

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