The Role of Science in Public
Many people assume that science provides clear answers to guide personal and public health policy decisions. In fact, although science is an important tool, it is often a blunt tool, capable of answering only certain narrow questions. Without an understanding of the strengths and the limitations of science, and an awareness of how both can be used and manipulated, we risk making personal and public policy decisions that will not best protect our children and ourselves.
This chapter first examines what science and scientific inquiry can and cannot do, what kinds of answers they can and cannot provide. Following is a look at animal testing and epidemiological research, two forms of scientific inquiry that are central to decision making concerning environmental reproductive toxicants. Finally, we consider quantitative risk assessment, a tool meant to improve our ability to make decisions by incorporating both scientific knowledge and uncertainty.
Science is a way of looking at the world, a system for increasing our knowledge of the world, a tool for making decisions about how to act in the world. Fundamentally, science provides a structure for exploration: the scientific method, a well-defined system that scientists worldwide recognize as the basis for scientific understanding.