The Sciences

Comment of the Day

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorJan 7, 2011 3:00 AM


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Goes to this cautionary flashback:

I love the New Yorker and over the years they have published many fine articles on science by bright and knowledgeable writers including Lehrer (e.g., John McPhee, Jonathon Schell, John Hersey, Rachel Carson, Jeremy Bernstein, Atul Gawande, Malcom Gladwell). Despite this excellent record of science translation, it is useful to remember that the New Yorker published another fine scientific writer (Paul Brodeur) about 20 years ago who claimed that power lines were leading to brain cancer. It was compelling writing and it had a big effect on public opinion and science, but ultimately none of the breathless claims panned out despite the fears struck in the community. Decline effects, though rarely referred to that way, are widely recognized in science (often meta-analyses will divide up the sample of studies depending on when they were conducted--early vs. late).

This historical perspective is worth keeping in mind (here's the article by Brodeur) though I still think people are overly wrought over Lehrer's piece.

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