Monday, July 19, 2010

Science Is Our Ally - Not Our Enemy

Originally published in Pest Management Professional magazine

By Colleen Cannon 26 Jun, 2006

I am writing to express my dismay that you saw fit to publish Alan Caruba's Endless Environmental Lies piece as your Web Exclusive in The Pest Control Buzz Online on June 12.

Pest control technicians often face questions from clients on the dangers posed by pesticides. They would certainly appreciate having sound answers to those sometimes difficult questions. Regrettably, the information in the piece would not prepare a technician to do so accurately and intelligently. The general tone and lack of useful content made it little more than a diatribe.

Very glibly addressed were two important and scientifically complex issues: the environmental fate of pesticides and global warming. The author suggests that the EPA, news media, environmental groups and scientific journals are conspiring to spread misinformation and mislead the public on the facts. Granted, one may quibble with the objectivity of the news media; the EPA may not perform flawlessly; and one may disagree with the goals of environmental groups — but lumping peer-reviewed scientific journals, like Science, into this group shows a deep misunderstanding of science.

The journal, Science, is neither a news magazine nor a magazine of popular culture. It is perhaps the world's most prestigious and respected publication of peer-reviewed scientific research. Peer review, the crucial last step in the scientific process, ensures that all published articles are vetted by multiple, independent experts. Those who review for Science and other peer-reviewed scientific journals are not cronies who work together to advance a pet agenda. They are internationally known and highly esteemed members of the world's scientific community. The peer-review process, though not infallible, is open and self-correcting. It is without question the most successful system humanity has developed for weeding out faulty and dishonest work.

I also take issue with the choice of expert cited in the piece. Patrick Michaels is a scientist whom the author quotes on global warming. However, the author fails to mention that three organizations with which Michaels is affiliated — The Cato Institue, Tech Central Station and the Marshall Institute — received substantial amounts of money from ExxonMobil for "climate change support," according to several Web sources, including the Environmental Defense Fund.

The June 12 Web Exclusive reflects poorly on our industry. If we adopt this sort of anti-science thinking, our customers will put us in the same club as the tobacco industry, which denied the science linking smoking and lung cancer, and the auto industry, which fought the science behind seatbelt standards. We do not want that.

Pest management professionals place great value on education and on science. There are increasing numbers of us with continuing education coursework and post-graduate degrees. We know that science is our ally — not our enemy — in this business.
Is Embracing Science the Same as Embracing Facts? This was my response to Dr. Cannon's article, which PCT did not publish.

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