Just last week, I highlighted a “commonsense science” approach to PFAS regulation espoused in an opinion editorial for the New Hampshire Union Leader by State Rep. Mark Alliegro, who also holds a Ph.D. in cell and molecular biology and served as a professor of biochemistry at Brown University.

Dr. Alliegro’s conclusion: “As with any public health issue, we need science to guide us. Lacking evidence should inspire us to search for it – not ban products out of fear. Doing that will just hurt businesses, consumers, and workers without cause.”

This week, a second bolt of common sense came out of the blue when a friend of mine sent me an article titled, “Science and Ideology” by Kelton Rhoads, Ph.D., a social scientist and adjunct professor at the University of Southern California.

The article is a guide for students on how to approach his class on the “Science of Influence,” and it is nothing short of brilliant. While it is written for social scientists, the same underlying principles can be applied to any scientific discipline. This would include the epidemiological and toxicological studies that are driving the rash of debates and disputes over chemical regulation around the world.

Here are just a few of the gems of wisdom from the article:

  • Science is not advocacy. Science is investigation. Rather than the advocate’s opinions and assertions, science asks questions: “What is? What are different ways of perceiving what is? Which of them are best supported by reality?”
  • Scientists do not start with the assumption that they are correct and that others need to conform to their view. The scientist maintains an open mind, a bit of humility, and seeks to see things as they actually are, not as they are desired to be.
  • In the absence of considering alternate and opposing views, science is in danger of being abused as a mere prop to the popular passions and fashions of the day, reaffirming the correctness and goodness of what has been socially constructed to be ‘correct’ and ‘good.’ That’s not science’s charter; science is oriented toward the exploration of the unknown, not the perpetual reconfirmation of the conventional wisdom.
  • Exploring the methods of ideology is more dangerous than exploring the methods of science because ideology speaks directly to emotional, moral, and non-rational parts of the human experience. People are quicker to defend the source of their values than they are the source of their facts.