Friday, December 02, 2005

Speaking out for science

The AMA newsletter chats with TfK friend and former Kansas evolution warrior Burt Humburg. Burt was heavily involved in the Dover trial since he moved to Pennsylvania not long before arguments started. He makes some valuable points about the importance of doctors, and scientists in general, being involved in the public discussion, as well as the challenges involved:
So what does one do? How can a medical student, a resident, or a physician just beginning to build a career become active in these larger public battles? Burt Humburg, MD, a resident in internal medicine at Penn State’s Hershey Medical Center, is one role model. He’s been manning the evolutionary ramparts since his medical school days in Kansas in the late 1990s when he became active in Kansas Citizens for Science. On a brief vacation from his residency volunteering as a citizen advocate for the federal trial in Pennsylvania, he said education is the key role for the physician. While he realizes that medical students, residents and physicians might not view themselves as scientists, per se, he sees himself and his colleagues as part of the larger scientific collective that can’t afford to shirk its duty. “The town scientist is the town doctor, so whether we want it or not, we have the mantle—the trappings—of a scientist."

It is time for the medical community, through the initiative of individual physicians, to address not only how one can heal thy patient, but also how one can heal thy nation. There are many ways to get involved; from the most rudimentary—attending school board meetings, sending letters to the editor, and volunteering at the local science museum—to the more demanding—running for office, encouraging a spouse or partner to do so, or supporting candidates (especially financially) who are willing to speak out for science. As Tip O’Neill, the larger-than-life Speaker of the House of Representatives, famously declared, “All politics is local.” Speak out for science. Isn’t that a message that should be advanced in every physician’s office?
It should. And science advocates should be reaching out to doctors. They are a well-organized and powerful group.

Consider that, while malpractice premiums are rising for lots of reasons unrelated to the actual sizes of malpractice awards, the doctors have been organized themselves around the insurance industry's attacks on the civil justice system.

I have yet to meet a doctor for whom that agenda has not become a litmus test. In the course of almost any political discussion with a doctor, "tort reform" is never far from the surface. From doctors, it flows to the whole community, and then into political culture. I expect that quite a few liberal doctors had a hard time voting for a litigator, even to make him vice-president.

That same influence can be a force for good. Doctors aren't automatically allies, and they don't always seek out opportunities. Get them fired up, though. That means you should talk about science with your doctor when you go see her next and encourage her to get involved. Make it a two way street.