With our X-ray specs, we see what we want…

Scientists can be just as myopic. In 1956, the Oxford-based epidemiologist Alice Stewart demonstrated, with startling data, that the chances of childhood cancer were vastly increased by X-raying pregnant mothers. At the time, these cancers were killing one child every week, yet it took 25 years before the practice was abandoned by British and American medical establishments. Stewart’s data flew in the face of current epidemiological theory – “threshold theory”, which maintained that, while a large dose of anything could be dangerous, there was always a point, or threshold, beyond which it was bound to be safe. Her research indicated that there was no safe level of radiation for foetuses. Stewart was fiercely opposed by Britain’s foremost epidemiologist of the time, Richard Doll, who was famed for identifying the link between smoking and cancer. Not until 1997 did he quietly retire the threshold theory with the most modest of mea culpas.

Margaret Heffernan Power’s blindside
Australian Financial Review 9th September 2011

She has a book that I should read – “Willful Blindness”…


About dwighttowers

Below the surface...
This entry was posted in a little self-knowledge, bureaucracy, competence, technoscience and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to With our X-ray specs, we see what we want…

  1. Martin Parkinson says:

    Interesting – and the link between smoking and lung cancer was stoutly denied by RA Fisher – a *major* figure in the history of statistics. Nobody gets everything right … salutory for us all.

  2. dwighttowers says:

    Yep, that is hopefully what science is about; trust the process, not the guru. But we all want oracles, gurus, seers. Worse still, some of us want to BE oracles, gurus and seers.

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