The Public Interest

When science progresses and bureaucracies lag - the case of cancer research

Andrew Heath & David Salsburg

Fall 1981

THE notion that the progress of science and technology may unwittingly threaten human life is central to the argument for health and environmental regulation. Such a threat can exist, and justifies some sort of government control. But what are we to do when science progresses still further and finds that the apparent threats to health do not exist, or are very much smaller than originally thought? Unfortunately, government regulations and practices change and advance much more slowly than do the research findings of the scientific community, and this leaves a wide gap between the consensus of responsible scientists and those in government. The current state of cancer research is a good example of how this gap can develop and widen, ultimately confusing and harming the American public.

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