by Susan F. Wood, PhD 

Over the last 2 days, we’ve seen two political leaders speak out on the need for science and evidence to drive our policy decisions in areas such as health, food safety, enviroment, climate change, and renewable energy.

Yesterday (Wednesday, Oct. 3), Rep. Rosa DeLauro, Chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, FDA, and related agencies, gave a policy address on the Future of the FDA at George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services.  Much of her presentation was focused on the need to dramatically restructure our food safety system, starting with separating the Food Safety function of FDA from the rest of the agency.  This would create a Food Safety Administration within the Dept. of Health and Human Services in parallel with a revamped Federal Drug and Devices Administration (more about this in another posting soon).

During the question and answer period, which was substantive and very interesting, she raised and discussed the issue of ideology trumping science.  She cited the example of Plan B emergency contraception but rapidly broadened to the larger issue of ensuring that evidence and scientific integrity are critical in ensuring that FDA and other science based agencies succeeding in their missions.

Today (Thursday Oct. 4), Sen. Hillary Clinton outlined her vision for reclaiming our committment to science and innovation.  Before leaders of major scientific organizations, including AAAS and the Federation of American Scientists, in the auditorium at the Carnegie Institution of Washington, she started with the fact that today is the 50th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik and moved on to the need to recapture and reclaim the leadership that the US gained during the space race, and that we have lost during the last 7 years.  Raising the issues of ethical embryonic stem cell research, emergency contraception, endangered species,global climate change and renewable energy, she outlined step to reclaim that leadership to the benefit scientifically, educationally, and economically for our nation.

These are just two of our political leaders taking this stand, many others are doing so as well.  I’m glad to see it.  But we should ensure all of our elected officials, from school board members to presidential candidates not only say that they support strong science and strong science in government, but also take the steps necessary to ensure that this is the reality.

Susan F. Wood, PhD is Research Professor at George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services, where she is part of the Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy (SKAPP).  She also served as Director of the FDA Office of Women’s Health from 2000-2005

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