L’industrie de l’incertitude scientifique

Pendant des décennies, l’industrie du tabac a produit bien plus que des cigarettes. Tout en vendant des produits tabagiques de façon agressive, elle a aussi mené avec succès une campagne de relations publiques visant à provoquer l’incertitude quant aux caractéristiques destructrices et mortelles de ses produits. La découverte de ces efforts est advenue trop tardivement pour de nombreux fumeurs, mais des documents exhumés à l’occasion de procès ont révélé des efforts concertés, attaquant la science et les scientifiques de la santé publique, et visant à éviter l’imposition de réglementation gouvernementale.

Peu de défis scientifiques sont aussi complexes que ceux qui tentent de comprendre les causes des maladies humaines. Les scientifiques ne peuvent pas, par exemple, administrer des produits chimiques toxiques à des humains pour savoir quelle dose leur donnera le cancer. Ils doivent à la place exploiter les “expériences naturelles” dans lesquelles les expositions ont déjà eu lieu.

Certes, dans les laboratoires, les scientifiques utilisent des animaux dans des conditions expérimentales contrôlées afin de mener des recherches sur le fonctionnement des agents toxiques. Mais à l’instar des preuves épidémiologiques, les études en laboratoire sont porteuses de nombreuses incertitudes, et les scientifiques doivent extrapoler à partir de preuves issues d’études particulières, pour émettre des jugements sur les causalités et recommander des mesures protectrices. La certitude absolue est rarement une option.

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