La fabricación de la incertidumbre científica

Durante décadas, la industria tabacalera fabricó algo más que cigarrillos. Mientras promocionaba agresivamente productos derivados del tabaco, también montaba una exitosa campaña de relaciones públicas destinada a crear incertidumbre respecto de las características destructivas y letales de sus productos. Si bien el descubrimiento de estos esfuerzos llegó demasiado tarde para muchos fumadores, los documentos que salieron a la luz en las demandas legales revelaron esfuerzos concertados para evitar la imposición de una regulación gubernamental mediante el ataque a la ciencia y a los científicos de la salud pública.

Hay pocos desafíos científicos más complejos que entender las causas de la enfermedad en los seres humanos. Los científicos no pueden suministrarle sustancias químicas tóxicas a la gente, por ejemplo, para ver qué dosis causan cáncer. En cambio, deben aprovechar los "experimentos naturales" en los que ya ocurrieron exposiciones.

En el laboratorio, sin duda, los científicos usan animales en condiciones experimentales controladas para investigar el accionar de los agentes tóxicos. Pero, a diferencia de la evidencia epidemiológica, los estudios de laboratorio tienen muchas incertidumbres, y los científicos deben hacer una extrapolación de la evidencia específicamente basada en estudios para sacar conclusiones sobre causalidad y recomendar medidas de protección. La certeza absoluta rara vez es una opción.

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