Caution call on 'maverick' claims
Scientists should think twice before courting publicity for their
"minority views", says an ethics expert.
BBC NEWS, Feb. 10, 2004.
Professor Udo Schuklenk, writing in the Journal of Medical Ethics, warns
patients may be led to refuse treatment most experts think safe.
For example, some parents rejected the MMR jab after suggestions it causes
autism - even though most scientists believe the vaccine is safe.
But other experts said science only develops if assumptions are
Professor Schuklenk, of the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg,
South Africa, highlighted the work of scientists who questioned the link
between HIV and Aids.
Scientists can't be responsible for the behaviour of members of the public
Dr Richard Nicholson, Bulletin of Medical Ethics
When other researchers rejected their views, the group went to the media
The South African government was convinced by the group's argument and the
country is now believed to have the highest number of people with AIDS in
the world, with around one in seven people between the ages of 15 and 49
Professor Schuklenk said scientists must inform the public if their views
are not widely supported.
He said: "Scientists should be aware of the social harm that can result
from the premature proclamation of claims that are weakly founded.
"[They] must be particularly careful when their science deals with
questions of human import. They have entered the political arena."
He said there were cases where a minority view had turned out to be
correct, but that this was rare.
In order to prevent confusion, Professor Schuklenk says ethical guidelines
should be drawn up governing how scientists present their work to the
He said if these guidelines were then ignored it would alert the media and
politicians that they should be wary of the views expressed.
But Dr Richard Nicholson, editor of the Bulletin of Medical Ethics, told
BBC News Online: "Science only goes forward by challenging public concerns
He said the questions that were raised over HIV's link to Aids were valid
at the time.
"The links between HIV and Aids did not meet the standards for proving
that a particular organism is the cause of a particular infectious
Dr Nicholson said researchers could not be blamed if people stopped taking
medication or refused vaccinations.
"Scientists can't be responsible for the behaviour of members of the
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Published: 2004/02/10 00:17:51 GMT