University of Wisconsin–Madison

2018 Rankin-Skatrud Memorial Lecture — The Death of Evidence: Implications for Epidemiology

WHEN: April 23rd, 12:00 p.m.
WHERE: Health Sciences Learning Center, Room 1335

Jonathan Samet, a pulmonary physician and epidemiologist, is dean of the Colorado School of Public Health. Previously, he served as Distinguished Professor and Flora L. Thornton Chair of the Keck School of Medicine of USC Department of Preventive Medicine and founding director of the USC Institute for Global Health.

Lecture Abstract

Science advances knowledge, chiseling at areas of ignorance and reducing uncertainties, which may impede evidence-based decision-making. With regard to environmental pollution, for example, great progress has been made as research has documented the damage done to human and ecosystem system health by man’s activities, motivating action and guiding interventions. However, over recent decades, the paradigm of evidence-based decision-making has been increasingly threatened as powerful stakeholders, with seemingly threatened interests, have undermined scientific evidence by creating doubt and even offering personal and collective beliefs as an equivalent basis for decision-making. The origins of the strategy of doubt creation can be traced to actions taken by the tobacco industry as the evidence mounted showing that smoking causes cancer and other diseases; the same tactics have spread, extending to environmental pollutants, foods, and beverages. More challenging is the emergence of outright dismissal of evidence and its replacement by belief, whether consistent with or counter to what is known. This presentation addresses this concerning shift and its implications for epidemiology and epidemiologists.

About Jonathan Samet

Samet has investigated diverse health issues using epidemiological approaches. His research focuses on the health risks of inhaled pollutants—particles and ozone in outdoor air and indoor pollutants including secondhand smoke and radon. He has also investigated the occurrence and causes of cancer and respiratory diseases, emphasizing the risks of active and passive smoking.  For several decades, he has been involved in global health, focusing on tobacco control, air pollution and chronic disease prevention.

Samet has served and chaired numerous committees of the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, and as chair of the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee. For the National Research Council, he chaired, among others, the Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation VI Committee; the Committee on Research Priorities for Airborne Particulate Matter, Board on Environmental Studies and Toxicology; the Committee to Review the Draft IRIS Assessment on Formaldehyde; the Committee to Develop a Research Strategy for Environmental Health and Safety Aspects of Engineered Nanomaterials; the Committee to Review the IRIS Process; and the Committee on Incorporating 21st Century Science into Risk-Based Evaluations.

The annual Rankin-Skatrud Professorship and Memorial Lecture honors the contributions of two of the University of Wisconsin’s distinguished professors and leaders. This lectureship was established in1983 and brings scholars in epidemiology, health policy, pulmonary physiology and medicine, and preventive medicine to UW.

The lecture is co-hosted by UW Population Health Sciences, the School of Medicine and Public Health, the Global Health Institute and the John Rankin Memorial Fund.