The University Record, March 22, 1999

Scientists should play role in forming environmental health policy, Vincent says

By Amy Reyes
News and Information Services

Scientists should play a pivotal role in establishing environmental health policy, but because science is neither black nor white, the role of science is often diminished, misunderstood and misinterpreted by policy makers and the media.

That was the message heard at the I.A. Bernstein Symposium held at the School of Public Health March 12.

"Unfortunately, the nature of science does not fit the popular picture held by society at large, which likes to believe that science can resolve complex issues by identifying exactly what is true and what is not true. When science fails to provide definitive answers, public mistrust escalates, prompting policy-makers and their masters, the politicians, to lose confidence in the ability of science to be useful to them," said James H. Vincent, chair of the Department of Enviornmental and Industrial Health and the symposium's organizer.

"At the end of the day, the role of scientists seems to have been diminished. Scientists should continue to be involved at the highest policy levels," he said.

The symposium was attended by scientists and students from the University, the state of Michigan, other parts of the United States and Britain.

Speakers included Gregory G. Bond, director of the Health and Environmental Research Laboratories, Dow Chemical Co.; Kathryn E. Kelly, founder and president of Delta Toxicology; Ian A. Greaves, associate dean of the School of Public Health, University of Minnesota; and Jim McQuaid, director of science and technology and chief scientist, UK Health and Safety Executive.

The symposium is named for the late Isadore A. Bernstein, professor emeritus of biological chemistry and of environmental and industrial health, who died from cancer in 1998 at age 78. Bernstein was known for his work in environmental toxicology and cutaneous biochemistry. He was widely regarded at home and internationally as one of the outstanding scholars and teachers in his field.

The symposium is funded by an endowment from Charles and Rita Gelman, long-time friends of Isadore and Claire Bernstein.