Could low-level exposure to polluting chemicals be analogous to exercise-a beneficial source of stress that strengthens the body? Some scientists studying the phenomenon of hormesis (beneficial or stimulatory effects caused by low-dose exposure to toxic substances) claim that that this may be the case. Is A Little Pollution Good For You? critically examines the current evidence for hormesis. In the process, it highlights the range of methodological and interpretive judgments involved in environmental research: choices about what questions to ask and how to study them, decisions about how to categorize and describe new information, judgments about how to interpret and evaluate ambiguous evidence, and questions about how to formulate public policy in response to debated scientific findings.
Is a Little Pollution Good for You? also uncovers the ways that interest groups with deep pockets attempt to influence these scientific judgments for their benefit. Several chapters suggest ways to counter these influences and incorporate a broader array of societal values in environmental research: (1) moving beyond conflict-of-interest policies to develop new ways of safeguarding academic research from potential biases; (2) creating deliberative forums in which multiple stakeholders can discuss the judgments involved in policy-relevant research; and (3) developing ethical guidelines that can assist scientific experts in disseminating debated and controversial phenomena to the public. Kevin C. Elliott illustrates these strategies in the hormesis case, as well as in two additional case studies involving contemporary environmental research: endocrine disruption and multiple chemical sensitivity. Is a Little Pollution Good for You? should be of interest to a wide variety of readers, including scientists, philosophers, policy makers, environmental ethicists and activists, research ethicists, industry leaders, and concerned citizens.
"This is a timely, well-researched and compelling book. Elliott admirably combines insights and strategies from philosophy of science with those of applied ethics to carefully analyze contemporary science and science policy around pollutants and human health. There is a growing interest in the philosophy of science community in bringing the work of philosophers to bear on contemporary social issues. This book stands out as a model for how to do just that."
– Sandra D. Mitchell, Philosophy, University of Pittsburgh
"Is A Little Pollution Good For You? is a wonderfully clear and insightful book dealing with the interplay between social values and economic and political interests in scientific research. He articulates an account of how societal values should and should not enter into science and illustrates his views with an extended discussion of research on hormesis-the hypothesis that chemicals that are toxic at high doses may be benign or even beneficial at low doses. The chemical industry has a strong financial interest in promoting scientific acceptance of hormesis, as this could convince regulatory agencies to loosen up restrictions on allowable exposures to pesticides and other chemicals. Elliott argues that because scientists have an obligation to minimize the harmful effects of their research, they must be mindful of the social context of their work and how it may be interpreted and applied by private companies or interest groups, to the potential detriment of public and environmental health. Elliott's book is a must read for researchers, scholars, and students who are interested in the relationship between science, industry, and society."
– David B. Resnik, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, National Institutes of Health, author of Playing Politics With Science: Balancing Scientific Independence And Government
"Kevin Elliott has taken on a particularly controversial scientific view, namely hormesis, and utilized it to clearly identify various places non-epistemic social values can and should be incorporated into core scientific activities that bear on public policy issues. This comprehensive, thoughtful, and careful discussion should now be part of the dialogue about social values in science-policy discussions."
– Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews
1.: Introduction: Societal Values and Environmental Research
Overview of the Book
2.: The Hormesis Case
Setting the Stage
Brief History of Hormesis Research
Choosing and Designing Studies
Developing Scientific Language
Evaluating and Interpreting Studies
3.: An Argument for Societal Values in Policy-Relevant Research
Background on Values in Science
The Easy Cases
Values in the Development of Scientific Language
Values in the Evaluation and Interpretation of Studies
4.: Lesson #1: Safeguarding Science
University Conflict-of-Interest Policies
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Kevin C. Elliott is Associate Professor at Lyman-Briggs College and the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at Michigan State University.