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AMA op-ed urges doctors to defend evolution


Writing in the December 2005 issue of Virtual Mentor, the on-line ethics journal of the American Medical Association, Paul Costello reviews the ongoing controversy over creationism in the public schools, commenting, "I'm afraid we live in loopy times. How else to account for the latest entries in America's culture wars: science museum docents donning combat gloves against rival fundamentalist tour groups and evolution on trial in a Pennsylvania federal court." Citing Cornelia Dean (a science reporter for The New York Times), Chris Mooney (the author of The Republican War on Science), and Jon D. Miller (who directs the Center for Biomedical Communications at Northwestern University), Costello concludes that the public's lack of understanding of science is real and urgent. But more than ignorance, "[i]t's anti-knowledge that is beginning to scare the scientific community," he writes. "Glenn Branch, deputy director of the National Center for Science Education, calls 2005 'a fairly busy year' when he considers the 82 evolution versus creationism 'flare-ups' that have occurred at the state, local, and individual classroom levels so far." Costello notes that such battles are not likely to vanish, and expresses concern about their possible extension to medical research and funding.

So where is the medical community? Costello asks. "The medical community as a whole has been largely absent from today's public debates on science. Neither the American Medical Association nor the American Psychiatric Association has taken a formal stand on the issue of evolution versus creationism." Miller is quoted as saying that the medical community will have to take a stand: "You have to join your friends, so when someone attacks the Big Bang, when someone attacks evolution, when someone attacks stem cell research, all of us rally to the front. You can't say it's their problem because the scientific community is not so big that we can splinter 4 or more ways and ever still succeed doing anything." Individual medical students, residents, and physicians can make a difference. Offering Burt Humburg, a resident in internal medicine at Penn State's Hershey Medical Center and a dedicated defender of evolution education in Kansas, Minnesota, and now Pennsylvania, as a role model, Costello concludes, "It is time for the medical community, through the initiative of individual physicians, to address not only how one can heal thy patient, but also how one can heal thy nation." Costello is the executive director of communications and public affairs for the Stanford University School of Medicine.