1. Kennedy, Maureen Shawn MA, RN, FAAN


Recent actions show lawmakers-and the public-are ignoring the evidence.


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As I write this, Australia continues to burn in wildfires that began in November and, as of January 21, have destroyed more than 24 million acres of land. Recent fire seasons in the western United States have set new records: the 2018 Camp Fire was one of the most costly and deadliest in California's history. These are the real effects of climate change.

Figure. Maureen Shaw... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. Maureen Shawn Kennedy

All the evidence for global warming points to the burning of fossil fuels and increased levels of carbon dioxide as major contributing factors, yet this evidence has been dismissed by the current administration. We continue to witness the weakening of laws designed to protect our environment. The Silencing Science Tracker-a joint initiative of Columbia University's Sabin Center for Climate Change Law and the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund that "tracks government attempts to restrict or prohibit scientific research, education or discussion"-notes there have been 287 government attacks on science since the 2016 election. These range from budget cuts and eliminating scientific advisory boards to removing websites that illustrate the negative effects of climate change.


But it's not just climate science that's being ignored by policymakers: local governments are introducing bills permitting (and in one case, mandating) treatments that are not medically feasible and which go against the recommendations of health professionals. In November, the Ohio legislature introduced a bill calling for the filing of criminal charges against physicians who didn't take "all possible steps to preserve the life of the unborn child, while preserving the life of the woman," including "attempting to reimplant an ectopic pregnancy into the woman's uterus." There is no scientific evidence to support reimplanting the fetus and the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology study claiming such success was retracted as fraudulent-the author apparently made up the case.


In Florida, a federal district court judge has reversed a Tampa ban on conversion therapy. And in Florida's state legislature, lawmakers introduced a bill to prohibit conversion therapy but only for minors under 18 years of age. Designed to "treat" homosexuality, conversion therapy has been debunked by the scientific community as unsound and often harmful. It employs avoidance interventions, including chemically induced nausea and electric shock, to reorient one's sexual preference away from an attraction to the same sex. Medical associations do not support such therapy, and in its opposition, the American Medical Association has noted, "Underlying these techniques are the assumptions that homosexuality and gender identity are mental disorders and that sexual orientation and gender identity can be changed. These assumptions are not based on medical and scientific evidence."


The disregard for scientific evidence about vaccines has been especially concerning. The evidence for the benefits of vaccines in protecting the individual as well as the public at large has been reaffirmed in study after study. Fueled by erroneous claims spread by uninformed or extremist groups and websites, so-called anti-vaxxers refuse to believe the evidence. Witness the recent measles outbreaks that sickened more than 1,200 people in 17 states, the highest number of annual cases since 1992. Eighty-six percent of cases occurred in close-knit communities that were reluctant to be immunized.


And there is no indication that things will improve-a recent Gallup poll finds that 10% fewer Americans today than 20 years ago think vaccination is important. When asked "How important is it that parents get their children vaccinated," 84% of respondents in 2019 said it was important or very important compared with 94% in 2001. What will the future look like if more and more people are unvaccinated? Will we see a return of polio and smallpox?


We are living in an age where facts are being replaced by unfounded beliefs; easy access to online information makes it difficult to discern fact from fiction-or downright lies. If there was ever a need for education on the science of health, it's now. Nurses are once again at the top of the Gallup poll's list of honest and ethical professionals. Let's make use of that reputation and educate the public at every encounter.