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Environ Health Perspect. 2003 Nov;111(14):1804-8.

Science and social responsibility in public health.

Author information

  • 1Office of Preventive Oncology, Division of Cancer Prevention, National Cancer Institute, Rockville, Maryland 20852, USA. dw102i@nih.gov

Abstract

Epidemiologists and environmental health researchers have a joint responsibility to acquire scientific knowledge that matters to public health and to apply the knowledge gained in public health practice. We examine the nature and source of these social responsibilities, discuss a debate in the epidemiological literature on roles and responsibilities, and cite approaches to environmental justice as reflective of them. At one level, responsibility refers to accountability, as in being responsible for actions taken. A deeper meaning of responsibility corresponds to commitment to the pursuit and achievement of a valued end. Epidemiologists are committed to the scientific study of health and disease in human populations and to the application of scientific knowledge to improve the public's health. Responsibility is also closely linked to reliability. Responsible professionals reliably perform the tasks they set for themselves as well as the tasks society expects them to undertake. The defining axiom for our approach is that the health of the public is a social good we commit ourselves to pursue, thus assuming an obligation to contribute to its achievement. Epidemiologists cannot claim to be committed to public health as a social good and not accept the responsibility of ensuring that the knowledge gained in their roles as scientists is used to achieve that good. The social responsibilities of environmental health researchers are conspicuous in the environmental justice movement, for example, in community-based participatory research. Responsibility is an ethical concept particularly well suited to frame many key aspects of the ethics of our profession.

PMID:
14602514
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
PMCID:
PMC1241728
Free PMC Article
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