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Wanted: Nancy Snyderman reflects on Ebola and calls for commitment to science literacy

fever_pitch_mainTwo years ago, Nancy Snyderman, MD, was the subject of "wanted" posters placed around her New Jersey home town. Was she a bank robber? A kidnapper? No, she was a physician-journalist who had just returned from covering Ebola in West Africa.

The sign emblematized the rampant fear, boiling over into panic, that had overtaken Americans -- and their political leaders -- in the midst of the epidemic.

Snyderman had assessed her personal risk using her knowledge of disease transmission and by relying on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But many Americans had assessed risk by relying on social and traditional media, with a dash of hysteria thrown in.

That reaction, as well as the current treatment of Zika, bodes ill for our country, Snyderman writes in a thought-provoking essay in the fall issue of Stanford Medicine magazine:

We are becoming a scientifically illiterate nation, and rising populism fuels distrust of our nation's scientists and revered institutions. Politicians add to the mess by denying evolution, vaccine safety and climate change. Our failure to address Ebola and Zika with a sound scientific discourse hurts us far beyond these two outbreaks. It does nothing to quell the anti-science, anti-immunization zeitgeist, which puts our vaccination programs at further risk and chips away at our public health system.

Viruses don't care about walls, or bad politics, or frightening rhetoric. The next viral outbreak that Americans have never heard about is just around the corner. We can't afford to let good science, public safety and global health be hijacked by politics. The public has a right to accurate information, rather than fear-mongering. Physicians who serve in Congress need to be better leaders, and the press has a responsibility to push for truth and follow the science. Science is not linear, and the scientific process can be messy -- just like democracy. And that makes our collective responsibility all the more important.

The entire piece is worth a read.

Previously: The slippery slope toward "a dangerous dependence on facts", Zika outbreak shares key traits with Ebola crisis, Stanford experts point out and From bedside to patient: an Ebola survivor's remarkable journey
Photo courtesy of Nancy Snyderman

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