BY DR. KEVORK ABAZAJIAN
Science has much to contribute to the formation of public policy that benefits us all. We have seen this in everything from regulations maintaining safe drinking water to ones that allow for safe aviation.
As scientists interested in effective policy, it is particularly disheartening to see the implementation of the ban on travel of nationals from seven Muslim-majority nations as a purported way to keep Americans safe. Since September 11, 2001, there have been 94 people killed in America due to jihadist terrorism. The attackers were all either American citizens or legal residents. Over half of the murders were victims of the Orlando night club massacre, where forty-nine people were killed at the hands of a citizen born in Long Island. None were committed by refugees. Such a ban, which is arguably based on racism and exclusion, clearly misses the mark in trying to protect Americans.
Of course, anything above zero in terrorist acts is unacceptable. The number of Americans killed by terrorist acts, about 6 per year, has to be put in context, however. The number of Americans killed by gun violence annually is nearly 12,000. Seven children and teens are killed by gun violence every day. The number of Americans killed in automobile accidents tops 35,000. Both gun laws and car safety policy cause these rates to be reduced. Certainly, the evidence shows that more can be done in those directions given the enormous risks involved.
Meanwhile, there is a concerted effort now by Congress and the Trump administration to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA or Obamacare). The outright repeal would force 20 million or more Americans to lose insurance coverage. Professors of Public Health who have studied the effect of insurance rates have found that one life is saved per 455 people insured per year. The repeal of ACA therefore translates to the deaths of over 43,000 Americans per year. The Public Health professors are experts, and there has been no substantive counter-analysis of this potential impact. Even if the analysis inaccurate by a factor of ten, the impact on the health and lives of Americans from the repeal of ACA is immense, leading to the preventable deaths of thousands of Americans per year.
As a society, we have limited resources and we need to put them where they are most effective. Science helps guide us to effective policies that can have the greatest impact, and this entails having more representation by those that understand scientific, evidence-based policies.