I’ve been invited to design a very rough draft for a course on Science and Public Policy over the next couple of weeks. It would be an elective course and, since the course won’t have been offered previously at this university, it is uncertain which students would attend – it might attract students from the sciences who would like to learn more about communicating to policy makers, or students from the social sciences and humanities who would like to learn more about science, or some combination of the two.
I’m looking forward to designing the course, and would appreciate any suggestions for topics and/or readings appropriate to undergraduate students in their second year or higher.
While I’m thinking about popular perceptions of science, I wanted to pass along this anecdote, from an Australian morning TV show – Channel Ten’s 9 a.m. with David and Kim.
The show was discussing the recent British clinical trial of TGN1412, an immunomodulator developed by TeGenero. The trial, organised by PAREXEL, recruited eight volunteers, of whom six received TGN1412, while the remaining two received a placebo. Although the drug had appeared safe in animal trials, including primate trials, all who received TGN1412 during the human trial rapidly became critically ill. The incident has sparked an intensive review of this clinical trial, as well as questions about the protocols for human clinical trials more generally.
On 23 March, Dr. David Ritchie had been invited to explain the trial to the morning show audience. After hearing Dr. Ritchie’s breakdown of the trial, host David Reyne was apparently confused why, given the life-threatening reactions experienced by six trial participants, the two participants who had received the placebo fared so well. As ABC’s MediaWatch reports:
David Reyne: Some of these guys were given a placebo.
Dr. David Ritchie: Correct
David Reyne: I don’t really understand what a placebo is, but it seems to have, to have saved them! And wouldn’t it make sense that every time a trial like this takes place, that there’s a placebo on hand.
@” Channel 10, 9am with David and Kim, 23rd March, 2006, quoted by MediaWatch
Dr. Ritchie does eventually set things right – you can check the transcript or the video to see how.