This past week was one of the most exciting for me in the last couple of years. I participated in two top notch global events. The Clobal Climate and Health Forum (GCHF) in San Francisco, and the European Respiratory Society Congress (ERS) in Paris - practically back to back.
Today in Paris was "no car day", which framed nicely, what I was
anticipating to be an super exciting event @ ERS - the Symposium Air
pollution and transplantation: near to one's heart and lungs!
(catchy title) Co-chaired by Prof. Dr. Bart Vanaudenaerde (Leuven,
Belgium) and Prof. Dr. Christophe Pison (Grenoble, France) two
prominent researchers on lung transplant consequences. The
presenting faculty were: Prof. Frank Kelly (Professor of
Environmental Health @ Kings College London) who delivered a
fantastic talk Linking ambient particulate matter pollution
effects with oxidative biology and immune responses, Prof. Paul
Cullinan (Professor in Occupational and Environmental Respiratory
Disease at the National Heart and Lung Institute UK) elucidating
Epidemiological evidence for air pollution being a risk factor for
transplant failure and Prof. Valerie Siroux (La Tronche, France)
sharing a brilliantly structured talk on Air pollution and
Respiratory health: epidemiological evidences and clinical
implications. Each talk in itself could have easily been a "raison d'être" for a action
on air pollution, but each of the presentations ended in low-key
"more data is required". This in front of an audience of less than
20 participants in a Congress with over 20 000 registered
specialists with a self identified dedication to lung health?!?
The above sharply contrasted from the sentiment I had sensed @ CGHF, where over 250 environmental scientists, including urban planners and public health professionals were barely contained in the auditorium at UCSF sounding urgent and highly concerned (using many of the same sources of published and peer-reviewed literature).
This prompted my question and comments on how we are presenting the facts to the very people (pulmonologists) who should lead the public health debate around air-pollution - given the nature of their organ-related expertise and declared prophylactic foundation of the practice of medicine. Prof. Cullinan rebutted that this is a scientific meeting (not an activist gathering - I would presume as his unfinished comment), and Prof. Kelly added that in another situation he could be more insistent on the topic (obviously ERS was not perceived as the right place to sound an unequivocal expert warning of the health consequences of air-pollution). To add insult to injury, neither seemed eager to further discuss the topic or engage in a longer term professional dialogue on communicating the health risks to the wider professional audience of the ERS membership.
My hope, that experts of the global caliber of Prof. Kelly and Cullinan, with decades of highly scientific endeavors in the field of air quality and health, would embrace a proposal for effective communication, were dashed, with the undeclared innuendo that science is not about emotions.
I believe that we should not extract emotion from data to make it seem or sound more "scientific", we rather need to add all available data to our intrinsic passion to make it good science that effects meaningful change. Seven million reasons each year are hoping for this, while our colleagues are suffering from dwindling attention spans induced by information overload.
Politicians are polarizing most debates (driving a wedge in many topics including air-quality). Science and its communication is the only countermeasure available, though rarely used effectively as perceived by me above. Not bland data just short of the limit of discernible significance rather Science with the expressed passion for doing the right thing, for current and future generations.
Dr. Alex Simidchiev MD, MPH
Air4Health - Bulgaria