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Why scare stories are good for the NHS

BMJ 2002; 324 doi: (Published 20 April 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;324:984
  1. Fay Weldon, writer and novelist

    Alas, the interests of the government, the people, and the scientists—let alone the general practitioners and their patients—merely overlap: they do not coincide. All kinds of trouble, rancour, and misunderstanding breed in the margins. I came to this conclusion as I sat on a platform recently, at a meeting called by the Royal Society the better to engage with the general public: the subject—“Do we trust today's scientists?”

    If it weren't for the headlines, the pics, the family interviews … wouldn't things in the NHS be worse?

    The answer given by the public (or those who bothered to turn up; scarcely a random sample, though we could at least be sure they weren't just there for the beer—only cranberry juice was served at lunch) was a fairly resounding no. The reasons for their mistrust were various. Some blamed the scientists for engaging in hot headed schemes such as the cloning of human babies, the invention of the atom bomb, and the development of genetic crops. Others thought the government's tradition of getting things wrong—for example, foot and mouth disease, BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy)—on the basis of expert scientific advice was …

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