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Science and Society

Clifford Hudis, MD, FACP

03 Jun 2013 1:53 PM

The American Society of Clinical Oncology will mark its 50th year as an organization in 2014, during my term as your President. As I have thought about this upcoming year, I have tried to honor this milestone without using it as a sole focus for our organization.

It has always struck me as odd—a consequence of our use of a base 10 numbering system—that we attach so much importance to specific years. That practice appears to be magical, or even superstitious, and—in the era of modern science—therefore arbitrary and without real meaning. But it is also true that we have to pause, or at least slow down, and look around at our environment and ourselves from time to time to make sure we know what we aim to accomplish and that we are working optimally toward our agreed-upon goals. Clearly, this anniversary will be a good time to do just that. This will be one of several key opportunities I hope to pursue with you this year and will provide a backdrop for much of what we do, but it will not be the only point of reference for the year.

In 1964, when ASCO’s first leaders met, they sought to provide an educational and scientific forum for the fledging field of cancer treatment. The century before had been marked by ever-improving surgery (made possible by innumerable technical advances in technique and supportive care), as well as the introduction of radiation treatment and the first effective systemic agents. As the early advances against lymphomas, breast cancer, and testes cancer, to name but a few, were obtained, there was deserved optimism about the future promise of cancer treatment. In some areas, this optimism was matched by meaningful advances; in others, we have made less progress. In still others, the advances have been dramatic, perhaps unexpected, and built on scientific progress in novel and unanticipated areas of inquiry. This provides reason for even greater optimism, as well as a reminder that the path from point A to point B is sometimes circuitous and surprising.

At ASCO, it is clear that we cannot presume to know which scientific leads and lines of inquiry will result in improved outcomes for patients with cancer, but we can and must continue to provide a critical component of the infrastructure, or better yet, firmament, in which these advances are made. This brings me to the theme of my year, which will be “Science and Society.”

I confess that I have been thinking about this for years and for reasons that extend far beyond our field. I have been concerned with the problem of scientific literacy even in high-resource, well-educated populations. I have been alarmed by the acceptance of weak evidence when making important decisions within and beyond medicine, and I have been saddened by the increasingly limited resources that our public sector is able to apportion to scientific inquiry.

The book The Art and Politics of Science, by the Director of the National Cancer Institute Dr. Harold Varmus, is a good starting point for a discussion of the challenging interface between science and society, but the thread continues in the public debate we all see in the media over myriad issues. Picking up on Dr. Swain’s Presidential theme of “Building Bridges to Conquer Cancer,” I would like to see our membership constructively engaged at all levels in the joyful task of showing the world the good that science does for each of us, and what good science looks like.

I am especially driven to this goal by my excitement about the advances we are making in cancer treatment. The problem of malignancy has never been better understood than it is now, the number of thoughtful experiments to test rational interventions that capitalize on our growing understanding of all levels of biology has never been greater, and this provides not only the opportunity to re-engage all of society, but also the obligation to do so.

As we look back on our first 50 years, you will not see over-the-top flamboyant celebrations. As proud and pleased as we are with what we have collectively accomplished, the problem we confront and the reason we exist, is far too large, complex, and destructive—despite our advances—to allow us to rest on our laurels. Instead, I hope we will respectfully embrace the wonderful progress we have made, reflect on our continuing and evolving challenges, and aim ever higher.


Posted in: Interests

Comments

Number of Comments: 1
Dinesh Pendharkar

Wednesday, June 05, 2013 7:37 AM

Dr President has realy put a new important theme for all of us to work on.THis would help us the bridges.The issue is how to bring science to society at affordable cost so that people can benefit from its impact. I am sure we together can rsolve this dilemma as well.

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Clifford Hudis, MD, FACP