The Failure of Academic Dermatologists To Protect The Public
Why did this situation with sunscreens arise? Why was it only research scientists who repeatedly raised concerns about sunscreen safety? Why was the academic dermatology community silent?
Most of the academic community has a long tradition of informing the public about real and potential dangers to the wider social community. When I lived in Santa Barbara, Linus Pauling held a weekly protest in front of the Santa Barbara Library against the testing of nuclear weapons in the atmosphere. He continued his protests in spite of intense pressure from the US Government and covert campaigns of slander against him. In 1952, the State Department refused to renew Pauling's passport. The official reason was that his travels "would not be in the best interest of the United States". Pauling was unable to attend a meeting of the Royal Society in London which was called to honor him and to discuss his ideas about potential structures of DNA. Many felt that he missed the chance to be the first to unravel the structure of DNA because he wasn't able to confer with colleagues. Although issued a short term passport in the summer of 1952, Pauling's requests for passport renewals were routinely denied during the next two years.
Pauling eventually won the 1962 Nobel Peace Prize for his campaign and nuclear weapons testing in the atmosphere was terminated. But even today, in year 2002, a study by the Center for Disease Control estimated that the radioactive fallout from the atmospheric nuclear weapons tests caused about 11,000 deaths from cancer in the USA and produced a minimum of 22,000 new cancers. Some non-governmental groups are of the opinion that the deaths were far higher and still are responsible for 15,000 deaths yearly in the USA.
Many other academics have, in recent years, led protests against actions and policies that were damaging to the wider community. These include campaigns to remove chemical toxins from foods, clothes, building materials and the wider environment. Other concerns over global warming, species extinction, and global poverty have been sharply delineated by members of the academic community.
This raises the questions as to why no member of the academic dermatology community, over the past 30 years, raised warnings about the dangers of chemical sunscreens. The answer is that the cosmetic industry has effectively silenced leading academic dermatologists by a widespread pattern of payments in the form of consulting fees, grants, retainers, vacation arrangements, and so on. In essence, industry has bought their silence on issues and products that might be embarrassing. Most academic dermatologists focus their attention on innocuous, safe, non-controversial topics that will not offend their corporate sponsors. Like Dr. Faust, they must honor their agreements with their benefactors.