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For the Public Good: Highlights from the Institute of Medicine, 1970–1995
Science policy is not exempt from such strictures. I can remember vividly when the emerging discipline of biochemistry was viewed with suspicion by chemists as “weak chemistry” and by biologists as “weak biology.” Today this hybrid discipline has flowered into molecular biology and has become the central discipline of biomedical research. A few decades ago, many leaders in medicine were highly skeptical about the future of genetics. Today genetics is one of the most dynamic areas of biomedical research and has growing clinical uses. Similarly, the conventional wisdom of that era discouraged investigation of neuroendocrinology and neurochemistry, and scoffed at the idea of the brain controlling the circulation. Even more, that misguided wisdom discouraged the scientific study of behavior in its own right, especially psychosocial aspects of behavior. When it comes to any central dogma in science policy, modesty becomes us.
A very wide spectrum of research is needed to meet long-range health problems. We are now entering an era during which we will evaluate the extent to which scientific methods can be brought to bear on the entire range of factors that affect and determine health and delineate well-tested diagnostic, therapeutic, and preventive interventions. This requires excellent basic science at every level of biological organization, a dynamic interplay between basic and applied science, a widening of horizons to include new or neglected lines of inquiry, and an enduring commitment to the scientific study of human behavior.
The IOM's reports have presented informed assessments by committees composed of leaders in the biomedical and behavioral sciences that integrate information from many disciplines, both basic and clinical. They have highlighted promising lines of scientific inquiry pertinent to understanding, treating, and preventing behavior-related components of the burden of illness. They have dealt with diverse problems including smoking, alcohol and drug abuse, stress, aging, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, mental disorders, sleep, work force and work-related issues, and the connection between social and economic disadvantages and health. They indicate ways in which developmental influences during childhood and adolescence can shape healthy habits that can last a lifetime. They also show how a broadening of our understanding of the life sciences in the context of health and behavior can have a profound impact on the quality of health—and life—of the public in the next century.