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  • Fiona McNeill

Exhausted but Relieved

This week has been exhausting. The pandemic is a constant stress. I am worried about my family in Europe. They are back in full lockdown. Then the slow motion roll-out of election results in the USA was excruciating. It drained the last of my energy reserves.

Scientists are people. We live in the real world, not just in our labs. We are affected by what is going on around us. I have been anxious since Tuesday. I hit the refresh button on the New York Times election poll tracker more times this week than I care to admit.

Science research also does not happen in a vacuum. Funding, communication, permissions, student recruitment and collaborations all depend on the government in power. Worst of all, policy goals can be pushed down and forced on science and scientists by politicians.

I lived in the USA for four years. I am now a next-door neighbour. I hugely admire some aspects of American science. They are a country that is willing and able to take on grand challenges. They went to the moon. They eradicated polio within the nation.

I have worked with the US Centers for Disease Control. Their state-of-science documents like the Toxicology Profile for Lead are a lodestone for my students. This 400 page document is a careful summary of the known health effects of lead. To watch the CDC's (and other protection agencies') work be slowly degraded, shutdown or muzzled has been difficult. To see protection laws overturned has been frightening. I have worried so much that health gains from reduced lead exposure will be lost.

We cannot live safely in a world without accurate knowledge. I see a glimmer of hope that science-based policy may return.

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