Do scientists overlook human nature?

Do scientists overlook human nature?

It’s about six months  since Angelina Jolie put faulty genes in the headlines. The news now is that, while her story increased awareness of breast cancer, it didn’t do much for the public’s understanding of breast cancer risk.

According to this article in Oncology Nurse Advisor, 75 per cent of 2,500 Americans surveyed were aware of Jolie’s story, but fewer than 10 per cent answered questions correctly about the BRCA gene mutation and overall risk of contracting the disease.

The paper’s lead author, Dina Borzekowski, said it felt like a missed opportunity to educate the public about a complex but rare health situation. But I think she may have misjudged the nature of the opportunity.

While they may not know the detail, most women are aware that there can be a connection between cancer and family history. And I’d guess that most of the women who have had relatives with breast cancer will fall into two broad groups – those who need to know, and have already unearthed every available scrap of information, and those who would rather not know and have, consciously or subconsciously, chosen to ignore it.

I’d also guess that most women who haven’t had close relatives with breast cancer would consider the story to be of no personal relevance.

Yes, I know these are sweeping generalisations and wild assumptions, but personal experience has taught me that some scientists and medical specialists get so tied up in their work that they overlook the role that human nature plays in the real world.

The information may be out there but that doesn’t mean everyone wants it.