A column titled "Vaccines, school contamination and the science of complex systems" appeared in the Feb. 13 edition of the Winston-Salem Journal.
The recent national focus on childhood vaccination coincided in Winston-Salem with a debate about whether to close two schools situated above contaminated soil. The two issues offer a case study in how to use science in individual decision making and public policy.
Professor Pranab Das in the Department of Physics writes that the vaccine question is a relatively simple one in which settled science is wrongly ignored by parents. By contrast, complex systems such as the health effects of pollution, require such diligent and extensive research that it would be foolish to keep the schools open pending the acquisition and analysis of better data.
Das is currently on sabbatical leave with support from Elon and the John Templeton Foundation to study emergence in complex systems.