Undark: You’re a scientist, you talk about these datasets and policy based on evidence. So, is it working? You’ve given some very positive examples, but I wonder if the issue is just that when we turn on the TV, the news is terrible.
David Hemenway: No, things have gotten worse in the United States. More people are carrying guns, there’s more military weapons out there, gun ownership rates have increased a little bit. A lot of bad things are happening. Politically, it’s been very hard because one of our two parties is aligned with the gun lobby. So it’s hard. But what I would say, from a public health standpoint, is that there’s a lot of good things happening, but also, that there’s been so many successes in public health over the last 150 years.
From the sanitation revolution in the 1800s, to immunizations, to the United States reducing smoking, you name it — there are so many good things. But all of these things took a long time. Even getting physicians to wash their hands took about 20 years before they would do that.
But people who believe in public health have pushed and pushed and pushed until suddenly things tip. It’s three steps forward, two steps back, but it’s always been, overall, this incredible movement toward having richer, happier lives.