A New Model for Activist-Scientist Alliances

public meeting

During the early 1990s, breast cancer activists felt frustrated. After decades of the war on cancer, breast cancer rates were still on the rise. With the focus on detection and treatment, few resources were dedicated to finding the causes of breast cancer and ways to prevent the disease. And women felt shut out of the scientific discourse.

Demanding change, activists on Long Island, New York, won federal money for a breast cancer study there. In Marin County, California, activists and scientists began meeting to deconstruct whether established risk factors could explain higher incidence. And in Massachusetts, members of the Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition decided they needed a laboratory of their own and created Silent Spring Institute.

Such rich alliances can become models and wellsprings for action not only for breast cancer, but also for environmental health more broadly. The policy innovations of the breast cancer movement in more recent years will drive scientific innovation in the years to come, in part because the questions raised by activists are ones for which existing research tools are inadequate.

Today, Silent Spring Institute provides a forum in which activists and scientists share their concerns and insights to create a common research agenda. The Institute publishes in peer-reviewed journals, and its scientists advise activists and policymakers on issues as diverse as parabens in cosmetics and flame retardants in furniture and home electronics.

The blending of activist-driven research questions with scientific rigor has yielded important firsts that have advanced our understanding of links between the environment and health. Silent Spring Institute continues to work with its activist partners to create a safer environment by encouraging precautionary practices. Together we hope to achieve a healthier world.