As some of you may be aware, this year the U.S. Congress finally passed the Zadroga Act which will compensate the first responders to the 9/11 attack as well as those that worked at the site for the following months for medical problems arising as a result of their efforts.

A sticking point has been that anyone filing claims must be able to demonstrate that any cancers are a direct result of their exposure at ground zero.

Needless to say, a recent study which has found no causal link to cancers has created some controversy.

The problem here is that science is being used in a manner that simply politicizes it and compromises scientific integrity.  The author goes on to decry how politicians and others are putting emotions ahead of science by arguing against the evidence.  He goes on to lament the amount of money involved and once again plays the "science card"
But the bill, which came with a hefty $4.3 billion price tag, passed only after proponents agreed to the utterly reasonable requirement that compensation for cancer be justified by a causal link.

"Pressuring scientists for different results stinks of exploitation of the country's appropriate goodwill towards New York after 9/11."
So, we are left with the sense that the science is conclusive.  Done deal.  

Except that it's not.
However, the report also said that "does not indicate evidence of the absence of a causal association."

Also, it said proving a causal connection is challenging since cancer is "not a rare disease."
So, the net effect of this "ruling" is that even though science cannot conclusively demonstrate the lack of a connection, and that causal connections are difficult to prove, the prudent thing to do is to deny claims unless the claimant can prove what science can't.  So what we have is a clear incident of incomplete science being used to set public policy.

So, while scientifically we may argue that "lack of evidence is not evidence of absence", it is equally obvious that in politics the "lack of evidence" means we can draw whichever conclusion is most convenient.  Take note, that my complaint is not about the science.  Rather it is about a society that is so concerned about compensating individuals medical expenses, lest it be discovered that someone got cancer in an unapproved manner.
When the particular health effect is highly prevalent in the population, it takes more effort to distinguish causation arising from just one type of exposure. As stated above, because cancer is not a rare disease in the United States, many cases of cancer are expected to occur in any subset of the American population, regardless of exposures resulting from the terrorist attacks. Observing a disproportionate number of cases of cancer than the number expected would be an important finding in WTC cancer studies.
Nicely played, Congress.


NOTE: The issue here is ultimately not about science, but rather how public policy is established using science to fix a particular agenda.  It would certainly be more relevant if exceptionally large amounts of money were involved, but to have a limited medical cost which is less than that spent annually on providing medical care for Federal inmates in prison, seems like a poor rationalization.

Also, note that for those that think this is still a "goodwill" gesture by the American government, bear in mind that it took over 9 years to address this problem (for all medical problems) and the "honor" that we have bestowed on these volunteers is the requirement that they demonstrate that they aren't terrorists before they can file a claim.

All this, from the same people that assured everyone that there was no air quality/contamination problem at the WTC site.