Stories of Science Gone Wrong: Paul Offit Discusses His New Book

Susan B. Yox; Paul A. Offit, MD


June 12, 2017

Paul A. Offit, MD, one of Medscape's Infectious Disease advisors and an accomplished author, just wrote a new book, Pandora's Lab: Seven Stories of Science Gone Wrong. In a recent phone call with Dr Offit, Susan Yox of Medscape had a wide-ranging discussion with the author about some of the many interesting topics in the book.

Scientific Inventions Are Not Always Positive

Medscape: I just finished reading your book last night, and I found it totally fascinating. Would you tell our readers a little bit about the context for the book? I am wondering how the seven topics were chosen.

Paul A. Offit, MD

Dr Offit: The genesis of this was that my son and I went to an exhibition at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, called "101 Inventions That Changed the World." And two of the inventions were gunpowder and atomic energy—which was a little surprising, because you could argue that they have done harm at some level. So we thought that maybe we should have an exhibit of 101 inventions that changed the world for the worse. This got us to talking, as my son is a science writer.

After that, whenever I would give a talk in front of such groups as clinicians, scientists, or others, I would ask them whether they wouldn't mind if they could just email me their top 10 scientific inventions that changed the world for the worse. I got many. And what you read in this book are the seven finalists.

Medscape: Were there any rules for what made the cut?

Dr Offit: The rules were that the invention was preferably made by a single person, for which he or she got a lot of scientific and public acclaim. Then the invention ended up doing a lot of harm. The more harm, then the higher the topic went on the list.