An ad for radium-laced cooking utensils

Here's to your health! I liked scientist and blogger Danielle Lee's take on this ad, others like it, and the history that they represent.

They teach us about how we as a society respond — eagerly — with the prospect of a new innovation, any, especially if it solves a problem. Today we know that Radium is dangerous. So why were these sold to the public before it was thoroughly vetted first? Well, it was vetted – to the best of science's ability then. And as a result of the new info & mistake discovered hindsight, we change course. But let's be clear – SCIENCE isn't the reason for this ad or marketing this product as the best thing ever. That's ECONOMICS. Often, the beef people have with innovation is due to the marketing and politics surrounding how society (we) will use them. The discovery itself isn't usually problematic. Just things to keep in mind as we continue to debate next steps in navigating life on this shrinking planet.

That said, I'd add that it's even more important to remember that science is part and parcel with society, not something forced upon society or something distinct from it. The two are inextricably intertwined. So a scientific discovery is also economic opportunity and societies decide how they'll use the thing in both those contexts and more. In reality, you can't really look at something like this and blame it on SCIENCE or ECONOMICS. Instead, we make mistakes like radium silverware together, as part of a process where society shapes science and then science shapes society and back again. The important thing is being willing to pay attention to the results, notice and acknowledge when we've made a wrong choice, and make sure a correction gets made.

Thanks to Greg Laden