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A Scientist’s Unscientific Misunderstanding of the Scope of Science

Here’s a letter to the New York Times:

Harvard Prof. Walter Willett, M.D., writes that “New York City’s plan to limit the serving size of soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages sold at restaurants, movie theaters and street carts is well justified by solid evidence” (Letters, June 2).

No it’s not.

Even if we grant Dr. Willett’s unscientific premise that Jones is right to arrogantly presume that Smith’s dietary choices are ‘wrong’ for Smith, the evidence that Dr. Willett mentions says absolutely nothing about the wisdom of deploying government power to interfere with Smith’s choices.

How likely is government to abuse its power to override individuals’ freedom of choice?  What unintended consequences might occur if government power is expanded?  And most importantly, how valuable to Smith – and to Smith’s fellow citizens – is Smith’s freedom to choose?  No amount of medical data, no matter how solid, addresses, and much less answers, these and similar vital questions about the proper role of government.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030