- - Thursday, May 4, 2017


Politics and science do not mix.

When lawmakers make policy that affects the lives of American citizens, it should always be in favor of the solution supported by research and the scientific community, not by convenience or, say, the personal timetable of a member of “The Resistance.”

That is why I have grave concerns about the Over the Counter Hearing Aid Act of 2017, sponsored by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with several of her colleagues.

The goal of this legislation is to make hearing aids more easily available, but it does so at the expense of scientific evaluations and treatments.

This bill throws out the requirement that patients be evaluated, diagnosed and properly treated for their hearing loss.

This is not a slight headache (or earache, to be exact) for millions of Americans: It is a potentially serious medical condition.

I have no doubt about the political benefit of telling patients you want to make it easier for them to get hearing aids. That promise is a clever talking point, but the reality is that doing so ignores the expertise of medical professionals.

Senators are not aware of how to diagnose the three distinctive types of hearing loss.

Ms. Warren is a politician and a former Harvard Law School professor. She is not a doctor; nor is she, her Native American roots notwithstanding, anything close to a medicine woman.

If I am wrong, all I ask is for Ms. Warren to demonstrate — consistently and accurately — how to spot the additional symptoms of hearing loss, which only specialists can characterize.

This rule applies to almost all politicians, as they do not know how to treat any level of hearing loss, even though they have no reluctance to act as if they can.

This legislation ignores the expertise of audiologists, scientists trained in identifying and treating hearing loss, and places all responsibilities on patients.

Just like politicians, the average American is not going to know the multiple dangers of improperly treating his hearing loss, but this bill pushes aside the expertise of those that do.

We know, because medical research tells us, that there are serious consequences if hearing loss goes untreated.

People become less productive, they may become isolated, or they may even lose their cognitive abilities that allow them to do simple things like keeping their balance.

The toughest part of preventing these deteriorations is not simply selecting the best color of hearing aid to match your hair color, or accessorizing your hearing aid with your glasses or clothes.

The human ear is a complex part of the human body, unique to everyone.

This one-size-fits-all approach is as silly as it is dangerous. Hearing aids should be fitted to each patient, so every person can go about his day in comfort. And each hearing aid must have the right sound level to match each patient’s degree of hearing loss.

If an individual uses a hearing aid with the wrong sound level, that person risks causing further — and permanent — damage to his hearing.

Research exists so we are able understand complex challenges, and it allows us to make the right decisions to address them.

That is the essence of the scientific method: To ensure a test agrees with experiment, because in the words of the late Richard Feynman, “It doesn’t matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are. If it doesn’t agree with experiment, it’s wrong.”

Try telling Ms. Warren that her legislation is none of those things.

Try telling the supporters of this bill about Mr. Feynman’s comment about “how hard it is to get to really know something, how careful you have to be about checking the experiments, how easy it is to make mistakes and fool yourself.”

Tell them you know what it means to know something and therefore, you see how they get their information and you can’t believe that they know it.

The information on hearing loss is abundant. It is extensive; it is the subject of many peer-reviewed studies; it is the result of oversight, testing, and more testing by specialists, some of whom have dedicated their lives to this discipline.

The experts know these facts because they have the training, the certifications and the formal schooling necessary to diagnose and treat hearing loss.

Our politicians should be listening to these professionals when it comes to legislating for them, not against them.

Now is not the time for Ms. Warren and her colleagues to have a sudden case of deafness of any kind.

• Michael D. Shaw, a biochemist and protegee of Willard Libby, the 1960 winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, lives in Northern Virginia.

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