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Tuesday, April 25, 2000

UH marine program
should be saved

Bullet The issue: The University of Hawaii-Manoa Marine Options Program is scheduled to be canceled unless $150,000 can be found.

Bullet Our view: The program is too valuable to be dropped for lack of such a small sum.

IT would take only $150,000 to keep the University of Hawaii-Manoa Marine Options Program alive. That's peanuts compared to the $50 million annual budget of the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, but the program is nevertheless going to be terminated as a victim of budget cuts.

The school's dean, C. Barry Raleigh, said its state funding is being cut by $1.5 million over three years. Because Marine Options isn't a core program, he explained, he can't continue it.

Yet the program has numerous supporters who maintain it should be saved -- among them Susan Scott, this newspaper's "Ocean Watch" columnist, who went through the program herself and considers it "essential to getting a good undergraduate marine education at UH."

Scott explains that UH does not offer a bachelor's degree in marine biology. The Marine Options Program fills the gap by requiring 12 credit hours of marine-related courses and completion of a marine skills project.

Tom Iwai, a state aquatic biologist who was the first student to receive a Marine Options certificate in 1972, said it "will be devastating to kids coming through the system" if the program is closed.

Bruce Smith, owner of Kahuku Shrimp Co., said he uses the program to obtain hatchery specialists for his shrimp-rearing operation. Since it began in 1971, about 10,000 students have gone through the program.

Marine Options director Sherwood Maynard said program offerings at UH-Hilo and community colleges can continue because they are funded by those campuses, but they look to the Manoa program for leadership and coordination. Maynard said he hopes that UH President Kenneth Mortimer will move the program to the College of Arts and Sciences, where presumably its prospects for survival would be better.

Whether or not that bureaucratic move would be the solution, it is hard to believe that the university would let a valued program die for lack of $150,000.

Colon cancer study
has experts stunned

Bullet The issue: Studies fail to confirm that eating low-fat, high-fiber foods can reduce the risk of colon cancer.

Bullet Our view: Decisions on health issues are often judgment calls based on incomplete knowledge.

THE world medical community learned last week that one of the most widely held beliefs about diet and health apparently isn't true. This is the contention that eating low-fat, high-fiber foods can reduce the risk of colon and rectal cancer.

The hypothesis linking fiber to a reduced risk of colon cancer originated in 1971. Dr. Denis Burkitt, a British medical missionary, noticed that poor rural Africans had much less colon cancer than affluent Westerners. Burkitt's explanation was that the Africans ate more fiber. Over the years, the theory gained wide acceptance although the evidence was conflicting at best.

But now two rigorously conducted studies involving thousands of people have failed to confirm the hypothesis. The studies found that neither a low-fat diet with much fiber, much of it from fruits and vegetables, nor eating extra fiber in the form of wheat bran reduced the risk of colon cancer.

The New York Times reported that experts on colon cancer were stunned. Dr. Barnett Kramer, deputy director of the division of cancer prevention at the National Cancer Institute, said the results showed "the need to rigorously put belief systems to the test."

That leaves the layman bewildered. If the experts don't know, how are we supposed to?

Health professionals say such confusion results from the willingness of scientists, the news media and the public to draw firm conclusions from a stew of often poorly conducted, contradictory and incomplete observations.

Science is not religion, but people have a need to believe in something -- even if that something is the validity of a scientific experiment rather than the existence of a deity. There is often a strong temptation to draw conclusions beyond what the facts warrant.

Daniel Q. Haney, the Associated Press' medical editor, notes that "over and over, the conventional medical wisdom collapses under the weight of new evidence."

Haney cites the change of medical opinion about salt, eggs and estrogen. He writes, "Now it is pretty clear that salt is not an important cause of high blood pressure. Most people probably can eat an egg for breakfast without triggering a heart attack.

"And estrogen? No one really knows how that will turn out, but there is doubt about the long-accepted assumption that it keeps the heart working smoothly after menopause."

The trouble is, science can be a messy process. It's unlikely that a single study can give the ultimate answer to a health question. People can't wait for that final answer. They have to make decisions immediately or in the near future. But in the absence of certainty such decisions are still judgment calls.

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John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

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Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

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A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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