A toast to you, C. Everett Koop

Sombit Mishra

C. Everett Koop"You have to separate moral questions from the questions of science"*

C. Everett Koop

Former Surgeon General Dr. C. Everett Koop passed away this week at the age of 96. One of the most controversial surgeon generals in history, Koop vigorously defended both science and God, occasionally alienating both sides of the political aisle. In the 1990s, he became a prominent spokesperson for personal emergency response solutions, helping to put LifeAlert's panic button on the map and raising attention for the needs of older adults.

Koop's wisdom about science and morals still rings true today. Compared to 20 years ago, we have more data than we could have ever dreamed of. As a result though, we have to be even more careful to separate fact from fiction, and signal from noise. 

Data can tell many stories. To the ideologue, it confirms a pre-conceived bias. To the scientist, it reinforces but never proves a hypothesis. If we have any moral responsibility with data, especially "Big Data," it is that we must unrelentingly question and adapt our hypotheses to make progress.

Rest in peace, Dr. Koop.