Thursday, April 15, 2010

Dishonesty: Thy Name is Good Intentions

Maternal death during childbirth has been almost eradicated in the United States, where for every 100,000 births only about 9 women die.

According to a recent Lancet study funded by the Gates Foundation, the global rate is around 250 deaths per 100,000 births. This number, while high, is a stark improvement from 422 deaths per 100,000 births just 30 years ago.

So great news, right? The maternal death rate is falling quickly, thanks to "higher income, which improves nutrition and access to health care; more education for women; and the increasing availability of “skilled attendants” — people with some medical training." Wonderful.

However, not everyone wants to spread the good news:

[S]ome advocates for women’s health tried to pressure The Lancet into delaying publication of the new findings, fearing that good news would detract from the urgency of their cause, Dr. Horton said in a telephone interview.

“I think this is one of those instances when science and advocacy can conflict,” he said.

Dr. Horton said the advocates, whom he declined to name, wanted the new information held and released only after certain meetings about maternal and child health had already taken place.

He said the meetings included one at the United Nations this week, and another to be held in Washington in June, where advocates hope to win support for more foreign aid for maternal health from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

As usual, when science conflicts with advocacy, the advocates try to hide or distort the science with the best of intentions--they are, after all, trying to help people (ostensibly). But do the ends justify the means?

This story parallels nicely with the climate change debate. Skeptical scientists with contradicting data are marginalized and ignored by advocates and the media because they don't fit the message. After all, advocates think they are saving the world.

However, they have become slaves to their own message, no longer thinking or basing their arguments in fact, but pushing the message forward without regard to honesty or ethics. To them, the ends justify the means.

[via Freakonomics]

No comments:

Post a Comment