Scientific data suppressed for dogma?

As a graduate of MIT and Harvard Business Schools, two institutions noted for doing empirical, statistically-valid research in their areas, I like the idea of data. Science is cool. You can actually tell things about the way the world works. This isn’t the same thing at all as believing how the world works, however.

Beliefs are nothing more than things we don’t question. When things fit our beliefs, they feel familiar. When they feel familiar, we feel safe and secure. Beliefs don’t affect the underlying reality one iota, though they certainly affect our behavior (and possibly our health, but that’s for the placebo researchers to document).

You see, the cool thing about science is that although it has its share of politics, it’s about finding out how the world works, independent of our beliefs. We can believe the world is flat. We can believe heavy objects fall faster than light objects. Scientists can point out that the empirical, measurable, repeatable observations are not consistent with our beliefs. We can then change our beliefs or hang the scientists. Hanging the scientists has, until the latter 20th centery, often been the popular choice.

And now, it seems it’s happening again. Yesterday, the Union of Concerned Scientists—a decades-old MIT-founded society with 100,000 members concerned with seeing scientific data used properly in policy—released a report.

Policy-makers generally start with facts and then argue about how to best respond to those facts. For example, let’s say that a study shows that bussing promotes racial integration as measured by the racial diversity of a schoolchild’s friends. We can argue about whether we want our children bussed around, but it’s important to have that argument with our hands on whatever data we have that we can use to understand the implications of our policies. (By the way, this is a made-up example. I have no idea about bussing whatsoever.)

The UCS’s document, heavily footnoted with all references and supporting sources included, concludes that the Bush Administration has been suppressing the data before it even makes it to conversation. That’s extra-bad, because without the data, intelligent policy can’t be made by anyone on any of the related topics. (Not to mention that we look like fools to the rest of the first world, whose scientists aren’t suppressed by the government.)

One example:

The document says the CDC (Center for Disease Control’s) website used to mention several studies that show abstinance-based sex education simply doesn’t reduce teenage pregnancy or sex. No matter how much people want to believe it does, it doesn’t. In fact, studies show regular sex education may reduce or delay teens becoming sexual, while abstinance-based education may be linked to higher rates of teenage male sexuality. After the Bush administration took over, the CDC, the Govt’s supposedly trustworthy source for medical information, replaced its content with a vague discussion of epistemology talking about how condoms don’t work all that well. No mention of studies, science, or any of that unpleasant fact-based stuff.

It’s scary. Very scary. So scary that the people I’ve told all have the same reaction: “Nonsense. That couldn’t happen in America. Surely someone would have publicized it by now.” Well, Ladies and Gentlemen, no one has. Until now, and it’s barely getting a mention in the press.

Go read the document for yourself. Tell your friends. If science is suppressed, if the proper use of facts is suppressed, then democracy suffers. Please take the time to spread the word.

Suppressions of scientific data for dogma

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