Sunday, May 21, 2006

Pres. Bush not anti-science

I just listened to a lecture from Judith Auerbach, a spokesman for the AIDS lobby. She complained about how Pres. Bush was anti-science.

She ranted about suppressions and distortions of science, undermining science, and scientists being overruled by ideological and political considerations.

I am very pro-science, so this would be disturbing to me if true. But there is very little substance to her gripes.

She complained about this CDC article on male latext condoms. It says that condoms are not 100% effective in preventing disease, whereas she thought that it should say that condoms are 95% effective.

She also suggested the following CDC letter is more of an ideological statement than a scientific statement:
The surest way to avoid transmission of sexually transmitted diseases is to abstain from sexual intercourse, or to be in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested and you know is uninfected.
She did not say that the statement is false. Her objection was that it was symptomatic of an erosion of an evidence-based policy for harm reduction.

What she means is that if a panel of distinguished scientists say that the best way to reduce the spread of AIDS in Africa is to hand out condoms and syringes, then that is what the president should do.

The trouble with her and other scientists who sing this tune is that they confuse science with policy. What if the most effective way to reduce the spread of AIDS were to test everyone for HIV and tatoo everyone who tests positive? The panel of scientists would reject the idea for political reasons.

These scientific advisors are not just doing science; they are making political judgments when they recommend a policy. There are people who object to promoting condoms, syringes, and tatoos for various reasons, and it seems reasonable for our govt to choose a less objectionable policy.

I may or may not agree with Bush's condom policy. I don't know enough to have an opinion. But I do think that scientists are being a little dishonest when they argue that scientists should be making policy decisions and pretend that they are scientific decisions.

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