Bush Appointees Blocked Health Report Release:

Today's Washington Post reports that political appointees in the Bush Administration blocked the publication of a 2006 Surgeon General's report on global health. As the Post reports, in recent Congressional testimony Carmona cited the report's "suppression as an example of the Bush administration's frequent efforts during his tenure to give scientific documents a political twist." This episode is part of a broader narrative that the Bush Administration systematically distorts and politicizes science for ideological reasons. The problem is that the facts of this episode do not support Carmona's charge nor the larger narrative.

The draft report at issue here was not a purely scientific or medical document — not even close. The report, The Surgeon's General Call to Action on Global Health, is as much a policy document as anything else, complete with specific policy recommendations on a range of issues. Among other things, the report calls for ratification of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, and the acceptance of certain international health regulations. Whether or not these are sensible health policy prescriptions or not, they reflect normative value judgments, not scientific judgments.

My point here is not to defend the Bush Administration, nor is it to suggest that the report should have been withheld. Rather it is that many cases of "science politicization" are in fact policy disputes. The Post's subhead reads "Global Health Draft In 2006 Rejected for Not Being Political," yet the report itself was an inherently political document. The dispute between Carmona and Bush officials was about the extent to which a policy report should reflect, endorse, or promote Bush Administration policy. It was not an instance of politics or ideology trumping science. If the Administration is to be criticized for blocking the release of The Surgeon's General Call to Action on Global Health, it should be criticized on policy grounds — for opposing particular public health measures and refusing to support others — rather than for allegedly censoring scientific expertise.

UPDATE: Here is a good example of how this story is (wrongly) placed in the traditional narrative of science politicization. Contrary to Mark Hoofnagle's claim, this episode has little to do with "scientific integrity." Nonetheless, he terms it "despicable."

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Bush Appointees Blocked Health Report Release:
  2. Richard Carmona's Political Science:
  3. Did White House Censor Surgeons General?