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Medical Journals Have a Bad Case of Ideologyitis

(Sergey Tinyakov/Getty Images)

I guess sticking to medical science is boring for the editors of the world’s foremost medical journals. Once-august publications such as the New England Journal of Medicine and The Lancet are infected with a bad case of woke politics — let’s diagnose it as “ideologyitis” — and increasingly devoting their pages to political screeds and ideological advocacy pieces. They promote politically progressive policies such as critical race theory, transgender movement agendas, gun control, and harsh approaches to stifling global warming.

The Lancet is really into the global-warming hysteria, publishing pieces “to drive transformative changes in all sectors of society” by urging governments to deploy heavy-handed approaches to the global-warming cause which would include attacks on the meat industry or enforce supply constraints that would dramatically raise energy prices. A recent Lancet article argues (emphasis added):

The urgent challenge of achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050 at the latest presents an opportunity to drive transformative changes in all sectors of society. Well designed actions to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions could bring major benefits for health, by both reducing the health risks of climate change and delivering multiple benefits to human health and development (co-benefits).

Modelling studies estimate that many millions of premature deaths could be prevented and GHG emissions greatly reduced by phasing out fossil fuels, thereby reducing air pollution, and by encouraging active travel, increasing use of public transport, and shifting to sustainable and healthy diets. Further benefits could accrue from efficient, well ventilated housing and from efforts to develop net zero health-care systems. There is also great potential to achieve health and climate benefits from nature-based solutions, including green space in cities, reforestation, and reduced deforestation and agroforestry. However, these potential benefits will only be realised by addressing key barriers and challenges.

The idea is to treat climate change as a public-health emergency similar to COVID, thereby allowing for the deployment of coercive policies to reach “net zero” emissions by 2050 — meaning that they would not end for decades, if ever, because we will never get to a world without some carbon emissions:

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in support for public health action in many countries. Further, health professionals have become mobilised to support climate action. To build on this momentum, the research community should harmonise approaches to assessing and modelling the health benefits, co-benefits, and trade-offs of climate action—eg, use of standardised, consistent timescales and metrics so that research is more useful for policy and practice. All nations should include health in their nationally determined contributions under the Paris Agreement, including quantitative estimates of the health benefits of climate action.

Meanwhile, a different article published by The Lancet at the same time urges attacks on the meat industry:

Key related areas also must not be neglected, notably food systems. The food sector accounts for around 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and food systems are inextricably entwined with climate change at every level of production and consumption, including livestock and agriculture, land use, and the health co-benefits of better diets. This year, the first climate famine has been documented in Madagascar, with more than 1·14 million people in a state of famine. In September, 2021, the UN General Assembly Food Systems Summit defined raising awareness of food systems and transformation of diets as key goals for the health of both people and the planet.

With these journals increasingly devoting their limited space to ideological tracts, that would seem to mean less attention devoted to articles dealing with actual science. And perhaps less funding to support true medical research. That’s both jurisdictional imperialism (by bringing what are primarily non-medical issues under the health-policy umbrella) and a potential stifling of medical advancement.

Bottom line: Until these journals get out of politics and return to their actual purpose of informing the medical sector about new treatment modalities and research results full time, trust in public-health policy will continue to erode.

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