A The Lancet editorial criticizing the World Health Organization and UNICEF for allegedly manipulating scientific data to achieve a political result–the accuracy of which I take no position–speaks to a bigger problem that I am seeing with dismaying regularity. In government, in science and other professional journals, and in public policy advocacy, supposedly objective “scientific studies” turn out to actually be advocacy tomes in disguise. Of the UN controversy, The Lancet writes words that could apply equally to other politicized abuses:
Both of these examples show how UN agencies are willing to play fast and loose with scientific findings in order to further their own institutional interests. When those interests are the preventable deaths of children, perhaps one should forgive their haste. Certainly we share WHO’s sense of urgency about translating research into policy. And we support strongly UNICE’s view that scientists should work together to improve systems for tracking child survival.
But the danger is that by appearing to manipulate science, breach trust, resist competition, and reject account ability, WHO and UNICEF are acting contrary to responsible scientific norms that one would have expected UN technical agencies to uphold. Worse, they risk inadvertently corroding their own long-term credibility.
Exactly: And this is equally true of the larger problem of politicized science threatens to reduce the great area of human advancement into a mere special interest. Example: Scientists who redefine basic scientific terms such as “embryo,” not for scientific but political reasons to aid one side in the debates over cloning and stem cell research. Example: A recent “study” claiming to demonstrate no abuses in euthanasia/assisted suicide–that was actually written by a zealous advocate for legalization, which was not disclosed in the medical ethics journal in which it appeared.
Science is in danger of being undermined and corrupted by the very voices who claim to be its greatest defenders.