My blog is listed as "exemplary" on the blog
of Dr. John Gøtze, a Danish guy. At the risk of appearing to
logroll, I would heartily endorse "Gotzeblogged" (as he calls
his blog) for providing relatively technical (yet accessible) information
relevant to e-democracy and e-government.
There has been a lot of controversy about specific cases in which medical
information was changed on government websites, allegedly because
of the political or moral biases of the incumbent administration. I have
some thoughts about what to do about this problemif it is a problem.
For now, here are the relevant facts, as far as I can tell:
In 2002, various agencies of the United States Government removed information
about condom use and abortion from their Websites, allegedly because
elected politicians favored sexual abstinence before marriage and opposed
abortion on moral or religious grounds. The National Cancer Institute
(NCI) had posted information denying a link between abortion and breast
cancer, but Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) objected, calling this denial "scientifically
inaccurate and misleading to the public." The NCI Website was then
changed to say (for a time) that the evidence was "inconclusive,"
until a scientific review panel required the Website to reinstate its
original language. Likewise, the Website of the Center
for Disease Control and Prevention removed its positive assessment
of condoms’ role in preventing the transmission of disease and removed
citations of evidence showing that education about condoms did not lead
to earlier or more sexual activity. After the removal of these statements
was criticized, some similar material reappeared online with the following
text added in bold: "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."
This last sentence is literally true. However, critics disagree with
the strategy and motives that they see lying behind such statements.
Participants in this controversy divide into two camps. Some believe
that it is the responsibility of public health professionals to reduce
the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases, especially HIV/AIDS. Private,
voluntary behavior that does not transmit such diseasesor otherwise
increase morbidity and mortalityis not the business of medicine.
For this group, it seems best to advocate condom-use aggressively. Universal
condom-use is a more realistic goal than universal abstinence, and condoms
generally prevent the spread of disease. Caveats about the effectiveness
of condoms, like the one in bold on the revised website, may have the
effect of discouraging condom use. As Representative Waxman wrote in
an official complaint, the website was "carefully edited to deny
the public important information about the role condoms play in reducing
sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancies."
Another group, however, believes that there are two evils to
be minimized: (1) the transmission of dangerous disease, and (2) pre-
or extra-marital sex, which is bad in itself. Ed Vitagliano, who represents
the conservative American Family Association, said, "Science shows
that condoms are not 100 percent effective, and offer no protection
for certain sexually transmitted diseases like the human papilloma virus
and to a lesser extent chlamydia and herpes . We fall on the side
of safety, encouraging children to wait until marriage, not only
for moral reasons, but also for scientific reasons" (emphasis
added). For this group, it makes sense to advocate abstinence, since
this is a good in itself as well as a means to avoid spreading various
diseases. Wholehearted, public advocacy of condom-use may strike such
people as tacit support for non-marital sex. They disliked the website
that was written under the Clinton Administration, seeing it as morally
biased in favor of promiscuity. The other side in the debate, however,
saw the revised text as morally biased in the opposite direction, and
the conflict led to the current text, which still offends some observers.
Sources: Robert B. Bluey "HHS Defends Its Advice
About Condoms, Abortion," www.cnsnews.com, December 27, 2002; Adam
Clymer, "Critics Say Government Deleted Sexual Material From Web
Sites to Push Abstinence," The New York Times, November 26, 2002,
p. A18; Lawrence M. Krauss, "The Citizen-Scientist’s Obligation
to Stand Up for Standards," The New York Times, April 22, 2003,
p. D3; Adam Clymer, "U.S. Revises Sex Information, and Fight Goes
On," The New York Times, December 27, 2002, p. A15.