We already knew from former Surgeon General Carmona’s testimony that this was happening, but now the WaPo brings us
a specific example of science being squelched by a political appointee. It’s not only inappropriate, but just despicable.
A surgeon general’s report in 2006 that called on Americans to help tackle global health problems has been kept from the public by a Bush political appointee without any background or expertise in medicine or public health, chiefly because the report did not promote the administration’s policy accomplishments, according to current and former public health officials.
The report described the link between poverty and poor health, urged the U.S. government to help combat widespread diseases as a key aim of its foreign policy, and called on corporations to help improve health conditions in the countries where they operate.
Three people directly involved in its preparation said its publication was blocked by William R. Steiger, a specialist in education and a scholar of Latin American history whose family has long ties to President Bush and Vice President Cheney. Since 2001, Steiger has run the Office of Global Health Affairs in the Department of Health and Human Services.
Carmona told lawmakers that, as he fought to release the document, he was “called in and again admonished . . . via a senior official who said, ‘You don’t get it.’ ” He said a senior official told him that “this will be a political document, or it will not be released.”
The draft report itself, in language linking public health problems with violence and other social ills, says “we cannot overstate . . . that problems in remote parts of the globe can no longer be ignored. Diseases that Americans once read about as affecting people in regions . . . most of us would never visit are now capable of reaching us directly. The hunger, disease, and death resulting from poor food and nutrition create social and political instability . . . and that instability may spread to other nations as people migrate to survive.”
Heckuva job their Steiger. And is it an isolated incident? Of course not:
Public health advocates have accused Steiger of political meddling before. He briefly attained notoriety in 2004 by demanding changes in the language of an international report on obesity. The report was opposed by some U.S. food manufacturers and the sugar industry.
The global health document was one of several reports initiated by Carmona that top HHS officials suppressed because they disliked the reports’ conclusions, according to a former administration official. Another was a “Call to Action on Corrections and Community Health.” It says — according to draft language obtained by The Post — that the public has a large stake in the health of the 2 million men and women who are behind bars, and in the health care available to them in their communities after their release.
The report recommends enhanced health screenings for those arrested and their victims; better disease surveillance in prisons; and ready access to medical, mental health and substance abuse prevention services for those released.
But the report has been bottled up at HHS, said three public health experts who worked on it. John Miles, a consultant and former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention official who helped draft it, said he suspects that the proposed health screenings and other recommendations are seen as a potentially burdensome cost. “Maybe they just don’t feel it’s a priority,” Miles said.
What can we do about this? Scientific integrity is at stake here when political appointees with no expertise and no respect for science can suppress information of value to the public. I encourage everyone to sign the Union of Concerned Scientists petition to restore scientific integrity to government agencies.