Former Surgeon General Does Not Understand Science

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Former Surgeon General Dr. Richard Carmona is complaining that "science" was being stifled by politics. But he couldn't give an example of it. This was perhaps his most "damning" claim:

Again, the administration had already made a decision that abstinence was the way they wanted to go. And that really -- that policy flew in the face of prudent science, public health science, which said that we need a more comprehensive program in relation to sexual education and not just abstinence alone.

Except, of course, "science" said no such thing. That cannot possibly be a scientific claim. A scientific claim could be that "a more comprehensive program in relation to sexual education" could reduce the incidences of unwanted teen pregnancy and disease. That's fine. But that does not mean that we therefore need such a program. That is a policy decision based on more than just the science, and science cannot tell us what policy we "need."

I am not saying I agree with abstinence-only sex ed. I am against any sex ed in public schools, at least any school my kids go to, unless it's opt-in (not opt-out, or mandatory). Why on earth would anyone want virtual strangers who are agents of the government introducing their children to sex? It boggles the mind. "Keep the government out of my bedroom, but feel free to let them into my kid's bedroom down the hall."

Anyway, I digress. Sort of. The point above is relevant: I am not for abstinence-only sex ed, but there's no logical reason you can say that science is opposed to it unless you also believe that all that matters is the physical. The science has not studied significantly the mental health effects of "comprehensive" sex education; it only says that it is better for unwanted pregnancies and diseases. So by saying science says we "need" this you are saying that we "need" to care more about the physical than the mental, the emotional, the psychological ... and that's not science. That's philosophy. That's, dare I say, politics.

And even if there was significant data on the mental effects, who is to say how to interpret that? You may call an analysis of it "science" but that does not mean it's true. For example, an analysis may find the effects are not statistically significant, but tell that to the kids who are adversely affected. You're making an unscientific judgment that any risks are worth the reward. That is a political question, not science.

Science in government is merely a tool to inform public policy. It does not and cannot say what we "need" to do. I am ashamed that this man was our Surgeon General for four years or so, because I want someone as Surgeon General who knows what science actually is.

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<pudge/*> (pronounced "PudgeGlob") is thousands of posts over many years by Pudge.

"It is the common fate of the indolent to see their rights become a prey to the active. The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt."

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This page contains a single entry by pudge published on July 10, 2007 10:42 PM.

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