Politicization of Science.

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Author: Dorit Reiss
Date: Mar. 2021
From: Human Rights(Vol. 46, Issue 4)
Publisher: American Bar Association
Document Type: Article
Length: 1,345 words
Lexile Measure: 1480L

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There is always a political element to public health decisions or, more broadly, public policy decisions that draw on science. Such decisions involve not only scientific data but also debates about how to allocate resources--and resources are always limited--and how to balance different values. But real problems arise when the decisions are not based on a shared factual foundation, or when the science used to describe and assess the situation is politicized. Such politicization of the science around vaccines, for example, can lead to decisions that directly increase the rates and harms of diseases, with potentially deadly consequences.

The handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States was politicized relatively early, which made responding to the pandemic challenging. Politicization was not, of course, the only issue. The tricky nature of the infection, which can be transmitted before or without symptoms, public health messaging failures or errors, and previous underfunding of public health infrastructure all contributed to the United States' failed response--resulting in the United States having a disproportionately high rate of both COVID-19 cases and deaths compared to other countries. https:// www.cnn.com/2020/06/30/health/uscoronavirus-toll-in-numbers-june-trnd/ index.html. But politicization had a role. For example, there is evidence that the Trump administration, concerned about the political impacts of the pandemic, put pressure on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to change not only the guidance it provided but also the scientific reports used by public health officials and other policymakers to make decisions. https://www.politico. com/news/2020/09/n/exclusive-trumpofficials-interfered-with-cdc-reportson-covid-19-412809. There is, again, an appropriate role for politics in making decisions in a pandemic situation. But manipulating the scientific evidence on which decisions are made can undermine the ability of politicians of all orientations to make decisions that match values.

Traditionally, vaccines have not been a partisan issue. In the 1960s and 1970s, all states--with a variety of political views--adopted school immunization requirements for a variety of diseases. In the early 2000s, both left-leaning California and right-leaning Texas offered very easy-to-get exemptions from those school mandates. At the other extreme, left-leaning New York...

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