Public Health: Is ‘Social Justice’ More Important Than Sound Science?
Religion & Liberty Online

Public Health: Is ‘Social Justice’ More Important Than Sound Science?

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has been criticized recently for its handling of the Ebola cases in the United States, and for its lax suggestions regarding travelers from countries where Ebola is rampant. In today’s City Journal, Heather Mac Donald suggests that the CDC’s lack of leadership has more to do with political correctness in the public health arena and their version of “social justice” than with science.

Science would assert that people make choices that have an effect on their health. For instance, if you have high cholesterol, you will need to cut down on fatty foods. We know we need to exercise daily to maintain a healthy body. If you choose to drink alcohol to excess, it will harm your liver. Mac Donald says that the public health establishment ignores personal responsibility in the name of political correctness.

For the last several decades, the profession has been awash in social-justice ideology. Many of its members view racism, sexism, and economic inequality, rather than individual behavior, as the primary drivers of differential health outcomes in the U.S. According to mainstream public-health thinking, publicizing the behavioral choices behind bad health—promiscuous sex, drug use, overeating, or lack of exercise—blames the victim.

Mac Donald uses the example of Harvard public health professor Nancy Krieger. Krieger uses federal funding (that’s your money) to

…spread the message about America’s unjust treatment of women, minorities, and the poor. To study the genetic components of health is tantamount to “scientific racism,” in Krieger’s view, since doing so overlooks the “impact of discrimination” on health.

During the height of the AIDS epidemic, Mac Donald says that public health officials steered away from suggesting abstinence as a way to avoid the disease. That would have been tantamount to religious and ethical judgement.

Now, public health officials have decided not to block entry to the U.S. from countries where Ebola is spreading like the proverbial wildfire. Mac Donald says this decision is not based on sound science, but rather on the fear of public health officials of being seen as racist or lacking compassion.

The public-health profession has a clear political orientation, so it’s quite possible that its opposition to a visa and travel moratorium is influenced as much by belief in America’s responsibility for the postcolonial oppression of Africa, and suspicion of American border enforcement, as it is by a commitment to public-health principles of containment and control. (African countries, unburdened by any such racial guilt, have not hesitated to impose travel bans; Nigeria’s travel restrictions are now being credited for its escape from an Ebola incursion.)

Which leads to the question: do you want your health and the health of your loved ones in the care of people who take scientific facts seriously, or those who are worried about political correctness?

Read “Infected By Politics” at City Journal.



Elise Hilton

Communications Specialist at Acton Institute. M.A. in World Religions.