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Politicization of Medicine and Science is Dangerous
The reckoning has begun; it must lead to a pursuit of truth over dogma.
It’s been an eventful week for COVID-19 reckoning, something I really hoped would happen, not just because Congress is conducting a probe, but because some within the scientific, intelligence and economic communities are finally beginning to speak up. Much of what I planned to write this week has been addressed by more esteemed scholars, so I will just draw some broad observations.
Our politics is fractious. Letting politics seep into medicine and science in general is worse. The fight against global warming (as was fancier to call it then) wasn’t deeply partisan until former Vice President Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth.” In the aftermath, the science of global warming gave way to political science. Now you are either a climate denier or an alarmist – no middle ground. We have essentially done the same to science and medicine. You are either pro-mask mandate or anti-science. You are either triple boosted pro-vaccine, or an anti-vaxxer. The vaccines are an incredible innovation or part of a scheme by Bill Gates to implant microchips. You either believe in the zoonotic COVID origin or you are a racist, anti-Chinese conspiracy theorist. Examining the social contagion of gender dysphoria in teen girls is career ending. When you disagree with Dr. Fauci, you have disagreed with “science.” Self-appointed arbiters determine the boundaries of acceptable debate. And so on.
It doesn’t help that the very purveyors of our current polarized climate are also the gatekeepers of acceptable debate. How do we recover the learning loss, which has accrued primarily to children of lower socio-economic status? How about the socio-emotional problems for kids who were forced to mask up for an entire year? And the orphaned kids whose parents simply refused vaccines because they were promoted by Biden? Our politics is killing us. There should be a shared pursuit of the truth, most of all when it comes to science and medicine. I have watched with alarm politicians and their followers change positions on issues depending on who benefits. The Trump-approved vaccine is harmful before the elections but not after. The Trump vaccine is amazing but horrible because it’s promoted by Biden/Harris.
Deputizing medical professionals to fix social problems is doomed to fail, with unintended but often foreseeable consequences. Hardly a day goes by without talking about health equity in some form. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has issued equity-focused rules and incentives for healthcare providers. They have imposed additional reporting requirements on doctors, hospitals and other providers. The evidence for the effectiveness of these equity initiatives is thin. Doctors are trained to heal the sick, not solve problems society has failed to address. Some even want practitioners to pursue environmental justice. After the gruesome killing of George Floyd, businesses and governments raced to demonstrate their commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), even though many studies have shown that these initiatives, especially forced training, often have the opposite effect. Yet our government doubles down on a clearly politically divisive concept. The New York Times and other publications have reported that a number of organizations which ramped up DEI hiring have started to downsize and often start with DEI staff.
Medicine is too delicate to subsume into our WWE-style politics.
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