Suppressing Good News for Justice

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I came across the noxious concept of "lying for justice" when I was hanging out (albeit briefly) at the City University of New York's graduate school of political science back in the 1980s. The idea of some progressives is that it is necessary to exaggerate a problem in order to get attention from policymakers and funders. "Sometimes you have to shout just to be heard," was another way it was explained to me.

Well, kudos to the New York Times yesterday for reporting on the front page a similar attempt by advocacy groups to suppress scientific information that they believe would harm their cause. First, the good news—global maternal mortality has fallen from 526, 300 in 1980 to 342, 900 in 2008, as reported in the current issue of the Lancet. The number dying is still too high, but progress has been made. However, some advocates wanted this information to remain buried. As the Times explained:

…some advocates for women's health tried to pressure The Lancet into delaying publication of the new findings, fearing that good news would detract from the urgency of their cause, Dr. Horton said in a telephone interview.

"I think this is one of those instances when science and advocacy can conflict," he said.

Dr. Horton said the advocates, whom he declined to name, wanted the new information held and released only after certain meetings about maternal and child health had already taken place.

He said the meetings included one at the United Nations this week, and another to be held in Washington in June, where advocates hope to win support for more foreign aid for maternal health from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Other meetings of concern to the advocates are the Pacific Health Summit in June, and the United Nations General Assembly meeting in December.

"People who have spent many years committed to the issue of maternal health were understandably worried that these figures could divert attention from an issue that they care passionately about," Dr. Horton said. "But my feeling is that they are misguided in their view that this would be damaging. My view is that actually these numbers help their cause, not hinder it."

For shame! Matt Ridley offers some sharp comments on this misbehavior over at his new blog, The Rational Optimist (which just happens to be the title of his forthcoming book):

This is wrong on all sorts of levels. First, because it shows a staggering arrogance among pressure groups about who should be allowed to know the facts—almost amounting to attempted fraud. Second, because the way to encourage people to fund projects is to show evidence that they work, not that they are futile and ineffective. One might almost suspect that these groups would prefer maternal mortality to remain high.

In order to forestall future attempts of this type, the editors at the Lancet should call out the groups that tried suppress this good news. Name names!

NEXT: The GEICO Gecko is All About Saving Money on Insurance. On Taxes & Government Spending, Apparently Not So Much.

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  1. Oh, c’mon. We all know the science would never be subverted to serve a political goal.

    Right?

    1. This is the Lancet we’re talking about.

    2. I stumbled onto this site via Instapundit.
      My first thought on this first comment was “Climategate, anyone?”
      Actually, I was thinking that was going to be the subject at reading the title of this post

  2. Well, kudos to the New York Times yesterday for reporting on the front page a similar attempt by advocacy groups to suppress scientific information that they believe would harm their cause.

    This is sort of ironic coming from Ronald “No scientist thinks Frankenfoods are the least bit harmful, really!” Bailey.

    1. Scotch Hamilton: Please get back to us after you’ve read this new report, Impact of Genetically Engineered Crops on Farm Sustainability in the United States, on the benefits of biotech crops (this week) from the National Academy of Sciences. From the press release:

      Many U.S. farmers who grow genetically engineered (GE) crops are realizing substantial economic and environmental benefits — such as lower production costs, fewer pest problems, reduced use of pesticides, and better yields — compared with conventional crops, says a new report from the National Research Council.

      1. Please don’t feed the trolls.

        Thank you.

      2. Ron, I’m just giving you a hard time but I’ve been reading Reason long enough to know that you guys will promote scientfic studies that confirm your point of view while ignoring or dismissing ones that do not.

        Not to pick on you, everybody with an agenda does it. But don’t act like you don’t do it as well.

        1. Scotch Hamilton: Ah, yes. The demon of confirmation bias. As you may know, I have been doing some reporting in this area. For example, consider the disheartening research done by the Yale Cultural Cognition Project.

          In that regard, may I direct your attention to three of my articles which will contain links to the Project’s research. It turns out that cultural values play a huge role in how people see and interpret scientific data. See (1) “Everyone Who Knows What They’re Talking About Agrees with Me” and (2) “More Information Confirms What You Already Know” and (3) “The Culture War on Facts. Can’t include a link to the last one because our commenting software will allow only 2 links. You could google it though.

          I try to remain on guard against confirmation bias, but, of course, readers will differ on how close I come to avoiding it.

          1. Can’t include a link to the last one because our commenting software will allow only 2 links.

            Ah, I was wondering what some of the rules for triggering the commenting spam filters were.

          2. Thanks, Ron. I will check those links out.

            BTW, I am indeed the old “Dan T.” from a few years back. I enjoy your work here and Reason in general has some good ideas but I feel the need to stir the pot a little. Some advice: don’t be so defensive…calling everybody who disagrees with you a “troll” leads to an echo-chamber.

            1. > calling everybody who disagrees with you a “troll”

              You weren’t called a troll for disagreeing.

              You were called a troll for expressing your “need to stir the pot a little” with an off-topic comment that wasn’t even true.

              Off-topic/stir the pot by itself is trollish.

            2. Some advice: just speak honestly about your views. This “stirring the pot” thing is just a form of manipulation, which is something that trolls do. Don’t want to be called a troll? Don’t act like one.

              1. The problem is that because this site is not moderated anybody can post views under the name “Dan T.” which obviously leads to confusion…

                1. True that, it does make things a little whacky sometimes.

                2. The comment matters a lot, the commenter matters very little. When the comments are shit, they’ll get called out.

                  It’s OK IMO to call out shit comments when Mr. Bailey makes them, but that isn’t the same thing as being a troll.

          3. and (3) “The Culture War on Facts. Can’t include a link to the last one because our commenting software will allow only 2 links.

            You could always have made a second post with the link to the article. 🙂

    2. I know really. Esteemed biologist Dr. Mae Wen-Ho of the Institute for Science in Society is a vocal critic of them.

      You should read her book ‘The Rainbow and The Worm’, it was very influetial.

      http://www.i-sis.org.uk/rnbwwrm.php

      1. Organic Girl: I’ve met and talked with Mae Wan-Ho. I’ve also read many of her reports. With all due respect, she is a charlatan.

        1. BURN!

        2. She is not a charlatan, you are!

          She has many insights which support a non-western view of life based in quantum mechanics and energy flows. I’ve been studying chakras and energy healing and this book really puts it into a scientific context.

          1. She has many insights which support a non-western view of life based in quantum mechanics and energy flows.

            You are aware of “Placebo Effect” no?

            I’ve been studying chakras and energy healing and this book really puts it into a scientific context.

            The Barnum Corollary at it’s finest.

            1. Chakras? Is that the hot-room yoga?

              1. I think its that thing that Xena threw at people.

            2. You know that’s a joke handle, right?

          2. I bet Ron Bailey even relies on things like “antibiotics” for curing bacterial infections, where we all know this is nothing more than a sop to greedy Western corporations run by Ice People. We know that crystals and chanting are the only answer.

            1. As a libertarian, I am ashamed that you didn’t mention colloidal silver.

              (It actually has a small anti-biotic effect. Very small, however, and not worth turning blue for.)

              1. Bluist!!

            2. Oh, I’m fine with anti-biotics, but if you reren’t so ignorant, you would know that Dr. Mae Wen Ho herself showed how anti-biotic resistance genes could jump through horizontal gene transfer, possibly creating super-ghonorrea from GMO-cotton based tampons.

              1. Actually she has showed no such thing.

                1. It’s right here at the ISIS site I linked to!

                  http://www.i-sis.org.uk/isisnews/i-sisnews7-7.php

                2. I’m shocked, shocked to hear this. Surely the energy flow analysis and quantum mechanics calculations were conclusive, Ron.

              2. Dr. Mae Wen Ho herself showed how anti-biotic resistance genes could jump through horizontal gene transfer, possibly creating super-ghonorrea from GMO-cotton based tampons.

                And how exactly was this conclusion derived?

                I might suggest the good Dr. change her tampons quicker; she is much more likely to develop TSS.

              3. She brough super-ghonorrea from GMO to our cotton-based tampons!!!

            3. Don’t forget about the harmful effects of antibiotics, on the bacteria. They’re living creatures, too.

              1. Well, the bacteria will just evolve antibiotic resistance. But then the genetic “engineers” will have to use more and more powerful antibiotic markers. Which will mean lots more virulent diseases. We’ve already got super-hoof-and-mouth disease from all the antibiotics.

                And all those floating DNA bits could combine with new viruses. They even want to engineer viruses to carry genes into “target” species, like it’s a war on nature or something.

                You all know that’s what they did with the AID virus right?

                1. I can hardly wait to hear.

                2. I’ve already caught super-conjuctivitis just from your posts.

                  So, like you GMO cotton, from your link of questionable veracity, you should be be eradicated.

                  Your name wouldn’t by chance be Foxy Mulder?

                3. Wow, Organic Girl – you should at least get some basic knowledge before you decide to edumacate us unenlightened ones. Hoof/foot and mouth disease is, of course, caused by a virus – and antibiotic resistance has nothing to do with its pathogenicity. And actually, I engineered the aids virus in my home evil scientist lab. It was only supposed to infect internet poseurs, but I got the targeting mechanism screwed up when I transmorgrified the thingamajigger. My bad.

                  1. You should’ve excised the enhancer at -54 before start. That’s your problem right there.

          3. It’s like Neil from The Young Ones dropped by to troll. We need more of this.

            1. “Oh, I don’t have any sugar in my tea. It rots your teeth and gives you brain damage.”

              1. “I have a really ripping recipe for lentil soup.”

            2. “Everyone knows sleep give you cancer.”

        3. With all due respect, she is a charlatan.

          What kind of a charlatan? A Lysenko-style pseudoscientist, or a crunchy granola hipster type?

          -jcr

      2. Why anyone would think that a scientist working for something called the Institute for Science in Society could be esteemed is beyond me. Just the name gives it away. Science in Society. This is where science is perverted to arrive at a preconceived consensus.

    3. If you have evidence that biotechnology or genetically engineered foods have ever given any person, anywhere, anything more significant than a sniffle, please provide it. Show your work.

  3. THE SCIENCE IS SETTLED!

  4. What about jury nullification? Wouldn’t that constitute lying for justice?

    1. What lying.

      I find the defendent innocent due to the law being unjust.

      Where is the lie?

      1. Never been on a jury or litigated anything. But don’t jurors vow to apply the facts to the law as written? Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, but jury nullification — which I support, FWIW — could be pretty similar.

        1. no, it’s never happened that way, and prosecutors know it. good prosecutors will charge them with a lesser crime if they think the jury will feel sorry for them.

          that is not an argument against juries, it’s the reason we have juries, for when blind application of the law would result in injustice.

          of course, some disagree. but it’s not immoral, lying , or “wrong”

        2. Judges try to make jurors defer to them and judge only the facts. I was asked to do that by the judge the last time I was called for jury duty, and declined to do so. Our state’s constitution explicitly provides for jury nullification, so I told the judge I was unwilling to give up my right to judge the law.

          Obviously, I didn’t make it onto that jury, and the judge also subjected me to commentary about how I seemed to be an intelligent individual, and he thought I could get a lot out of the process if I were to agree to do things his way.

          1. I told the judge I was unwilling to give up my right to judge the law.

            I would state that slightly differently: I wouldn’t shirk my duty to vote my conscience, because the defendant’s right to a jury trial demands that I not be some kind of automaton who merely obeys the judge’s orders.

            -jcr

    2. mike, jury foreman, 1852:

      “I find the defendant guilty of violating the Fugitive Slave Act.”

      1. Rereading that, I think mike asked a valid question, and didn’t deserve my asshole response. Lo siento.

        1. I support nullification. I’m just saying if I tell a prosecutor during questioning that I’m willing to apply the laws as written and I say yes, that’s a lie that I’m telling in order to create more justice.

          I also lie on my taxes. Let’s just recognize that libertarians and others are willing to use the strategies they decry in others.

        2. I’m just saying if I tell a prosecutor during questioning that I’m willing to apply the laws as written and I say yes, that’s a lie that I’m telling in order to create more justice.

          But, you’re not necessarily lying. The laws as written include the Constitution, you know, so any acquittal based on your view that the law being applied is unconstitutional, for example, would just be you applying the laws as written.

          1. RC Dean is exactly right.

            How often do jurors get handed copies of all the laws they are to use to judge a case?

            1. Every time I’ve ever served on a jury, the judge gave us written instructions with the relevant laws. Of course, they didn’t bother including a copy of the state or national constitution; that’s R C’s point, but I’m not sure if it’s yours, too.

              Still, mike, is correct. It would be a lie of omission if you didn’t make it clear to the prosecutor that you might exercise jury nullification when directly asked if you might. I’d say its a lie of omission even if they don’t ask.

              Not saying I wouldn’t commit such a lie. The current state of the legal system allows a jury member to get away with exercising the power of nullification only if he or she never admits to doing so.

  5. One might almost suspect that these groups would prefer maternal mortality to remain high.

    Noooooooo. Never…

    1. Ask the AGW proponents whether it’s better for the world to get warmer or cooler. Sometimes the only way to avoid a crisis is to have it happen!

      1. We have to pass the crisis in order to know what’s in it.

  6. …some advocates for women’s health tried to pressure The Lancet into delaying publication of the new findings, fearing that good news would detract from the urgency of their cause

    IOW: “We must burn the village to save it”

  7. You can’t fault Right Thinkers of all stripes for demanding that facts not be allowed to interfere with The Narrative. Whether it’s unraped strippers at Duke or undead moms in Mali, what’s at stake is the self esteem of Enlightened, who strive mightlily to protect these non-victims.

    1. In related news, racism in the United States is a huge and growing problem these days and must be fought with all the forces of government.

  8. You can’t fault Right Thinkers of all stripes

    Watch me.

    1. We will see that you are treated harshly in your re-education camp.

      1. Well, I meet a lot of people, and I’m convinced that the vast majority of wrong-thinking people are right.

  9. Never forget money and power the The Enlightened.

    Especially power. It validates fortifying their self-esteem.

    1. *for The*

  10. Second, because the way to encourage people to fund projects is to show evidence that they work, not that they are futile and ineffective.

    And this is why he’s not called The Observant Optimist.

  11. Any time I hear about shit like this, I always think of Charles Darwin. Whenever he heard about something that seemed to conflict with evolution, he wrote it down. He cared about the truth – reality, not about being “right” despite the facts.

    I think about him, and then about the politization of science these days, and find it really sickening.

    1. I’m starting to wonder if it ever has been unpoliticized.

  12. After decades of War on Poverty, our poverty level is as high as ever, our community organizers are still organizing: One might almost suspect that the poverty pimps would prefer poverty to remain high.

    1. Well, they don’t want to shoot their last possum. Then they’d be out of a job.

    2. Ditto race hustlers.

    3. What? You mean the poverty warriors don’t want to lose their jobs? I don’t believe it for a second.

    4. “After decades of War on Poverty, our poverty level is as high as ever”

      Utter bullshit.

      1. Well, if you keep changing the definition of “poverty,” then the poverty rate becomes arbitrary and can remain constant or increase, even if personal wealth, income mobility, and standards of living have increased.

        1. E’zackly. When you define “poverty” as, say, the lowest quintile – well gee, funny thing about quintiles is that there’s ALWAYS a lowest one.

  13. We’ll have to let the mothers die so that we can save them!

  14. Dr. Mae Wen Ho herself showed how anti-biotic resistance genes could jump through horizontal gene transfer, possibly creating super-ghonorrea from GMO-cotton based tampons.

    But can I power my microbus with it?

    1. Don’t be ridiculous. Microbuses only run on pacifism, Earthshoes and unkempt hair.

  15. good news would detract from the urgency of their cause

    Punish success.

    Reward failure.

    1. Yes, I agree that the reduction would show that this cause can actually have positive effects. Moreover, they can encourage people to use induction to say that with more changes, this death rate can go down.

  16. Organic Girl is the best troll we’ve got, even if she is a spoof. Take a lesson, Scotch.

    1. ^ THIS

    2. THe comeback of “no, you’re a charlatan” was particularly great.

    3. You see: we SOW the seeds, Nature GROWS the seeds, we EAT the seeds.

  17. Cotton-headed twits, in what universe is 340k maternal deaths a strong argument against further action to reduce the number? And, as was said, isn’t the substantial success of a 35% reduction in the total number of deaths over a time period during which the population grew about 50% as strong an argument as can be made to continue doing what is working?

    Dopes.

  18. How simple minded, don’t you know that governments reward failure and punish success? Of course they want it to look like their efforts are failing!

  19. Ah, so they are acting in response to their environment, gothca. 🙂

  20. While we’re at it let’s prop up failing schools and not fire any teachers or administrators working there, they need the money, and we need to be creating jobs right now.

  21. I want Organic Girl to show us her chakras…….

    1. You’ll have to join me at hippie hollow in Austin if you want to see my chakras!

    2. With a lobster.

  22. I came across the noxious concept of “lying for justice” when I was hanging out (albeit briefly) at the City University of New York’s graduate school of political science back in the 1980s.

    Christ, Augustine of Hippo was writing about this in the 4th century. He wasn’t as disgusted with it as you are, either.

  23. When you are paid to solve a problem, and the problem goes away, so does your salary.

  24. I’m afraid that Ron Bailey seems to have overlooked the key euphemism in the Times article:

    ‘some *advocates for women’s health* tried to pressure The Lancet into delaying publication of the new findings’ [emphasis added]

    These ‘advocates’ are abortion-rights supporters who have claimed for years that legalizing abortion is key to reducing maternal mortality. However, the key factors listed by the Lancet in reducing maternal mortality do *not* include abortion. From the Times article:

    The study cited a number of reasons for the improvement: lower pregnancy rates in some countries; higher income, which improves nutrition and access to health care; more education for women; and the increasing availability of “skilled attendants” ? people with some medical training ? to help women give birth. Improvements in large countries like India and China helped to drive down the overall death rates.

    It’s hardly any wonder that the people whom the New York coyly describes as “advocates for women’s health” would want to hold off on publishing the Lancet’s findings, since it contradicts their ideology that criminalizing abortion increases maternal mortality.

    A *real* advocate for woman’s health – the President of the American Academy of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists (AAPLOG) (quoted in this article) has this to say about the Lancet’s findings:

    “This study uses the best statistical methods currently available and clearly demonstrates that worldwide legalization of abortion is unnecessary to bring about significant decreases in maternal mortality. AAPLOG encourages UN member nations to continue to develop even better statistical information by improving the identification of maternal mortality causality, especially induced abortion related mortality, which is most often underreported or misreported.”

    The abortion-rights crowd has not only lost the Lancet, it’s lost the NY Times as well on this issue.

  25. More Orgasmic Girl, please. I need to laugh more.

  26. Of course it make sense to suppress good news, because whenever I make a charitable donation, I want to know that my contribution is utterly futile. I just couldn’t imagine donating money with any modicum of hope. That would totally weird me out.

    -jcr

  27. War on Maternal Mortality (a worthwhile effort): We’ve reduced mortality. Appropriate more money please.

    War on Drugs (a futile effort): We haven’t accomplished diddly-squat. Appropriate more money please.

    Hmmm.

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