THE ESSENCE OF SCIENCE
In the arguments over public policy, medicine and public health are increasingly being manipulated or neglected. Politics has intruded into scientific policymaking that is generally based on scientific concerns in areas as diverse as stem cell research, new vaccines for the human papillomavirus, and FDA approval of emergency contraception. This interference has spread to public schools, where evolution and abstinence education are taught. 1–4 Data collection and analysis have been suppressed, federal scientists have been muzzled, scientific advisory committees have been stuffed with members based on political or ideological considerations, fringe science has been equated with mainstream science, and scientific uncertainty has been manipulated. 1,2,5 Although political meddling in public health is nothing new, many have claimed that the George W. Bush administration has politicised science to unprecedented levels. 5–7
In this essay, I look at how science and ideology collided in recent federal policy aimed at improving adolescent reproductive health by encouraging abstinence, as well as the recent introduction of federal and state legal requirements for medical accuracy as a legislative solution to these ideological debates. Clearly, there are distinctions between medical and scientific accuracy; but, for the sake of simplicity, I will define medical accuracy as the application of scientific precision to health concerns in this essay.
IN ABSTINENCE-ONLY EDUCATION PROGRAMS, MEDICAL ACCURACY
A lot of studies have looked into the scientific or medical validity of popular abstinence programmes. In 2004, the minority staff of the US House of Representatives’ Committee on Government Reform examined 13 widely used abstinence-only curriculum to see if they were scientifically correct. 23 The Waxman Report revealed that 11 of the 13 curricula provided erroneous, misleading, or distorted material regarding reproductive health, including inaccurate information about contraceptive effectiveness and abortion risks, among other things. These courses regarded gender stereotypes as scientific truth, blurring religious and scientific perspectives. 23 Similar issues were discovered in two recent studies of many abstinence-only curricula (J. S. S. et al., unpublished data, 2006). 24
SCIENTIFIC CONSENSUS IN HEALTH POLICY DEVELOPMENT
Through professional meetings and conferences, peer-reviewed publications, advisory boards, university education, and mentoring of junior scientists, the community of scholars within a scientific subject provides possibilities for assessing and critiquing new ideas. This scientific community is made up of a number of professional organisations made up of scientists, public health workers, and medical professionals who aim to establish scientific consensus by providing scientific viewpoints on important policy and practise issues. The American Medical Association (AMA), the American Public Health Association (APHA), the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and other specialty and subspecialty organisations are among these organisations. A series of scientific committees create and assess the opinions to ensure scientific accuracy and clarity of specific suggestions.