“Disinformation and misinformation is the bona fide enemy of public health,” Dr. Anthony Fauci stated in a recent interview. But he also said, “We should embrace differences in opinion.”
What if misinformation is coming from the public health officials themselves? And lately, government has not seemed to embrace differences in opinion, preferring instead to smother contrary opinions. The resulting erosion of trust in the officials in charge – less than half of Americans trust the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on COVID – could be more damaging than any “misinformation” found on social media.
Far too often in recent years, when science gets in the way of the government’s agenda, science is disregarded, ignored, or undermined. The CDC, Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and National Institutes of Health (NIH) have appeared to make policy decisions and public representations inconsistent with science — including their own science.
Science is undermined when scientists and the institutions that apply science do not follow the findings of unbiased studies. And science is undermined when those institutions do not make a good faith effort to collect data and let the data dictate a conclusion. When “science” gets tunnel vision for a result, it ceases to be science.
The Biden administration came into office promising to restore science as the driver of policy. Led by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), the administration adopted strict scientific integrity standards at federal agencies. So far, though, the results don’t comport with the rhetoric.
After documenting a number of alleged violations of these standards, Protect the Public’s Trust (PPT) filed a scientific integrity complaint with OSTP. The complaint was based on our tracking of numerous instances of the government either ignoring scientific findings, manipulating data, or misrepresenting data to make the science conform to policy objectives.
Each example is eye-opening. In one case, the CDC claimed that vaccinations offer higher protection from Covid-19 than a previous infection. This talking point, however, was based on data cherry-picked from a single state within a fifty-state study. So, the CDC’s talking points were possibly taken from an outlier, not the entire dataset. Worse, the cited study did not even make a comparison between those with immunity solely from vaccination and those with immunity from prior infection, as the CDC’s public statements claimed. Yet high-ranking officials at the CDC and other components of the Department of Health and Human Services touted these misrepresentations unequivocally.
It’s not just misrepresentations to the public. Actual policy decisions undermined science. In August 2022, the CDC endorsed COVID-19 vaccinations for children aged six months to four years, saying that a “lower risk of symptomatic Covid-19 was observed with vaccination compared to placebo.” But it also noted that severe adverse events were “more common in vaccine recipients.” To make matters worse, the claim that vaccinated children were at lower risk of showing symptoms was based upon bad science. “You can inject [children] with it or squirt it in their face, and you’ll get the same benefit,” one high-level CDC official declared. So, the CDC made this recommendation without proof of its efficacy, while acknowledging that the children were at heightened risk of severe adverse events.
The prioritization of policy agendas over science is not isolated to the pandemic. Protect the Public's Trust’s research indicates that the FDA appears to have breached its obligation to uphold scientific integrity in its decision-making about vaping. We believe that the FDA knowingly disseminated scientifically unfounded statements about vaping products that were contrary to the FDA’s own research. Also ignoring its own research, and without proper scientific justification, the FDA overruled its own scientists’ recommendations to authorize menthol vapes.
The Biden administration often decries “misinformation” about anything contradicting its own narratives, but it appears to be one of the worst purveyors of misinformation. Citizens can’t trust a government that misrepresents the results of studies, or prevents the collection of, or even intentionally hides, data. The American public should expect that its science-based institutions and most prominent spokesmen follow the science and use the scientific method in reaching policy decisions. Unless these institutions and their leadership change course, public trust will continue to plummet.