I’m sure you’ve seen the reports which allege interference of the CDC’s MMWR. Let me tell you why these allegations (true or false) are something to watch. The point of this post is not to be political. It’s to describe how weird this whole thing has become from a science standpoint. Buckle up people and get some good ice cream (the FNE household likes Blue Bell Cookie Two Step)- this is a longish post.
𝐖𝐡𝐚𝐭 𝐢𝐬 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐌𝐌𝐖𝐑? The MMWR, the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, is the flagship scientific publication (beginning in 1878!) and is often considered the “holy grail” of science. The publication is typically dense and boring to non-scientists. Until this year, it’s probably only been read by sciency people (those of us with science/MD/health degrees and those that just love science).
In short, the MMWR has been around for decades and is one of the most trusted pieces of non-political, unbiased, and unobstructed science we have. The MMWR is also meant to be an “alert” system for the US regarding new outbreaks, food borne illnesses, or treatment breakthroughs (like for HIV).
𝐒𝐨, 𝐰𝐡𝐚𝐭 𝐚𝐫𝐞 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐚𝐥𝐥𝐞𝐠𝐚𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧𝐬 𝐭𝐡𝐢𝐬 𝐰𝐞𝐞𝐤? The allegations include changes to studies and evidence. These are allegations – so I’m not saying one way or the other. I’m just saying to watch this story closely. As a person with trusted colleagues who work at the CDC or who have spent their career at the CDC, these allegations are concerning. Because they point to changing the science to match non-reality in one of the most trusted pieces of data in history. (That last statement is not overstating – the MMWR really has been and is that big of a deal to us in science for decades.)
𝐈’𝐥𝐥 𝐠𝐢𝐯𝐞 𝐲𝐨𝐮 𝐭𝐰𝐨 𝐪𝐮𝐨𝐭𝐞𝐬 𝐟𝐨𝐫 𝐜𝐨𝐧𝐭𝐞𝐱𝐭 𝐨𝐧 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐬𝐜𝐢𝐞𝐧𝐭𝐢𝐟𝐢𝐜 𝐫𝐢𝐠𝐨𝐫 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐌𝐌𝐖𝐑 𝐩𝐮𝐛𝐥𝐢𝐜𝐚𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧 𝐩𝐫𝐨𝐜𝐞𝐝𝐮𝐫𝐞: These are from two very senior, career scientists in the field with no political leanings in their careers.
“If you’ve ever been involved as a co-author of one of those reports, it’s painful how carefully every sentence is reviewed for scientific rigor, for precision,” Dr. William Schaffner, part of the editorial board, said.
“It is not unusual for communication people within the CDC to be involved in an MMWR report before publication, said Dr. Patrick Remington, a member of the journal’s editorial board and a former CDC staffer. “What is unusual is the allegation that the political process is attempting to influence the scientific conclusions. And that’s a concern.”
I’m sure we will know more about this in the coming days and I’ll update as more information becomes available (one way or the other).
𝐔𝐧𝐭𝐢𝐥 𝐭𝐡𝐞𝐧, 𝐈’𝐥𝐥 𝐥𝐞𝐚𝐯𝐞 𝐲𝐨𝐮 𝐰𝐢𝐭𝐡 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐢𝐦𝐩𝐨𝐫𝐭𝐚𝐧𝐜𝐞 𝐨𝐟 𝐮𝐧𝐛𝐢𝐚𝐬𝐞𝐝 𝐌𝐌𝐖𝐑 𝐩𝐮𝐛𝐥𝐢𝐜𝐚𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧𝐬. In 1981, physicians and scientists started noticing a pattern of a new illness (this is the picture I shared). They published this in the MMWR as an “alert” mechanism for others to watch out for. That disease turned out to be HIV and the importance of notifying the public early and openly cannot be understated. These MMWR alerts also prompted a massive public health response to the newly identified virus, including surveillance, testing, treatment, and educational efforts.
I know some are about to say, “But I don’t trust the CDC because of XYZ.” I hear you and understand the confusion of all of this in the age of social media and 24/7 news. But, trust those of us who have doing this for a long time prior to the pandemic – and who have nothing to gain from a political standpoint. And way before most people knew what MMWR stood for. Now back to that ice cream…
-Friendly neighbor epidemiologist (who is a bit hesitant to share this post…) 3, 2, 1…
Allegation source (I know the title of the report is very political and so is the site. I’m sorry about that. I did try to find a rebuttal to this but couldn’t find one.): https://www.politico.com/…/exclusive-trump-officials-interf…
***This post will likely get lots of discussion, as it should. I’m all for discussions that are fact-based or respectful to the “other side”. We can share different opinions that we feel deeply about – let’s just do it like we would with our friends over a cup of coffee or bowl of ice cream. Conspiracy theory websites or links will be deleted.***
***A note to my students, if you post and get rude responses or responses that are clearly not a true discussion (ones that bait you into a fight that noone will win) – Don’t respond back. Your energy and value is worth so much more. Thick skin, soft heart. Wisdom.***