NBC’s Dr. Nancy Defends Doctors in Breast Cancer Debate: “We are on the verge of becoming a scientifically illiterate country”Monday, November 23rd, 2009
One of the main competitions in our politics, aside from the liberal versus right-wing, and the establishment versus anti-establishment, is the the competition between technocrats and idiocrats. While technocrats may be ascendant in Obama’s Washington, as policy wonks and experts attempt to solve intractable problems with technical solutions and brainpower and science, the idiocrats, who try to get their agenda through by fooling enough of the people enough of the time, still have a solid hold on the political discussion.
Idiocrats take advantage of that old adage, “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire,” and make sure smoke obscures any issue in which they want to get their way. Rather than respond to their opponents on the merits, they simply describe their opponents and their agenda as the fulfillment of the idiocrat’s worst fears: “Nazi!” “Socialist!” “Communist!” Terrorist!” “America-hater!” “Death panels!” “Government-mandated abortion!” “Reparations!” “Secret Muslim!” “Radical!” For those who are not paying enough attention to the issue to sort through all the competing claims, this extremist rhetoric, while not convincing them, causes them to assume something bad is going on, even if it isn’t as bad as is being claimed.
For example, even as the health care plan Obama has proposed is largely based on previous Republican proposals, and seems to take into account conservative critiques of big government while still making progress towards liberal goals, idiocrats have condemned it in the harshest terms possible, raising every possible fear – from government kidnapping your children and indoctrinating them into socialism, to rationing by death panels, to runaway spending bankrupting the country, to abortion mandates, to the destruction of the employer-based health care system, to the destruction of Medicare. It makes little difference that it is hard to imagine a plan that both rations care brutally and leads to runaway spending, or that everyone acknowledges our current system is on an unsustainable course, or that the measures included in the bills under consideration represent the most significant attempt at cost control in a generation.
Last week, as part of a continuing effort to generate smoke to obscure real issues, the Wall Street Journal editorial board started a deliberate lie to undermine the health care reforms in Congress by claiming (without evidence and contrary to news reports as well as the the recommendation itself) that the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force – a independent, technocratic organization of doctors started by Ronald Reagan – had changed its recommendations regarding breast cancer prevention as part of Obama’s push to reduce the health care costs. This explosive claim became the focus of the public debate, instead of the recommendations of the report itself and their rationale.
On Sunday, Meet the Press had a typically “even-handed” debate between their own Dr. Nancy Snyderman and Ambassador Nancy Brinker, founder of an organization dedicated to fighting breast cancer. The whole 12 minute segment is worth watching (transcript), as you can see Brinker acknowledging that the task force might be right on the science, but at the same time suggesting that we shouldn’t show any weakness in our war against cancer by suggesting mammograms might not always be a good thing. She made a few valid points, giving certain circumstances in which mammograms would be better than alternatives, but she couldn’t and didn’t dispute the task force’s medical conclusions.
But the piece is truly worth watching for “Dr. Nancy” took on the idiocrats who were muddying the issue and defended the scientific conclusions of the doctors:
DR. SNYDERMAN: [O]ver 1900 women screened over a 10-year period of annual mammograms, one life is saved and there are a thousand false positives, which means ongoing, unnecessary tests. Now remember, the scientists who did these numbers, their role is, as scientists, to take the anecdotes and the passion and the emotion out of it. And I recognize that’s hard as part of the message. But they’re to look at the public health issues of how we screen. And we’ve always known that mammography for women in their 40s has been fraught with problems. It is not as precise for older women [She meant younger here]. On that Nancy and I have great agreement. So what their consensus was is that there are a lot of unnecessary screenings for that one life. Now, if you’re that one life, it’s 100 percent. I get that. But their charge as an independent body was to look at the cumulative research as scientists.
Later, as Ambassador Brinker tried to simultaneously politicize the issue while claiming not to be, Dr. Nancy interjected with a righteous defense of science:
The key line that got me:
I would argue that we are on the verge of becoming a scientifically illiterate country if we don’t at times separate [science and politics]…
In a large measure, the promise of Obama, the hope he held out, was to break the hold that idiocrats have over our political debate. Thus far, this is a battle he does not seem to be winning.