The Irascible ProfessorSM

Irreverent Commentary on the State of Education in America Today

by Dr. Mark H. Shapiro
"Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity."... ...Martin Luther King, Jr.

Commentary of the Day - October 8, 2002:  "Scrubbing the Web" - A Step Backwards in HIV/AIDS Education.

Since the Bush II administration came into power, it has been busy removing any information posted on federal government web sites that do not conform to Bush administration policies.  In the climate following 9-11-2001 some of this "web cleansing" can be attributed to security concerns.  However much of the scrubbing is an attempt to make sure that the information provided by government web sites supports administration policy.

It's no surprise that a new administration would want to present its policies in the best light.  However, many Americans -- regardless of political affiliation -- expect federal government web sites, particularly those that impact our health and welfare to present facts that are both accurate and reasonably complete.  Nevertheless, it appears that the Bush administration has been busy scrubbing scientific and medical information from government web sites not because the information is scientifically incorrect or medically unsound, but because the information does not conform to administration policy in its narrowest sense.

A case in point has been the removal from the Centers for Disease Control's web site of information regarding the effectiveness of latex condoms in reducing the spread of HIV infections and other sexually transmitted diseases; and, the removal from the CDC web site of references to sex education "programs that work" because those programs include the dissemination of information about condoms.  It seems that the Bush administration has adopted a policy of supporting only those sex education and HIV/AIDS prevention programs that preach an "abstinence only" approach.

The groups promoting "abstinence only" approaches to sex education and HIV/AIDS prevention do so primarily because of religious and moral reasons.  One of their major concerns is that providing young people with information about the effectiveness of condoms in preventing both spread of sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies might encourage unmarried teenagers to become sexually active.  This is a legitimate concern; however, the best available evidence suggests that providing accurate information about condoms does not lead to a higher rate of sexual activity among teens.

Abstinence only groups frequently point to the fact that condoms are not perfect, i.e. they do not reduce the risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease to zero, and they are not a 100% reliable method of preventing unwanted pregnancies.  While this is literally true, it ignores the fact that condoms are highly effective in reducing the spread of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, and in reducing the chances of an unwanted pregnancy.  This is a bit like saying that people who drive cars should not wear seat belts because seat belts are not completely effective in preventing injuries during collisions.

It is important that young people (and all people) who are sexually active have accurate information about the effectiveness of latex condoms so that they can make an informed choice about using them..

The American public depends on the Centers for Disease Control to provide the best available scientific and medical information.  That information should not be tainted by political considerations.  They should not be put in the position of having to refer visitors to their web site to other sources for information about the preventing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, as they now are.  The Bush administration should be ashamed of its actions in this regard.  They put political and moral ideology above public health interests.

Fortunately, there are many sources of accurate information about the effectiveness of latex condoms available on the web.  A good example is the information provided by the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States.  The information on their fact sheet "The Truth about Latex Condoms" is based on extensive medical studies.

In addition, it is very difficult to remove all traces of a web page from public view.  Readers interested in seeing the information on "programs that work" that originally resided on the CDC web site can find it here.

Finally, the IP would note that both the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted teen pregnancies have a societal cost as well as an individual cost.  It is our tax dollars that often must pay the bills for treatment of the diseases, and our tax dollars that often must pay the welfare costs associated with teen pregnancies.  In the case of sexually transmitted diseases such as AIDS and hepatitis B, the costs of treatment are very high.  It should be apparent to all but perhaps the most fanatical members of the electorate, that it is a lot cheaper to prevent these problems than to treat them.
The IP wishes to thank one of his regular readers for alerting him to this issue.

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