Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Here's a letter I wrote to my colleagues . . .

. . . along with one of them.

This is a critical time for the future of health care policy, and all policies affecting public health in the United States. The incoming president and congress have promised to take actions that will profoundly change our health care system, along with environmental regulation, immigration policy, labor policy, and much more that will affect the health and well-being of the population. Some of the rhetoric in the recent campaign has also affected the social and political culture of the nation with unpredictable but likely worrisome consequences.
            We were deeply concerned by the scarcity of informed and even accurate discussion of public policy in the recent campaign. It appears that voters have little understanding of what government does or how government policies and practices affect their lives. The news media largely failed to explain the facts and controversies underlying policy choices, and allowed empty rhetoric and personal questions about the candidates to dominate the communal discourse.
            We believe that we, as experts in policy issues that are of the greatest importance for our nation and its citizens, can and should do more to contribute to the public discourse beyond our traditional focus on publishing in journals that are read only by our peers. We believe that we need to define an expanded role for public health researchers that brings our science out into the world and engages with people from all communities and walks of life. Voters cannot make appropriate decisions if they cannot meaningfully evaluate what candidates say and promise.
            We hope to join with our colleagues, starting within the department but perhaps expanding to the entire school of public health and ultimately beyond to other institutions, in an effort to democratize our work. By this we mean listening and engaging communities in helping us to understand what matters to people, and how we can best serve the public interest through our scholarly work, but just as importantly o through effective dissemination of knowledge and empowering people to be informed civic actors.
            We have discussed a few ideas about what some components of this effort might be. We do know that it calls for re-examining the institutional expectation for how public health scholars will focus their time and how their accomplishments will be evaluated. But there is much we can do now, that we believe we should be doing as a matter of urgency. We hope that some of you will join us in discussion leading to action. Please let either or both of us know if you want to join us, and we will convene those interested.
I'm not the only one who feels this way -- for example there's the well-publicized open letter from MIT faculty -- but I'm not just talking about writing open letters or op-eds. I'm talking about working with community-based organizations to engage people directly in understanding the facts underlying policy choices and how government matters to their lives. We cannot survive in a post-factual world.


robin andrea said...

It's true, "we cannot survive in a post-factual world." Sadly, I'm not sure there is a way to communicate with people whose misunderstandings of the role of public governance are already firmly and staunchly in place. There is a mighty force that relies heavily on that misunderstanding and the post-factual world. That's a battle that will be difficult to wage. How will you get your voices heard?

Cervantes said...

My plan is not to write op-eds, but to partner with health care providers and community organization to create programs that directly interact with their patients and beneficiaries to share our expertise -- in both directions -- about how public policy really works and affects them.