Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Immoral Minority

We've long known that Osama bin Laden is the best friend George W. Bush ever had, but George's carnal lust for The Evildoer does come as news. However esthetically unappealing this image may be, in public health we are careful not to pass moral judgment, because it is counterproductive.

Instead, we consider the health-related risks of behaviors, based on evidence, and develop evidence-based methods of risk reduction and harm reduction. In the case of Mr. Bush and Mr. bin Laden, although abstinence might represent the lowest risk, just preaching abstinence does not work. In fact, it is less effective at reducing sexual promiscuity than comprehensive sexuality education -- and just ask Ted Haggard if you don't believe me. Oh well, don't ask him, he is tragically short on insight. But anyway, in other words, we should do our best to encourage Mr. Bush to use a condom when he consummates his desire.

Unfortunately, as you may recall from a few years back, members of Mr. Bush's party have been trying to put a stop to research that would help us do that effectively. NIH grant awards are posted in a searchable database called CRISP, and Republican members of Congress troll through the database in order to find grants they consider politically objectionable -- based on abstracts containing words like "sex worker," "transgender," and yes, Mr. President, "anal sex." As the NYT's Erica Goode reported:

[A] researcher at the University of California said he had been advised by an N.I.H. project officer that the abstract of a grant application he was submitting ''should be 'cleansed' and should not contain any contentious wording like 'gay' or 'homosexual' or 'transgender.' '' The researcher said the project officer told him that grants that included those words were ''being screened out and targeted for more intense scrutiny.''

He said he was now struggling with how to write the grant proposal, which dealt with a study of gay men and H.I.V. testing. When the subjects were gay men, he said, ''It's hard not to mention them in your abstract.''

Resolutely refusing to know what people do doesn't stop them from doing it.

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