11 months ago

COVID Exposed the Truth About the CDC

The agency will never be controlled by fact-driven experts shielded from politics.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was once widely viewed as the gold standard in public health, considered an apolitical, science-driven bulwark against all pathogen threats, foreign and domestic.

Today, trust in the agency has plummeted because COVID-19 exposed the truth: The CDC is thoroughly corruptible, and federal regulators will never be impartial experts. They respond to political incentives just like everyone else, and a fact-driven, purely technocratic state is an impossible dream.

The Trump administration pressured the CDC to narrow the scope of testing so case counts would drop, blocked officials from doing interviews, and edited its flagship scientific reports. The CDC provided a scientifically dubious public health rationale for rejecting migrants at the southern border. President Joe Biden continued that policy, and under his purview, CDC guidance on school closures was surreptitiously written by leaders of the country's second-largest teachers union.

Tom Frieden, a former CDC director, co-authored a 2021 op-ed with three other former agency heads expressing hope that Biden's incoming CDC Director Rochelle Walensky would "restore the public's confidence in the CDC's scientific objectivity," with its reputation "a shadow of what it once was." Yet, Frieden endorsed large-scale protests against racial injustice two months after writing in The Washington Post that "the faucet of everyday activities needs to be turned on slowly. We cannot open the floodgates." Meanwhile, public health officials were keeping people from attending the funerals of their loved ones.

And could it be pure coincidence that the CDC chose the Friday before President Biden's State of the Union address to drop its indoor mask recommendation for the majority of Americans, even though the supporting data were months old?

In other words, it doesn't matter who occupies the White House—political incentives mean that, no matter how dedicated or competent the career scientists who work at the CDC are, the agency will never be controlled by fact-driven experts shielded from the "hurry and strife of politics," as Woodrow Wilson wrote. After decades of mission creep, the CDC's role should be strictly narrowed, limited to surveillance and coordination, leaving the heavy lifting to local officials and private and academic researchers who are more reactive to direct feedback from their communities.

Written and produced by Justin Monticello. Edited by Isaac Reese. Graphics by Reese, Tomasz Kaye, and Nodehaus. Audio production by Ian Keyser.

Music: "Robotic Butterflies" by Evgeny Bardyuzha; "We Fall" by Stanley Gurvich; "Free Radicals" by Stanley Gurvich.

Photos: BSIP/Newscom; BSIP/Newscom; Sarah Silbiger/UPI/Newscom; Shawn Thew - Pool via CNP/ZUMAPRESS/Newscom; Alex Edelman/ZUMA Press/Newscom; SMG/ZUMA Press/Newscom; Simon Shin/ZUMA Press/Newscom; Michael Brochstein/ZUMAPRESS/Newscom; Adam Schultz/White House/Newscom; Brazil Photo Press / SplashNews/Newscom; Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Newscom; Polaris/Newscom; Jonathan Alpeyrie/Polaris/Newscom; Aimee Melo/dpa/picture-alliance/Newscom; Julian Stratenschulte/dpa/picture-alliance/Newscom; Sven Hoppe/dpa/picture-alliance/Newscom; CNP/AdMedia/Newscom

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