Monday, April 7, 2008


Scandal has rocked the public health world. Or so many would believe. Last week, events unfolded that are still oozing shock waves to the media, the blogosphere, and public health agencies. For a brief background, Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs (CCP) is, as one might imagine, part of Hopkins, but it is funded by USAID. CCP administers PopLine, the world's largest database on reproductive health. Here's the media's latest spin: recently, PopLine administrators removed the search term "abortion," essentially rendering all abortion-focused articles invisible to the public. That's where most media and bloggers stop.

Enter outrage, shock, and criticism. How could Hopkins, a world-premier research organization, allow such censorship? How could they cut people off from evidence-based information, information that is supposed to be free? People waged a textual war, yelling such things as: "it's absurd to restrict searches using a perfectly good noun such as abortion!" "Insidious and convoluted." "I hope somebody at Hopkins is looking for work next week." "Whoever did this should pay dearly." Hate mail began to stream in.

This episode is, to me, simply a symptom of a broader malady. I am repeatedly dismayed at our cultural readiness to criticize, find fault, and jump to conclusions. Is it that we truly lack the time to seek out a more complete and truthful view of a situation? Could it be that our inclination to rage has been weighted? Do we have shorter fuses than we used to? Are we all becoming cynics? I have noticed this increasing tendency to criticize - especially our leaders, but in a true sense, all people around us. It troubles me. Perhaps we have removed ourselves so far from the situation that we lose all context for decisions. Choices are rarely - if ever - made in a vacuum, and we seldom know the issues surrounding the decisions. It is even less likely that we will have a complete understanding of context - a holistic view of the situation - when it is first presented to us. Yet, so many of us constantly react to the first hearing. We join the rampage, and once adjoined, whether from fear or pride, it is difficult to retreat and look at the situation objectively. We seem to feel that once we have pledged our "support" in one direction, we cannot do what is necessary - to carefully examine each side of the issue. It is also vital to take into consideration the human aspect of decision-making, and remember, remember, that we too are human. I believe we forget that we are of the same nature as those making these "outrageous" decisions. Would we have made the same choice if placed in the same situation? I don't necessarily want to take this to the "cast the first stone" level; however, I find that it is rare that we are level-headed and realistic when we cast our first judgment. We react without full, or even partial information. From that point, we continue on adrenaline and emotions, inhibiting factual ability to penetrate our clouded minds.

To come back to the story at hand, CCP is funded by USAID, which means that certain restrictions are placed upon it. Abortion cannot be advocated or officially spoken of given the current administration. Whatever our personal views on the issue, I would venture to say that we need to seek more understanding of this multi-faceted issue by drawing ourselves back from the minutia of one facet. Then, we can begin to make decisions unadulterated by sheer emotion, and start to act - not react.


Jecca Lee Ivie Johnson said...

Don't worry, I'm not casting stones. In fact, I must live under a rock because I knew nothing about this uproar. Guess I've been watching a little too much disney channel and not enough nightly news! I generally feel like I'm watching Monty Python's witch hunt all over the news these days! People get all fired up about things they seldom understand and don't really even seek to understand. Sometimes I feel like I'm the ignorant one on a lot of current political issues but at least I'm not spitting my uninformed two cents at others and trying to stir up trouble. So you make me feel better about myself. I may be stupid, but not hateful. Thanks Heather.

Heather Sanders said...

No, Jess. Not stupid. Not you. Not ever.