As President Bush looks below cabinet level for those in his administration who need to be moved on down the road, he would do well and good to whip a pink travel ticket on Centers for Disease Control Director Julie Gerberding.
With an annual budget of $6 billion plus, the CDC is one of those black box federal bureaucracies in dire need of a cesspool pumping. Hosing the country down with a good retro dose of DDT would be a better use of public health money.
There is much to criticize at an agency that has likely outlived its mission and, even if it hasn't, seems ill-suited for current challenges. But that which moves political mountains in these turbulent times is rarely based on learned, thorough analysis. Scandal works better and is a lot more tantalizing, and the CDC is Ph.D.-deep in an emerging one.
Here's the core of what we know, not nearly enough at this point. Last March, the CDC flung out a study indicating a precipitous rise in deaths attributed to obesity, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). The aforementioned Dr. Gerberding is a named "co-author" of the study, whether for personal effort or director's prerogative and public relations exploitation.
Statist nannies, trial lawyers, diet pill pushers, stomach staplers and the fruit-and-nut crowd just loved the study. If obesity is Dale Junioring its way to the winner's circle of so-called preventable deaths, why, mercy, we have ourselves one fat new crisis for a Big Government feast. Feast it has, snatching snacks from the mouths of school children, laying on enough Medicare funding to buy every citizen a fine aged Porterhouse, drooling over all manner of new opportunity to educate and regulate.
But there's a problem. The math of the study is all kaflugled. How kaflugled? Don't know. The CDC won't say, because, according to CDC chief of science Dixie Snider, who is leading an internal inquiry, scientists can't agree on how to calculate the error. Oh? That's comforting.
Right now, we owe our knowledge on the botched study to Betsy McKay of The Wall Street Journal, who wrote her November 23 story straight down the line. While we admire McKay's journalistic standards, a dose of Ibogaine-inspired writing might have produced the much juicier back-story of dysfunctional junk scientists fanging each other like vampires after a fast.
Perhaps the most telling comment regarding the study is one made by Snider to McKay. "This is not scientific misconduct," he said. Perhaps in his world, it isn't. But when any government official, in any agency, finds it necessary to even say something like that publicly, most of us who pay that agency's bills would opine it's time for some personnel changes, at the very least.December 9, 2004