The Politicization of Science Goes Both Ways
The first objection that I would raise is that Reynolds presumes that the language of the fact sheet was not politicized before. Here's how the AP describes the change:
That doesn't quite give the entire comparison. The character of the intercourse is left vague in the old version, and the AP cuts out the corresponding sentiment in the new version. Here's the relevant chunk of text that is currently available:
The old version may very well have included the monogamous relationship comment, and there is no doubt that the emphasis of the passage has changed. But can it be said that one is neutral while the other is politicized? Personally, I find the sunny terms of "those who have sexual intercourse" to be less clinically accurate than the admittedly starker "whose sexual behaviors place them at risk." After all, the purpose of condoms is to reduce a risk at which one has placed himself or herself. However, I'll concede that the differentiation is right on the eye-of-the-beholder line.
My second objection is that this text comes from the introductory "bottom line" section, in which it does not seem unduly political to let the language lean toward a larger conclusion. Condoms, of course, are merely a piece in society's treatment of sex, and there is certainly an argument to be made that, in the broader picture, not actively encouraging sex through claims of a virtual panacea is the wiser course. Those against the change in presentation will object that abstinence has, all along, been mentioned as the only sure method to avoid STD. But if they're honest, they'll admit that its treatment has been more akin to a small-font disclaimer than a bold-faced declaration. When Planned Parenthood handed me a condom in high school, I certainly felt like (more of) a loser for having no use for it.
Anyway, here's the text from a summary box directly following the introduction:
That seems pretty balanced to me. The only way it is accurate to say that the CDC is not "promoting" condom use is if one means that it is no longer promoting the activity that makes condom use advisable. Frankly, I don't find it encouraging that even such minor changes to an online fact sheet toward a more cautious, more circumspect treatment of sexual behavior is apt to be seen as opening the door for the soldiers for morality to come in and break up Mr. Science and Ms. Freedom's liaison.
Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:06 AM EST