The Lancet had a stern and – for The Lancet – rude and wildly unscientific criticism of the Pope’s words in March about condoms not helping HIV prevention in Africa. It was only 350 words but the tone and the editorial decision to print it seem completely out of character for this institution of British medicine.
The Lancet, Volume 373, Issue 9669, Page 1054, 28 March 2009
www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(09)60627-9/fulltext (Note you need an account with either theLancet.com or http://www.sciencedirect.com)
ProAbortion bloggers were all over it as proof the science community knew better than the Pope. You’d have thought he maligned the Virgin Mary and desecrated a crucifix in human urine for an ‘art’ exhibit! (You get my point.) The European parliament voted on and nearly passed a censure proclamation.
The Lancet received comments from their esteemed readership. They published 3 letter that PROVE the Pope is right and the editorial staff broke or seriously bent their own code of conduct.
A first gave a sociological rebuttal of the religious attacks in the editorial. While the author clearly states one area of disagreement with the Vatican on the use of condoms by married couples when one has HIV, they state in effect that religion and medical science are each responsible in their respective venues and the Lancet editors not the Pope were the ones that failed to make their case as they crossed over. This is also noteworthy because the author is with the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University which though exceptionally distinguished is not known for its support of Catholic moral theology concerning reproductive health to put it mildly.
The second letter – complete with footnotes – cites the epidemiology studies showing that the Pope is right.
The third was an analysis of the Pope’s words in the context of the entire statement that said the editorial was either a) deliberately false or b) very, very bad scholarship. They specifically said “…to suggest this calls into question the motives, credibility, and critical thinking of the Editors.” This in a British journal mind you! (Though this writer is Belgian.) The writer then goes on to rephrase back to The Lancet the language it used on the Pope and written thusly illustrates how The Lancet overstepped while the Pope was clearly on his home turf. Finally this writer speculates that the reason the Editors pursued this folly was “…because of the blindness of their heart.” quoting all of Eph 4:18.
These were not the only letters. A 4th letter is by a Jon O’Brien of Catholics for Choice. Mr. O’Brien’s opening statement is “Lancet rightly reflects on the global consensus…” which to my ear means he thinks The Lancet is a news and opinion aggregator not a scientific journal. Mr. O’Brien goes on to say that Catholic organizations are not the right means to spend aid money because …well they’re too Catholic. They’ll follow Catholic consciences and not the science when distributing aid (like its candy) and so “the damage can be extensive.”
I mentioned that Mr. O’Brien is the leader of Catholics for Choice. This is a virulently anti-Catholic organization lobbying for 2 things since 1973 – women’s ordination and full reproductive freedom meaning contraception and abortion. It seems that we can neglect this letter in the scientific and ethical debate on the Pope’s comments though certainly not in any political one.
Also related to Mr. O’Brien’s letter, I’d like to note that The Lancet requires each author’s work conclude with a statement “I declare that I have no conflicts of interest.” This is delightfully British and almost anachronistic in its positive insistence on full disclosure and fairness. Since Catholics for Choice is so stridently opposed to the Vatican in general and Catholic teaching specifically and since Mr. O’Brien’s immediate past employer was Planned Parenthood I wonder if Mr. O’Brien can say this in good conscience? Perhaps he can legalistically. His organization’s funds don’t come from any condom manufacturers or UN aid bureaucracy that I can see just liberal foundations and pornographers. (See Who Are ‘Catholics for a Free Choice’?, www.dianedew.com/CFFC.htm it’s a bit old but not dated and very interesting.) However can he make the statement morally that he has no conflict of interest? Also see CFC’s own website. www.catholicsforchoice.org
I don’t think anyone would honestly – though many might out of ignorance or hostility toward religion in general or Catholicism specifically – seriously consider that the Pope’s stated or unstated intent is that we follow religious dictates blind to the knowledge from science.
I hate statistics as weapons. Discussion of fact-based science duly considering ethical and moral considerations will better discover the truth.