One of the themes in my forthcoming book is that there are huge
vested interests trying to prevent good news reaching the public.
That is to say, in the ruthless free-market struggle that goes on
between pressure groups for media attention and funds, nobody likes
to have it said that `their’ problem is not urgent and getting
The lengths that acid rain alarmists in the EPA went to to
prevent the result of the NAPAP study reaching Congress before
crucial votes in the early 1990s is well documented, and this was when this
phenomenon first dawned on me. But now I see it everywhere.
Journalists rarely challenge pressure groups’ claims of urgency
and deterioration, because those are the two things that get
editors’ attention, too.
This week saw a pleasing exception: a newspaper that was
prepared to lift the lid on the pessimist cabal.The New York Times ran a front page piece about the
worldwide decline in maternal deaths reported in the Lancet.
The piece revealed that the Lancet’s editor, Richard Horton, had
come under pressure to delay the paper lest it reduce funding
opportunities for pressure groups.
But some advocates for women’s health
tried to pressure The Lancet into delaying publication of the new
findings, fearing that good news would detract from the urgency of
their cause, Dr. Horton said in a telephone interview.
Maternal deaths had been declining steeply till the early 1990s
when the improvement stalled — chiefly because of the African HIV
epidemic. It has recently resumed in earnest and is now dropping steeply:
Yet some people did not want you to know this:
Dr. Horton said the advocates, whom he declined to name,
wanted the new information held and released only after certain
meetings about maternal and child health had already taken
He said the meetings included one at
the United Nations this week, and another to be
held in Washington in June, where advocates hope to win support for
more foreign aid for maternal health from Secretary of State
Hillary Rodham Clinton. Other meetings of concern to
the advocates are the Pacific Health Summit in June, and the United
Nations General Assembly meeting in
This is wrong on all sorts of levels. First, because it shows a
staggering arrogance among pressure groups about who should be
allowed to know the facts — almost amounting to attempted fraud.
Second, because the way to encourage people to fund projects is to
show evidence that they work , not that they are futile and
ineffective. One might almost suspect that these groups would
prefer maternal mortality to remain high.
If we want a good environmental policy in
the future we’ll have to have a disaster.