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September 22, 2020

Protecting the Editorial Independence of the CDC From Politics

Author Affiliations
  • 1Departments of Pediatrics, Obstetrics and Gynecology, and Epidemiology, University of Florida College of Medicine and College of Public Health and Health Professions, Gainesville
  • 2Coalition for Global Hepatitis Elimination Task Force for Global Health, Decatur, Georgia
  • 3Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, Emory University School of Medicine, and Emory Rollins School of Public Health, Atlanta, Georgia
JAMA. 2020;324(17):1729-1730. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.19646

Beginning September 11, 2020, media sources reported that political appointees within the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have demanded the ability to review and revise scientific reports on the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic published in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).1,2 According to these sources, reviews by political appointees have sometimes led to delays in publication and changes in language in certain reports. Whether this is true is unclear, but these reports are consistent with other reports of the actions of political appointees and their attempts to influence the scientific process.3 As former editors in chief of MMWR, we believe these media reports raise serious concerns that in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, scientific reports published in MMWR might have been delayed or altered for political purposes. These concerns threaten the credibility of MMWR, an essential source of information to help counteract the pandemic.

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    3 Comments for this article
    Journal Reputation is Established by Scientific Creativity and Destroyed by Political Interference
    Michael McAleer, PhD(Econometrics),Queen's | Asia University, Taiwan
    It is difficult to disagree with the commanding viewpoint written by experts and former Editors-in-Chief of a leading journal in epidemiology that is published by the CDC, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).

    If and when political appointees within the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), or anywhere else interfere in the editorial process, it should be made clear in the lead footnote and throughout each and every article that is published in the journal, with names wherever appropriate.

    A journal's reputation can take many years to be established through innovative scientific creativity, but it can easily be destroyed, even with
    a hint of non-scientific interference.

    Nothing does this more easily and speedily than political interference, which is anathema to scientific progress and creativity, especially when accurate information is essential during the COVID-19 pandemic.
    Protecting MMWR is CRUCIAL
    Kathleen Lohr, Phd, MA, MPhil | Retired Distinguished Fellow Emeritus (Health Services Research)
    Just a thank you for getting this article out quickly and convincingly. Any meddling with MMWR would be an incalculable loss to the US, and the world, of honest, well-researched, and well-reported information critical for adequate public health here and globally.
    Yes But
    David Deterly, BSPh | Drug Therapy Consultant
    Appoint the best people, but no one should think this is a "job" for life. No one is perfect and we should realize there is always room for conjecture. First attribute should be to not take criticism personally. Evaluate that which is being analyzed or questioned and respond appropriately if at all. Above all, don't respond on social media. Hopefully these appointed positions will not be based on the "good old boy" criteria but on absolute experience and expertise in the field.