CMDA's The Point

The Pursuit of Truth—Not Politics—Should Guide Research

November 5, 2018
WashingDCCaptitol

by Jonathan Imbody

The contentious confirmation hearing of Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh mirrored a less outwardly raucous, though equally intense, conflict in the scientific and research community. Our country, our culture and the scientific community appear at a crossroads. We are determining the extent to which objectivity, evidence and reason—as opposed to bias, ideology and emotion—will shape our conclusions and our policies.

The outcome of the political conflict will literally determine whether or not we can continue to function as a democratic republic or whether power alone—totalitarianism--will determine policy. The outcome of the scientific conflict will determine whether objective research will guide policy and protect patients or whether ideology will overpower objective reality.

Do dead people bleed?

In Faith Steps, my book on why and how people of faith should engage in public policy, I related a humorous story with a point relevant to this question:

A patient in a psychiatric ward had convinced himself he was dead. An intern at a hospital walks into the ward, determined to reason with the self-deluded patient. The intern had developed a strategy he was sure would outsmart the patient.

So the intern posed this clever challenge to the patient:

"Dead people don't bleed, right?"

The patient thought for a while. Finally, he nodded his head in agreement.

The intern produced a pin and pricked the patient's finger. A drop of blood formed on the patient's finger.

The patient looked at the blood and his eyes grew wide with astonishment.

The patient considered this unexpected result for quite some time. Suddenly, his puzzled brow arched upward and his eyes lit up.

"Why, that's incredible," he exclaimed. "Dead people really do bleed!"

It's common knowledge that human beings often find a way to interpret challenging evidence according to our preconceived bias. Despite this knowledge, many people still assume that scientists and researchers somehow totally transcend their own biases. Scientists rely solely on evidence, and evidence is unbiased, so scientists must be unbiased.

Scientific research suffers under coerced consensus

We do well to remember that while science is always objective, scientists are not.

We should assume that the proven human proclivity toward bias is bound to infect the process of human beings determining, analyzing and publicizing of evidence. We should also not be too surprised if bias in the medical and social science communities skews not only how studies are designed, interpreted and reported but also what studies get funded and published in the first place.

To be fair, scientists and researchers over the centuries have developed standards to help decrease the impact of human bias and increase the probability of objective results. Standards regarding testability, replicability, rigor, precision, generalizability and rules of statistical analysis are all designed to move research toward the goal of objectivity.

Yet despite these safeguards, scientists and researchers still produce purportedly airtight objective studies that irreconcilably contradict each other, and consensus conclusions are not infrequently overturned later by contradictory new evidence.

While the system of scientific standards surely helps vaccinate against bias, it appears that some very resistant strains of bias still manage to infect the body of research. That bias, added to common methodological flaws and just plain errors in research, should give us pause about accepting all research as gospel.

The frequency of contradictions and reversals in the world of science also should encourage more humility in the scientific community, but such humility seems rare.

British DNA co-discoverer Francis Crick, reflecting on his landmark work in human genetics, immodestly asserted, "The god hypothesis is rather discredited."[1]

Crick's partner and fellow atheist James Watson declared, "Only with the discovery of the double helix and the ensuing genetic revolution have we had grounds for thinking that the powers held traditionally to be the exclusive property of the gods might one day be ours."[2]

One scientist discredits God while his partner aims to take the place of God. So much for humility.

Research on abortion sequelae faces obstacles

Pure and objective research and reporting on contentious social issues may be the most endangered species of all. The pressure—at times reaching the level of coercion—to conform research to ideological positions can be intense. And when objective evidence does on occasion evade the censors and challenges the dogma of the cultural or professional elite, the challengers often face professional and personal vilification.

Peer-reviewed research on the sequelae of abortion, [3] for example, is highly likely to trigger opposition based on political bias.

An article, "The breast cancer epidemic: 10 facts," challenges the dogma of abortion advocates by concluding that data indicate a link between abortion and breast cancer:

"Many reports from the United States and other Western countries have also linked induced abortion (IA) to breast cancer (the abortion–breast cancer (ABC) link). Recently, there has been a surge in the number of reports from multiple, non-Western nations, associating abortion with breast cancer. Consequently, there is now sufficient evidence to conclude that IA is causally linked to breast cancer."[4]

An evidence-based assertion of a link between abortion and breast cancer, whether ultimately convincing or not, at the very least deserves careful study and debate. Yet ideologically driven abortion activists and their sympathizers may find it all too tempting to dismiss out of hand any evidence that challenges their ideology.

Challenging evidence labeled "misinformation"

If activists and their sympathizers are well-funded and well-connected, they can design their own studies that produce results that conveniently support their ideology. They may also squelch publication of evidence that challenges their ideology. They can claim that their studies are objective and uniquely authoritative, and that any assertions disputing their conclusion is based on ideology (while ignoring the influence of their own ideology).

A Planned Parenthood paper, for example, asserts:

"Once more they are using misinformation as a weapon in their campaign against safe, legal abortion. In the guise of an ostensible concern for women’s health, they point to inconclusive, and at times flawed, studies for alleged evidence of a possible association, while ignoring or dismissing overwhelming evidence that abortion does not place women at greater risk of breast cancer."[5]

Who controls the evidence and the publications?

How reliably objective and inclusive is the universe of published studies?

In the current climate of political activism, does it not seem reasonable to suspect that intense views about abortion in the research community are having either a deliberate or unconscious effect on who gets funded, what gets studied, how results are interpreted, what gets hidden and what gets published?

If the league owners, the referees and the announcers of a sports game overwhelmingly favor one team, we cannot expect the score of the game to prove much of anything except the bias of all those involved.

Another Planned Parenthood paper insists categorically, in typical fashion, that abortion has no negative impact whatsoever on mental health:

"For more than 30 years, substantive research studies have shown that legally induced abortion does not pose mental health problems for women."[6]

Such assertions run counter to the real-life published testimonies of hundreds of women who regret their abortion and have suffered for years in its aftermath.[7] Such evidence to the contrary inconveniently messes with abortion advocates' master plan to portray abortion as a benign, "not medically controversial"[8] practice.

A study published in a psychiatric journal strongly disputes the conclusion of no mental health problems after abortions, based in part on the questionable quality of the research stacked up to reach the conclusion:

"There have been a number of studies that have tried to prove that abortion is not harmful to a woman's state of mind. However, the flaws of these studies include: the lack of controlled studies where abortions are randomized as a treatment for pregnancy; not taking into account the woman's state of mind before the pregnancy; use of questionnaires to gain information on well-suppressed feelings; and few studies with comparison groups.

"It has also been discovered that women who had elective abortions suffered higher psychological trauma than women who gave birth to stillborn children. However, emotional distress was found to be higher among women that had repeat abortions.

"In other studies, it was found that women who had previous abortions and were looking forward to being pregnant were more anxious about the pregnancy than women who had never had abortions. Recent studies on women that have had abortions show that they run a greater risk of complications such as: eclampsia, bleeding, miscarriage, maternal mortality and post-partum complications.

"Past abortions may also have an effect on the relationship which exists between the mother and surviving children. Some studies have also discovered feelings of shame and uneasiness in medical personnel who conduct abortions. Factors such as amniocentesis, eugenics and demography figure prominently in the prevalence of abortions."[9]

Ideology shuts the door on questioning

Many physicians take seriously the concerns about consequences of abortion, as one would expect of physicians dedicated to pursuing their patients' best interest. Yet abortion ideologues tend to dismiss any reservation that might indicate the need to limit abortion, as inherently incompatible with a patient's best interests and thus disallowable. That's because abortion, in the minds of activists, is not a matter of ending a life; it is the ticket to a better life—without a baby messing up your plans.

Of course, that's not evidence—that's ideology.

According to this inflexible dogma, any physician unwilling to participate in abortions is pitting his or her own selfish interests against the interests of the patient. A typical attack on abortion opponents focuses not on evidence but on ad hominem attacks, along the lines of, "anti-science misogynists are trying to force their religion down our throats."

Anti-conscience coercion in healthcare ultimately hurts patients

Pressure toward ideological conformity squelches contradictory (and potentially lifesaving) research that can challenge prior assumptions that in fact may be harming patients. Yet institutions such as the billion-dollar abortion business Planned Parenthood and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology appear to be so driven ideologically by abortion that it is difficult to imagine them ever acknowledging even the most credible, convincing research if it challenges their abortion-driven ideological foundation.

They appear to have based their reputation, their funding, their very existence, on the political ideology of abortion on demand.

As the preceding examples attempt to illustrate, advancing social issue agendas through peer pressure and ideological coercion leads to censorship of objective, dissenting research. By discarding the neutrality of scientific standards, the coercive approach also necessitates countless court battles as a last resort to restore the basic freedoms of the oppressed minority—and to restore the pursuit of objective truth.

This is not just a philosophical, theoretical dispute. The battle for scientific freedom and objectivity, the fight against the suppression of evidence and opposing viewpoints based on ideology, impacts the careers of real people.

Ideological coercion lays the groundwork for a purge of medical professionals who object, on the basis of conviction and medical judgment, to abortion, assisted suicide, transgender procedures, embryo-destructive research, and a host of other controversial issues. Left unchallenged, ideological coercion not only will undermine scientific objectivity; it will also result in the expulsion from medicine of thousands of conscientious health professionals.

Many of these conscience-driven professionals have dedicated their lives to treating the poor and protecting the vulnerable. Such an ideological purge would deprive millions of Americans of quality health care.

The foundations of our democratic republic and evidentiary medicine are under attack by ideological zealots. It's time for reasonable people, including those who might by nature prefer a nonconfrontational stance on the sidelines, to suit up and get into the game.

Because unless we resist ideological tyranny in our political institutions and in medicine and return to civil democracy and scientific objectivity, it will be game over for anyone who dares challenge the decreed doctrines.


[1] "DNA pioneers lash out at religion," The Washington Times, March 24, 2003.

[2] "DNA pioneers lash out at religion," The Washington Times, March 24, 2003.

[3] Niinimäki M1, Pouta A, Bloigu A, Gissler M, Hemminki E, Suhonen S, Heikinheimo O., "Immediate complications after medical compared with surgical termination of pregnancy," Obstet Gynecol. 2009 Oct;114(4):795-804. doi: 10.1097/AOG.0b013e3181b5ccf9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19888037 accessed August 20, 2018.

[4] "The breast cancer epidemic: 10 facts," A. Patrick Schneider, Christine M. Zainer, Christopher Kevin Kubat, Nancy K. Mullen and Amberly K. Windisch. Linacre Q. August, 2014; 81(3): 244–277. Accessed online 11/9/17 at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4135458/.

[5] "Myths about abortion and breast cancer," Planned aParenthood Federation of America, access September 6, 2018 at https://www.plannedparenthood.org/files/9613/9611/5578/Myths_About_Abortion_and_Breast_Cancer.pdf.

[6] "The emotional effects of induced abortion," Planned Parenthood Federation of America, accessed September 4, 2018 at https://www.plannedparenthood.org/files/8413/9611/5708/Abortion_Emotional_Effects.pdf.

[7] Hundreds of such testimonies  can be found at the Silent No More Awareness Campaign website, accessed September 21, 2018: http://www.silentnomoreawareness.org/testimonies/index.aspx.

[8] "Physicians, Not Conscripts — Conscientious Objection in Health Care," Ronit Y. Stahl, Ph.D. and Ezekiel J. Emanuel, M.D., Ph.D., New England Journal of Medicine 376;14, April 6, 2017, p. 1380.

[9] Ney PG, Wickett AR, "Mental health and abortion: review and analysis." Psychiatr J Univ Ott. 1989 Nov;14(4):506-16. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2682716 accessed August 20, 2018.

Jonathan Imbody

About Jonathan Imbody

Jonathan serves as Vice President for Government Relations with CMDA and directs the Christian Medical Association's Washington Office. As CMA's liaison with the federal government, he has participated in over 30 White House meetings and events and makes over 200 personal contacts with Congressional leaders and government officials each year. Jonathan testified on euthanasia and assisted suicide before a U.S. Senate committee. A veteran writer of more than 30 years, Jonathan authored Faith Steps, which encourages and equips Christians to engage in public policy issues. He has published more than 100 commentaries in The Washington Post, USA Today, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Chicago Sun-Times and many other national publications. World magazine featured his essay summarizing the major medical accomplishments and challenges of the past millennium. He has also written numerous magazine articles, marketing materials and educational curricula. Jonathan's writing focuses on public policy issues including freedom of faith, conscience and speech; human trafficking; abortion; assisted suicide; stem cell research; the role of faith in health; international health; healthcare policy; sexual risk avoidance and HIV/AIDS. His on-site research on euthanasia in the Netherlands formed the basis for the No Mercy video and a presentation at an international conference in The Hague. Jonathan received his bachelor's degree in journalism and speech communications from the Pennsylvania State University, a master's degree from Penn State in counseling and education and a certificate in biblical and theological studies from the Alliance Theological Seminary in New York. Jonathan's wife Amy is an author and leads the Redemptive Education movement. They have four children and four grandchildren.

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