I'll start this one with a premise that I'll defend: treating social and societal conditions like a disease is a slippery slope and, more often than not, it should be avoided. This, and not social/political belief is the main reason I am not so fond of the idea of the CDC doing research on things like gun violence.
I know it's hard for most of us to talk dispassionately about guns. The last time I wrote on the subject a rather vigorous discussion emerged. I'm not trying to be a troll on the subject. Heck, I've never owned a gun. Hear me out.
It's not a money thing. More often than not, I'm a fan of doing studies on anything - I'm a scientist and am a big fan of my people getting some more dough and a new job to do. Nor is it a completely informed opinion. There's no benefit of hindsight here. I can't predict the future (I still cringe at the memory of telling my mother that no one whose name sounded like 'Osama' would ever get the Democratic presidential nomination). But neither can the people who wish the same federal agency that studies transmissible diseases to examine how and why we shoot each other.
The main reason I'm opposed: the results, whatever they are, have no chance to impact our society. By that metric, the research is pointless. So why bother?
Be honest - you already have a solid opinion about whether guns are bad or not. You have your own ideas on how to deal with the issue. A CDC report confirming it (or a news report that digests a complex analysis into two minutes and a graph) will either be an echo chamber for your beliefs or will be shrugged off as bullshit. In 0% of cases will it change anyone's mind, least of all a policymaker who is already entrenched.
Why waste the money?
(answers self): Noah, you're making a huge assumption, that being that research done by the government won't turn anything new or notable up. What if it does, huh?
I'll respond to this self-challenge: First of all, the odds that government employees will pick up on something the private sector think tanks have been banging away at (no pun) for years is infinitesimally small. But let's say that they find something new. Something that will save lives. Something that inconclusively proves one side or another is right and suggests a clear course of action for the future.
I think there's no way we pay attention. And I'll explain why using drunk driving and infant car seats.
We all know (or at least would assume) that the CDC has performed studies into the impact of drunk driving on public safety. They've reported - wait for it - drunk driving increases your risk of crashing and dying.
Honestly, though, no one gives a shit about that revelation. We all know that drunk driving is a terrible idea at this point. But let's pretend this information was somehow new and novel. People slowly responded to this (and this did actually happen 50-ish years ago). Laws toughened, people wised up, etc. Good result, right? Government scientists pushing us in the right direction.
Now let's talk about something else we all KNOW: Child seats save lives. Same deal, right? Backwards-facing car seat until a kid is 4 feet tall or something, that's the way to protect your kids. Heck, even I know the gist of the spiel and I'm as childfree as they get.
The thing is, none of what I wrote is true. At least if you're following the data.
Perhaps, you think, the Noah's found some obscure self-interested group to support his weirdo argument that child safety seats don't save lives. Perhaps. If you believe that the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, the government agency that compiles these types of statistics, is inherently biased. They make all their data publicly available. It's easy to find the source material, but it's easier to just hit the highlight: car seats don't do shit to protect young children in a crash compared to seat belts.
Parents: how many of you followed the government recommendations on this one? Better question: how many of you were even aware of the data?
Being ignorant is understandable. You have to dig a bit to find it. Besides, we count on otherwise-boring government agencies to give us the Tl;dr. And that's where the NHTSA really boggles the mind: in a show of the right hand not knowing what the left is doing (and wasteful spending) they actually produce commercials advocating you to use car seats. That's right - they're marketing a course of action that their own data says makes no impact. Are the car seat makers that powerful of a lobby*?
Ain't that some shit?
But the real question to all you parents: Do you even care? I'd wager probably not. You made up your mind that car seats are good and something as trivial as a fact ain't gonna matter to you.
I get it. I'm not dissing you. But I am saying "what's the point of going through the same exercise for guns?" Let's just skip it and save the money for something nice for the wife.
Now it's time to hit the second reason the CDC shouldn't touch a sticky issue like gun violence: when you look at diseases, you use epidemiology to determine things like risk factors, cause and effect, stuff like that. Now I'm not an expert, but I'll take a flier and wager that there's going to be a correlation between, say, being black and poor and gun violence. Do you really want to put that information out there on a governmental level? I say this as a white dude who's noticed that my guy who look like me seem to have the market cornered on the serial killer/mass shooter market.
I'll reiterate: treating social or biological conditions like diseases is a very slippery slope.
I'll conclude by making another very general point: politicians are almost all shitty at understanding even dumbed-down science. Making policies around emerging science and technology rarely works well. Examples: net neutrality infringement, embryonic stem cells, and the guy who thought the internet was a series of tubes.**)
The prospects of legislators to fuck up sciency things seems almost unlimited. Picking one issue out of the air: I think there's an excellent chance that, in our lifetimes, we will discover the biological basis of homosexuality. We may also find a way to suppress or alter sex preference (I'm guessing it's CNS-related, so probably either chemically or surgically), giving people the option of becoming heterosexual.
As a society, we've been pacing ourselves along with gay acceptance. Where I live, it's almost a non-issue, but I don't think that's the case everywhere. Now throw this into the mix - a pill or surgical technique that has the power to wipe out an entire community.
Think of the schisms that could open up - societal and personal - with this possibility. People who have lived their lives one way suddenly have the option to fundamentally change. Is opting for a "fix" the path to having children (more) easily or would it make you a traitor? Does making a fix mean that you are fundamentally broken and, by availing yourself of treatment, are you passing judgment on those who don't? Can we screen for homosexuality? And, with a new weapon in hand, the religious right might have a few thoughts on how gays should live their lives.
I'm sure there are a load of additional issues. The point is that doing research where there are serious social implications can unlock an absolute shitshow. And that's without government lifting a finger.
Last time: government research on sticky issues is a slippery slope.
*My guess is that the explanation for this might lie closer to the, "feels better to do something than do nothing, even if it's pointless" line of thinking. After all, this is the same government approved an Alzheimer's drug that does nothing.
**That's Big Teddy Stevens, who was opposing net neutrality. God Bless his hot little brain.
Noah's Inner Monologue
Scribblings of a man who can barely operate an idiotproof website.