October 14, 2013

Don’t Neglect Analysis in Public Health Debate

Richard A. Williams

Senior Affiliated Scholar
Summary

Regarding Dr. Thomas Frieden’s commentary (“A broad mission to protect public health,” Opinion, Oct. 4), his formula for intervention is, “Find out what’s harming people, figure out how to stop these harms, put programs in place to prevent these harms — and monitor how the programs are working and how we can improve them.”

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Letter to the Editor

Regarding Dr. Thomas Frieden’s commentary (“A broad mission to protect public health,” Opinion, Oct. 4), his formula for intervention is, “Find out what’s harming people, figure out how to stop these harms, put programs in place to prevent these harms — and monitor how the programs are working and how we can improve them.”

Based on on my experience as a former director for social sciences at the Food and Drug Administration, Frieden appears to approach public health problems precisely as a physician addresses private patients. That may lead to poor public policy outcomes and, sometimes, to public health advocacy as opposed to scientifically informed policy.

He neglects analysis that can identify whether people misunderstand the problem, what the risks and benefits of different options are, and the possible unintended consequences of policies. As to the latter, recall the unintended consequences of Prohibition.