When Good News Isn’t Good News

Yesterday, the New York Times reported on a sharp global decline in maternal deaths.  This is good news, right?  Not to some.  The Times also reported that some activists sought to pressure the Lancet into delaying or downplaying the findings.

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, [Lancet editor] Dr. [Richard] Horton said in a telephone interview.“I think this is one of those instances when science and advocacy can conflict,” he said.

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 place.

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 December.

“People who have spent many years committed to the issue of maternal health were understandably worried that these figures could divert attention from an issue that they care passionately about,” Dr. Horton said. “But my feeling is that they are misguided in their view that this would be damaging. My view is that actually these numbers help their cause, not hinder it.”

Hat tip: Ron Bailey.  More from Matt Ridley.