Despite missteps amid a charged political season, I believe the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) remains a public health institution worthy of our trust. Here is why.
A Steady Stream of Essential Information
For decades I have relied on the CDC for timely, important public health information, helpful resources, and useful tools to help spread the word near and far. For example, as we head into flu season, the CDC offers the following animation in its public media library.
In addition to time-sensitive facts and guidance for the public and employers, the CDC Gateway to Health Information is a rich resource of guidelines and best practices for healthcare providers and health communicators.
Questions Raised by Recent Public Opinion Polls
During the Covid-19 pandemic, doubts raised by faulty (and delayed) test kits in March 2020, combined with the CDC's changing guidance on whether or not to wear masks, and when, who to and how to report positive test results mingled to create a media storm. Polls from the Pew Research Center, NORC (University of Chicago), and most recently, the Kaiser Family Foundation indicate trust in public institutions is eroding. The headlines tell the story:
The potential damage to the likelihood of action by the public on prevention measures is clear in this chart from the Kaiser Family Foundation's September 2020 poll.
Human Behavior and Cognitive Bias
It dismays but does not surprise me to see the CDC caught in the current swirl of emotional Covid-19 news coverage and exaggerated partisanship. Multiple cognitive biases may be distorting our collective judgment here.
I have written many times before about the impact of cognitive bias on our decisions as individuals as well as the challenge our biases present for social marketing and public interest communication campaigns designed to stimulate positive behavioral change and social good. Right now, it seems especially important to fight our cognitive biases — whether false consensus bias (or the bandwagon effect) of "nobody trusts the CDC" or confirmation bias when we believe information that confirms what we think or believe in. In public health, practicing critical thinking and sharing your thoughts with others can save lives.