Many Americans don’t understand a lot about their health. Whether due to people believing conspiracy theories or simply walking out of their doctor’s offices without a good idea of what was said, communicating what scientists know has been a long-standing challenge.
The problem has gotten particularly acute with a recent wave of misinformation. And when Francis Collins led the National Institutes of Health, the world’s premier medical research agency, he thought he had a solution: to study health communications broadly. “We basically have seen the accurate medical information overtaken, all too often, by the inaccurate conspiracies and false information on social media. It’s a whole other world out there,” he said in 2021 as part of a farewell media tour.
“I do think we need to understand better how — in the current climate — people make decisions,” he concluded.
But Collins’ hopes appear dashed. In a sudden reversal, the NIH’s acting director, Larry Tabak, has paused — some say killed — the planned initiative, Advancing Health Communication Science and Practice. Its advocates fear the agency has, for political reasons, censored itself — and the science that would’ve sprung out of this funding stream.
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The agency has offered shifting and inconsistent explanations, sometimes outright contradicting itself in the space of days. Sources familiar with the project insist that whatever the agency’s official story, it h …