Science-based policies have the awesome potential to be transparent throughout their logic, assumptions, uncertainties, and data.
Societies are evolving their relationships with science, and any branches of government should logically be able to share their work when it comes to any science-based policy — by definition. I will always support evidence-based policy over “policymaking based on ideology or ‘common sense'”. I assume everyone is doing their best with the information available. But like ethical science, representative governance requires the informed consent of the governed.
Scientific citations do not need to be included within laws or executive orders, but they at least need to be published somewhere for citizen oversight of evidence-based policies. Most laymen might still just trust their science-minded friend’s take on it, but that friend would actually have a clear understanding of the largest experiments that societies run. I have been looking for the controlled experiments which inform the most extreme new policies in Maryland.
If you too have wanted to understand the science behind your governor’s unprecedented public health policies, perhaps more voters and journalists need to demand such baselines of accountability in the new normal. I am just documenting my attempts to gather the facts which might dispel floods of misinformation…
On March 5th, Governor Hogan declared a state of emergency and catastrophic health emergency in Maryland. “WHEREAS, as of March 5, 2020, the CDC found that COVID-19 has infected individuals in 17 states, and resulted in a total of 177 confirmed and presumed positive cases in the United States“. At the time, an estimated 12 deaths had been reported nationwide.
On March 30th, he ramped up orders, “prohibiting large gatherings and events and closing senior centers, and all non-essential businesses and other establishments, and additionally requiring all persons to stay at home” [excluding ‘essential’ travel].
On May 9th and 11th, I finally tried Tweeting at the Maryland Department of Health, and Governor Larry Hogan… in case these were easy references to provide, and had already been uploaded somewhere, but I had not found them.
On May 11th, I also used the Maryland Department of Health’s online contact form to send my request:
I received a reply from the Deputy Secretary for Public Health Services, Maryland Department of Health. She kindly provided a lot of information, but I replied…
“Thank you Ms. Phillips,
I’ve reviewed much of this information on the policies and timeline via the website. But I am trying to find references for specific public health studies or other published science which informed these policies. Is that available anywhere?
Awaiting a reply from this attempt, on May 19th, I sent a formal request to the Governor’s Office under Maryland’s Public Information Act (PIA) via certified mail:
Dear Office of the Governor:
Living most of my life in Maryland, I appreciate your tireless efforts during these unprecedented times.
Under the Maryland Public Information Act Title 4, I am requesting an opportunity to inspect or obtain copies of public records. I am requesting a list of all the studies which informed the Governor’s public health policies in response to the COVID-19 virus and pandemic. I am requesting a list of all the studies or evidence that informed the Department of Health’s recommendations to the Governor. I am also requesting a list of any studies or evidence that informed the Governor’s experts who advised him on these science-based policies.
Most specifically, I am requesting a list of public health studies that informed policies ordering “all non-essential businesses and other establishments” [close], and “requiring all persons to stay at home” outside of essential needs (Order Number 20-03-30-01). There were no health studies cited in the Governor’s Order nor its press release. Scientific citations and sources should be transparently published on/throughout coronavirus.maryland.gov. They would help clear up misinformation about the science. Are they elsewhere?
If there are any fees for searching or copying these records, please inform me if the cost will exceed $40. However, I would also like to request a waiver of all fees in that the disclosure of the requested information is in the public interest and will contribute significantly to the public’s understanding of science-based policy. This information is not being sought for commercial purposes.
The Maryland Public Information Act requires a response to this request within 30 days. If access to the records I am requesting will take longer than this amount of time, please contact me with information about when I might expect copies or the ability to inspect the requested records.
If you deny any or all of this request, please cite each specific exemption you feel justifies the refusal to release the information and notify me of the appeal procedures available to me under the law.
Thank you for considering my request.
Also on May 19th, I sent digital messages to all but two members of the Maryland Coronavirus Response Team announced in mid-March…
Dear [Team Member],
As a life-long engaged citizen, I have been doing research on the public health policy and saw that you were a member of Governor Hogan’s Maryland Coronavirus Response Team. Thank you dearly for your tireless efforts during these unprecedented times!
In search of clarifying misinformation, I am trying to collect a list of key studies that informed the Governor’s public health policies in response to the COVID-19 virus and pandemic — and that informed his experts. Do you have a list of key studies or evidence which you shared with the team, or which informed the advice you offered the Governor’s Office?
I have sent a formal request to the Governor’s Office to publish such resources online. But I did not want to wait for their reply before reaching out to you and your colleagues on the Response Team. Thank you for your time.
I will be patient in waiting for replies, and will share any appropriate information after it’s been collected. This is a strategy I’ve developed in hopes on increasing clarity on a novel state of emergency. Perhaps it is worth remixing here and elsewhere, both to encourage and to audit evidence-based policy making.
For context, I’m not an epidemiologist, nor journalist. I’m a software engineer and Maryland property owner and voter, who needs to understand state policies. As an activist, I spent many days in Annapolis before the age of 16, testifying for bans on cigarette vending machines which used to be next to the candy. We saw some policy wins during a big wave of responses to that public health crisis. Despite progress, cigarette smoking is still “responsible for more than 480,000 deaths per year in the United States.”
I graduated from the University of Maryland in 2005 in the Science Technology and Society Scholars Program, with a B.S. in Computer Science, concentration in Mathematics, and “Business Entrepreneurship Citation” from the Robert H. Smith School of Business. But not before a night in jail and a year and half of random drug testing for one joint — it could have been so much worse without my privilege. Drug misuse is an ongoing public-health-crisis-turned-war and a multi-generational catastrophe. Despite progress, “police officers made about 663,000 arrests for marijuana-related offenses” nationwide in 2018.
And thank you for your time too. <3
May 29 Update: Confirmation that my request was received on the 22nd.