Saturday, November 25, 2006

Triage and Teamwork

Time Magazine has chronicled recent troubles at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at "What Ails the CDC?" With funding down for serious health problems like HIV/AIDS and TB, it sounds like the public has good reason to be concerned. Time's coverage talks about how "hallway grumbling" has turned into "an ugly public ruckus" and does some finger-pointing to a blog for whistle blowers called I found CDCChatter to be remarkably dispassionate and fair. For example, there was a description of good customer service delivered at a CDC clinic for a flu shot (which included a "goodie bag"), and a member of CDC brass chimed in with a plug for his own "knowledge management" blog. The emphasis was on constructive criticism for an agency where policy was increasingly dictating science under the current administration. The writing teacher in me was pleased to see editorial instructions to contributors that emphasized factual correctness and grammatical polish.

One posting suggested ways to help a new unit director: "OK, CDC Chatter Bloggers, please submit your advice here in the form of suggestions for Kathleen on how to survive the 'new' CDC, where science accounts for quite a bit less than how it is perceived by our cadre of enterprise communicators and health marketers." It seemed that the writer was pointing to potential abuses of my own discipline, rhetoric, in the references to "enterprise communicators" and "health marketers"

If only the official CDC website was as forthcoming about areas for improvement and as responsive to the concerns of the public. I do like the information design in their weekly flu reports with the national map, but AIDS prevention and reproductive health has been totally dropped from their main menu. I had to use the not very good search engine to find it. Furthermore, I hated the annoying ethereal music in their podcasts, which sounded like religious books on tape not practical advice. The CDC should certainly know better when it comes to digital rhetoric, given that they now have a presence in Second Life and also have a virtual center in Whyville. Their "health marketing" director explains the rationale for these projects in online environments here on his blog.

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