Health Security

Why Politicians Hate Scientists

Stan
Published May 14, 2020
Dr. Anthony Fauci is one of the pubic health officials tapped by the Trump Administration to lead our war against COVID-19.  Dr. Fauci has led the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious diseases since the mid-80s.  He’s served both Republican and Democrat administrations. He’s held in high regard and valued for his “straight-talk” and bluntness.  His only allegiance is to the Hippocratic oath (“do no harm) and the rigorous discipline of scientific research.  He isn’t a quasi-expert - he IS an expert in his field.

Today, Dr. Fauci stumbled into the Trumpist woodchipper and may not survive the anti-scientist echo chamber.  When asked about the likelihood of a resurgence in COVID-19 cases and deaths if the school were to resume in the fall, he cautioned against moving too fast.  His counsel ran counter to the Administration’s push to open the economy quickly along with schools in the fall.  

When asked about Fauci’s guidance, Trump said. "It's just -- to me it's not an acceptable answer, especially when it comes to schools."

This may not be an acceptable answer, politically, but it is the answer derived from the evidence scientists and physicians are observing. Forcing science to conform to political objectives is a dangerous practice. Unfortunately, defanging science is a popular past time for politicians. 
  • The science around HIV AIDS was ignored for a decade because of its impact on the LGBT community was politically safe for social conservatives to ignore.
  • The science around climate change has been challenged by the fossil fuel industry; the primary beneficiaries of the status quo. 
  • Undermining the benefits of vaccination by spreading unproven (and dangerous) “anti-vax” conspiracy theories.
If we dig deeper, we find that politicians understand and are willing to accept the science but distrust the scientists.  Our politics have become so polarized that we first evaluate the scientist’s idealogy before accepting their conclusions.  On the surface, this seems reasonable but it actually is dangerously illogical.

Have you ever questioned your doctor’s diagnosis because they were a Democrat?
Would you step off a bridge because you distrusted the Republican physicist’s explanation of gravity? 

Of course not! We accept that science is objective. It is empiric and must stand up to rigorous examination. You can’t undermine the science by attacking the scientist.  You can debate how to respond to scientific conclusions.  But listening, questioning, and intelligently responding to science is hard work.  It’s much easier, it seems, to churn out a caustic soundbite that levels an ad hominem accusation at the troublesome scientist.

We, at the Coalition, challenge our leaders to take a more responsible approach: 1. thank the scientist and 2) respond to the science.  In the case of the school’s reopening in the fall, we recommend:
  • Tasking the Department of Education with providing guidelines for social distancing in the classroom. 
  • Surge COVID-19 testing kits and supplies to local school systems so that staff can be regularly tested. 
  • A sick parent is often the first sign that a child has COVID-19. Encourage parents to stay vigilant by testing and self-quarantining their child and themselves if they have symptoms. 
  • Set reasonable “lockdown” triggers at the community level where a school would shut down for 14 days when a case threshold has been reached.
These recommendations aren’t perfect but they do respond to science.  We can’t blame Dr. Fauci if we choose not to do our homework.  


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