Our Anti-Science Government Gerry OShea
A major debate is underway in America about how best to deal with the greatest crisis faced by the country since the Great Depression almost a hundred years ago. Two clear positions can be identified in this national discussion, each one representing separate belief systems and values about how to deal with the current pandemic.
It brings to mind the fault line in the 19th century between Enlightenment thinkers for whom scientific results were sacred and conservatives who wanted to hug the accepted traditional wisdom of those times.
The life and work of Charles Darwin come to mind. His research culminated in the great scientific manual, The Origin of Species, which claims that humans evolved from lower forms of life over many millennia. This thinking ran smack into serious trouble because of the seven-day creation story in the Book of Genesis.
Today the Vatican has no problem accepting the results of Darwin’s scholarly research, but some fundamentalist Christian schools still cast a cold eye on evolutionary theories.
President Obama joined nearly all world leaders in approving the Paris Climate Accord in 2015. It set modest worldwide goals for the reduction of carbon emissions and was considered an important international beginning for dealing with the weather crisis.
President Trump, who has been suspicious of all scientific findings, reversed his predecessor’s decision, declaring global warming a scam and, shamefully, withdrawing the United States from the Paris Agreement.
Nearly all serious scientists affirm the escalating warming of the earth with its inevitable consequences of shrinking ice caps, rising sea levels and flaming forests, but our president, the leader of the most powerful country in the world, dismisses the burgeoning crisis as “a scam invented by the Chinese.”
Daft and erratic pronouncements like that plus his assertion that wind power should be rejected because “it kills all the birds” should not be seen as the occasional ravings of a man who is not playing with all fifty-two cards. In fact, he has shown his seriousness by rolling back Obama-era limits on greenhouse gas emissions, and he has demoted the crucial Environmental Protection Agency, barring experts there from even attending academic conferences that deal, for instance, with decarbonizing the environment.
Democrats realize the crucial importance of this issue, especially with young voters. If elected, Vice-President Biden, promises to spend 1.3 trillion dollars on an emergency program to reverse the destructive policies of the current administration and to promote positive environmental policies.
The differences between the two parties on this matter are as blatant as existed between the belligerent Spartans and the intellectual Athenians when they were at the apex of their power more than two thousand years ago. Today the Democrats qualify as thoughtful Athenians, but Trump, who is at home with the anti-intellectual Spartan philosophy, has the political power and the megaphone.
The COVID 19 pandemic involves the whole world in a medical crisis. The number of deaths is far higher in the United States than in any other country. President Trump was warned verbally and in writing as far back as late January by his top officials that we were heading for a major health calamity, but he chose to disregard this advice and instead he told the people that it would pass over in April with the arrival of sunny weather.
His main scientific advisor, Dr. Anthony Fauci, preached the need for increased hygiene, social distancing and closing non-essential businesses until the epidemic is under control. The president went along with these recommendations for a short time, but then he got impatient and joined the loud minority that wanted work to resume right away. He shared a tweet with the hashtag #firefauci, and he started to play doctor and make some medical recommendations of his own.
At one press conference he argued that seeing as Lysol, the most-commonly-used decontaminant in America, wiped out all viruses by external application it surely would make sense to ingest it into the bloodstream and get the same internal cleansing results. It was a preposterous assertion that required Lysol manufacturers to rush out warnings that nobody should follow this advice.
The president made it even worse the following day by claiming he was just being sarcastic. The video of the event, which was shown repeatedly on all channels, revealed clearly that he was very serious as he looked to the bewildered Dr. Birx for approval.
President Trump’s congenital response to any difficult situation is to find other people to blame, and so as the number of people dying from the virus climbed to around a massive 100,000, he started by claiming that the disaster was Obama’s responsibility because the cupboard was bare when he took over. Actually, this corona virus wasn’t even identified when Obama left office so repeated pleadings about an empty cupboard makes no sense.
Next, he blamed the World Health Organization (WHO)with some minimal basis for this assertion. Finally, having thanked President Xi of China for his co-operation in January, he now points the finger of blame at him for causing the scourge in America. Dr. Fauci asserts that there is no scientific basis for this accusation.
If the president steered clear of science and medicine and left Fauci and Birx, both excellent doctors and seasoned communicators, to deal with the press, he would not be floundering badly in the polls as he is now. But Donald Trump is an egomaniac who believes that nobody can match him in communication skills.
Instead, in the daily press briefings - that sometimes dragged on for up to two hours - he was seen to be out of his depth completely, failing to answer straightforward questions and regularly demeaning reporters, especially women, who insisted on teasing out the implications of his policies. On one occasion he lashed out at one of the questioners who he identified as the winner of the “Noble” prize, even though journalists win the Pulitzer prize and, of course, the famous international award is called after the Swedish businessman Alfred Nobel.
Then after being a laughing stock in many circles following his claims about the power of ingested Lysol, he started recommending the drug hydroxychloroquine, which is commonly prescribed for lupus and malaria. He claimed that it could be used as a preventive medicine to avoid or lessen the impact of the virus.
The powerful Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in his own government advised strongly against the use of the drug in this pandemic, except in a scientifically-controlled situation, as did the National Institute of Health, but Mr. Trump continued to recommend it and even announced that he was taking it himself.
This led to the unseemly public spectacle of the president recommending a powerful drug that the FDA declared could be dangerous, especially for older vulnerable people. Their professional opinion was strongly supported by the WHO and the American Medical Association. Even a senior commentator on Fox news advised viewers that taking hydroxychloroquine could kill them.
Nancy Pelosi with faux concern couldn’t resist making the political point that Trump himself is in a vulnerable category as a 73-year-old with high cholesterol who in her words is “morbidly obese.” He angrily dismissed her description by claiming she has emotional problems.
Every scientist agrees that a comprehensive testing program is vital for any recovery strategy. President Trump assured the nation in March that anyone who wanted to get tested could be accommodated – a blatant untruth. Two months later with availability of tests still a problem, he suggested that the whole area presents us with a conundrum which he stated as follows: “When you test, you have a case. When you test you find something that is wrong with people. If we didn’t do any testing, we would have very few cases.”
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that people should wear masks to prevent the involuntary transmission of the pathogen. The president feels that while mask-wearing is strongly recommended by the CDC it is not mandated and he doesn’t like covering his face, so he visits factories where all the people have covered faces except for him. Similarly, the vice-president was greeted in the Mayo Clinic by executives who were all wearing protective face covers, except for Mr. Pence.
Reminds me of the cautionary words of a philosophy professor, Dr. Dunleavy from County Mayo, who warned hypocrites whose actions don’t mesh with their words: “Talk louder, raise your voice, because your actions are shouting you down.”
In a really dangerous development, Dr. Rick Bright, who led the scientific research team in the CDC tasked with developing a vaccine to counteract the deadly virus, was fired from that position after taking the very unusual step of filing a whistleblower complaint. He testified before Congress that he was pressured by the White House to direct money to the development of hydroxychloroquine, adding that this is “one of several potentially dangerous drugs promoted by those with political connections.” Three of his senior colleagues confirmed that scientific considerations are not always paramount in the CDC when dealing with the pandemic.
Polls show clearly that most Americans favor continuing the scientific approach of only re-starting the economy after the level of hospitalizations and deaths have been greatly reduced. Dr. Fauci’s wisdom is accepted by most people. But there are powerful forces demanding immediate change and, indeed, many states have re-opened before meeting the standards set by the CDC.
It is difficult to predict what is ahead of us in combating this rampant virus. It is not clear who will emerge on top, the thoughtful Athenians, headed by Dr. Fauci, or the disruptive Spartans led by the president of the United States.