Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the slogan “Trust the science!” has come to dominate the national discourse. Whether it’s a debate about the efficacy of the vaccine, or the soundness of masking toddlers at daycare, the slogan emerges. The meaning of it is murky, but a loose translation would be: “Trust the latest statements from Anthony Fauci.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has been the government’s point person on the “science” over the past 19 months, and he has become the final authority on sweeping public policy decisions.
He’s a favorite guest on Sunday news shows, with questions as inane as, “Can we celebrate Christmas with our families this year, Dr. Fauci?”
An attack on Fauci’s wisdom, we have learned, is tantamount to an attack on science. Fauci himself has fallen for this simplistic view.
Dr. Fauci’s opinions and interpretations have changed over the past year-and-a-half, but he is unwilling to acknowledge that reality. In an interview with NBC’s Chuck Todd in June, Fauci painted his views as consistent and fully in line with science: “All of the things that I have spoken about consistently from the very beginning, have been fundamentally based on science.” How does he address his dissenters? “Sometimes those things were inconvenient truths for people and there was pushback against me. So if you are trying to, you know, get at me as a public health official and a scientist, you’re really attacking not only Dr. Anthony Fauci, you’re attacking science.”
To disagree with Fauci is to out oneself as a simple-minded person who would disagree with “science” – a modern-day flat-earther, so to speak.
But Fauci has not been nearly as committed to science as he has been to political pressures, as his decades of work in Washington reveal.
Back in the 1980s, Fauci was working at the National Institutes of Health, and published an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, in which he postulated that HIV could be transmitted through routine, casual contact. He was instantly catapulted to fame, as the New York Times and other publications cited his alarmist, light-on-science article.
His unsubstantiated theory, predictably, led to a backlash against the gay community, with many Americans afraid to come into contact with at-risk individuals. As political pressure picked up, Fauci pivoted on a dime.
Just weeks after publishing his article, the Baltimore Sun interviewed Fauci, with the latter saying that contracting AIDS in such a manner was "absolutely preposterous."
Wait a minute. The “preposterous” statements came directly from Fauci's own article. But he never acknowledged his role in spreading hysteria about HIV. Just as alarmingly, a fawning media allowed him to get away with it.
Fast-forward to the COVID-19 crisis, and we have Dr. Fauci again, at the center of the debate, making conjectures, and then pivoting based on political pressures. His view on masks has been all over the place, from downplaying their effectiveness, to insisting on their use for even the tiniest, least-at-risk children.
When thousands of Fauci’s emails were released through a Freedom Information Act (FOIA) request, we learned that Fauci was adamant in the beginning that COVID-19 did not leak from a lab in Wuhan, China.
We have also learned recently that Fauci misled President Donald Trump and the White House on gain-of-function research in China. The U.S.-based nonprofit EcoHealth Alliance received funding from the National Institutes of Health to work directly with the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Never mind that Fauci testified under oath that no such funding had been granted. Fauci, memorably, accused Sen. Rand Paul of lying, even as Fauci himself obfuscated and stated plain falsehoods to the committee.
Richard Feynman memorably noted in a 1964 lecture at Cornell University that the scientific process starts with a guess. Then we experiment. “If it disagrees with experiment, it’s wrong. In that simple statement is the key to science.”
In the age of Fauci, we have a terrifying rendition of Feynman’s summation of the scientific method. “If it disagrees with Fauci, it must be silenced and attacked.” Therein lies the fundamental problem with Fauci’s politically-motivated approach – and the danger of allowing one man to dictate the entire nation’s public policy response to the pandemic.
Jenny Beth Martin is honorary chairman of the Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund.