11 August 2020
I have to feel sorry for Dr. Anthony Fauci. He has received several death threats and had to hire security for his family. So have other disease experts and the simple reason is that their science conflicts with the political worldview of some politicians and their supporters. The science does not care about your political party, it cares about what you can test and what you can show. If your argument fails when tested, then it is wrong, no matter how much you want it to be true. You have two choices, be wrong or adjust your worldview to the scientific facts. Smart people adjust their worldview.
Unfortunately, Dr. Fauci is far from first. Any scientist who does climate research can tell you they’ve been enduring this for years and perhaps no scientist has had it worse than Dr. Michael Mann at Penn. State University. Mann’s “hockey stick graph” is now one of the most famous science images ever and while it has been shown to be good science over and over, he still gets threats on an almost daily basis. Mann has written an essay for Newsweek today and he does not pull any punches.
I wonder if there has ever been a time in U.S. history where science and those who do it have been so threatened by those who find it inconvenient to their worldview. It’s downright scary, but make no mistake, science is based on testable experiments that are published for all to check and failed experiments are tossed aside, even if the idea is one you really want to be true. The perfect example is Hydroxychloroquine. Experiments show conclusively that it doesn’t work on Covid19, and 100-year-old germ theory shows that large crowds without precautions will lead to the rapid spread of the Covid19 virus.
A Georgia school board ignored the latter and found out the hard way last week, and there are still millions in this country trying to get a prescription for Hydroxychloroquine from doctors who are rightly telling them NO. Science always wins because it is a rational search for the truth and while it is often a road with curves, it is self-correcting. Perhaps we have this problem today because we are failing to teach students what science is and how it works.
Science will win in the end. It always has, and if it not we will enter a new dark age as the enlightenment fades from history.
While these times are indeed alarming for those of us who believe and live in a fact-based world, it would not be a surprise to Carl Sagan. The renowned astronomer predicted these times over 25 years ago. In his book The Demon-Haunted World, he lays it out clearly and it is eerily prescient in this hot August of 2020:
Science is more than a body of knowledge; it is a way of thinking. I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time — when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the key manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness.
It was your children’s time Carl, not your grandchildren’s. We do not yet know how it will turn out, but the consequences of not teaching the public what science is have brought us to this cliff. We may be headed for a new dark age. To paraphrase the Duke of Wellington after the Battle of Waterloo- “it will be a near rum thing”.