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Follow the Science™
How the authoritarian Left and wokeism corrupted science.
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Science is an indispensable part of Western life and one of the most important channels of knowledge. That’s why the politically driven perversion of actual science into The Science™ by the authoritarian Left is a much bigger deal than it might seem.
There was a time not too long ago when it was mutually agreed upon by both sides of the aisle that science was too important to be politicized, but the authoritarian Left has deemed it too valuable a tool to remain unused, undermining public trust in the field. They have weaponized the word “science” against the critical thinking and inquiry that lie at the heart of the scientific method. The result can only be described as a danger to the foundations of a free and open democratic society.
Science itself is a process of careful observation, record keeping, logical and mathematical reasoning, experimentation, and submitting conclusions to the scrutiny of others. It requires that we agree upon objective truths, and that we believe in our own capacity to explore the unknown to uncover those truths.
The Science™, however, is an entirely different matter. It amounts to a call for silence, not investigation. Purveyors of the oft-repeated slogan “Follow the science!” don’t mean that we ought to acknowledge the reality of scientific findings, but rather that we accept their preferred solutions and look the other way when they ignore and twist science for their own ideological ends. The Science™ is never invoked to convince, but to bludgeon. It is, as conservative podcaster Ben Shapiro put it, “politics dressed in a white coat.”
Over and over again throughout the course of the pandemic we watched as The Science™ prevailed to the detriment of society.
One of the few findings replicated across the globe was that large gatherings involving shouting and singing were inherently more dangerous than sparsely populated, socially distanced situations. The media seized on this fact to admonish and condemn anti-lockdown protesters for their irresponsibility, claiming that even outdoor protests could be unsafe.
I spent the pandemic in Los Angeles (no frolic in the psychic glade, let me tell you), where local officials wasted no time in going beyond the science itself by closing beaches, skate parks, and even the remote hiking trail where I would often go for runs—places that were anything but “vectors for transmission.” While this was happening, Republican governors who refused to shut down largely unaffected areas were pilloried in the media.
All of the pro-lockdown policy and rhetoric was justified with appeals to science. But as it turned out, public health officials weren’t really concerned with science, it was merely a tool used to push their preferred policies.
This became obvious at the end of May 2020, when the death of George Floyd generated massive protests and riots around the country driven by the myth that police across the nation routinely murder black men. Led by the radical Marxist organization Black Lives Matter, these “racial justice” gatherings — in the midst of a deadly pandemic — were unprecedented in size and scale. According to polling, somewhere between 15 and 26 million people in the United States attended a protest. And these protests were anything but socially distanced, with many declining to wear masks so that their shrill cries might be better heard and engaging in behaviors that the CDC, over the previous four months, had repeatedly said spread the virus.
Just like that, the covid narrative changed overnight. Previously, the enlightened position had been to exercise nothing less than extreme caution, with many people going much further, taking to social media to castigate others for insufficient social distancing or neglecting to wear masks or daring to believe they could maintain some semblance of a normal life. But suddenly, public health officials said social justice mattered more than social distancing; they went from shaming people for being in the streets, to shaming people for not being in the streets.
The same public health professionals who decreed that we couldn’t go outside for any reason, even if it meant a collapse in the global economy, tens or hundreds of millions of people suffering from unemployment, the permanent shuttering of small businesses, sustained mental health damage, postponed cancer screenings, exacerbating the opioid epidemic, and the separation of people from their loved ones and communities, including barring them from visiting dying spouses and parents and children in the hospital or even attending an outdoor burial—these same officials happily endorsed the mass gatherings.
Apparently, the virus would kill Republicans who opposed economy-crippling lockdowns, but would leave unharmed anyone chanting “ACAB!” and “Defund the police!”
“The injustice that’s evident to everyone right now needs to be addressed,” said Abraar Karan, a Brigham and Women’s Hospital physician who exhorted coronavirus experts to amplify the protests’ anti-racist message. “While I have voiced concerns that protests risk creating more outbreaks, the status quo wasn’t going to stop #covid19 either,” he wrote on Twitter.
This is what Karan said just weeks before, criticizing anti-lockdown protests:
He was not alone in contradicting himself. A whole slew of medical bureaucrats and public health officials — who largely skewed liberal — widely criticized those who held outdoor anti-lockdown protests in April and May, accusing demonstrators of posing a public health danger and brushing aside concerns about the long-term costs of shutting down society—only to change their tune when even more condensed, widespread protesting erupted after Floyd’s death.
It seemed that overnight, behaviors previously deemed dangerous and immoral became permissible. Hundreds of public health workers signed an open letter affirming “the paramount public health problem of pervasive racism,” a screed that sought to distinguish the BLM protests “from the response to white protesters resisting stay-home orders.”
According to the letter’s 1,300 signatories, the latter protests not only opposed public health interventions, they were also “rooted in white nationalism” and ran “contrary to respect for Black lives.”
The BLM protests,1 though? They were necessary to address “the paramount public health problem of pervasive racism.”
“Staying at home, social distancing, and public masking are effective at minimizing the spread of COVID-19,” the letter signers added. “However, as public health advocates, we do not condemn these gatherings as risky for COVID-19 transmission.”
They even claimed that these protests — the largest in American history, during the middle of a global pandemic, and obviously capable of spreading a highly transmissible deadly disease — were “vital to the national public health.”
This was nothing less than an abuse of public health credentials. It hardly needs saying that it’s not within the scope of the “expertise” of these morons to pick and choose which political protests should be permitted and encouraged and which ones banned and denounced. This was bullshit based on political judgements, not scientific ones. It takes an astounding degree of imperiousness to dictate which citizens can and cannot safely choose to leave their homes — based not on health judgments but on their political ideology — and it seriously marred the credibility of the public health establishment.
All of this drivel was echoed by mainstream media outlets and some of the most prominent public health experts in America, including former CDC director Tom Frieden, who adamantly warned against efforts to reopen society but supported BLM protests.
Julia Marcus, epidemiologist at Harvard Medical School, and Gregg Gonsalves, epidemiologist at Yale School of Public Health, published an article in The Atlantic claiming, “Public-health experts are weighing these same risks at a population level, and many have come to the conclusion that the health implications of maintaining the status quo of white supremacy are too great to ignore, even with the potential for an increase in coronavirus transmission from the protests.”
Among the nation’s most enthusiastic lockdown supporters were many woke politicians, all of whom professed to be guided only by the science, but who were suddenly guided by the politics of protest, pausing their prohibitive commitment to the preservation of all life even at the expense of civil liberties and economic stability.
Some of these clowns appeared in the midst of mass protests personally. Governor Gretchen Whitmer from my home state of Michigan, she of the Lord Farquaad resemblance and arguably the nation’s most aggressive lockdown tsar, attended a march in Highland Park with hundreds of others, standing “shoulder-to-shoulder with some march participants.” She did so just days after explaining that protests could in fact endanger lives: Shoulder-to-shoulder demonstrations, she said, are “precisely what makes this kind of disease drag out and expose more people.”
Meanwhile, in Los Angeles,2 as the National Guard was called in to help with the looting and destruction and the law-abiding were forced to adhere to curfews that kept getting pushed earlier and earlier (5:00 P.M. was the earliest), Mayor Eric Garcetti took a knee with protestors and “pulled down his blue Los Angeles Dodgers face mask to speak.”
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy condemned anti-lockdown protests one week, righteously announcing that public health rather than protests would guide his state’s quarantine policies and admonishing New Jerseyans who had failed to abide by social-distancing guidelines as “selfish,” only to celebrate residents “taking to the streets” the next. Then, the same week that he praised the protests, he extended his “public health emergency” order for 30 more days out of fear of what he called “a new outbreak of #COVID19”—and he did all of this while maintaining his “STAY AT HOME” banner on the top of his Twitter page where he issued all of these conflicting directives.
In early May, New York City Bill de Blasio dispatched the NYPD to break up small gatherings of people exercising their First Amendment rights to protest the ongoing lockdown orders, issuing summonses and detaining folks. “People who want to make their voices heard, there’s plenty of ways to do it without gathering in person,” de Blasio said. Just weeks later, he decided that protestors were to be applauded—so long as they were protesting in a cause he found sympathetic. “This is a historic moment of change,” de Blasio told CNN. “We have to respect that but also say to people the kinds of gatherings we’re used to, the parades, the fairs—we just can’t have that while we’re focused on health right now.”
The examples of hypocrisy are legion. But the science never changed; the political incentives did.
Ultracrepidarianism and the Bleedover Effect
For the authoritarian Left, which believes that society is inherently rotten and that drastic, top-down interventions are required not just to reform institutions but even private behavior, there’s never been a better way to achieve those ends than the pandemic. All that was needed was a sufficient number of left-wing officials willing to weaponize the situation for ideological ends. And that’s what we got.
As Noah Rothman writes in Commentary:
But it wasn’t long before it dawned on social reformers that the holistic approach policymakers took to addressing this crisis could be applied to any number of conditions that have some tangential relationship to public health. It’s a concept that the researchers who composed one study published in the American Journal of Public Health took to calling “Public Health 3.0.” What is needed is a “greater emphasis” on a “systems approach” for “addressing social detriments of health that more fully considers the interconnections between risk factors, the environment, and social and economic factors.” Which is to say, anything and everything.
The perversion of science into The Science™ highlights two serious problems for the public health establishment, which only seem to be getting worse: Ultracrepidarianism and the Bleedover Effect.
Ultracrepidarianism3 is the act of giving opinions on matters outside the scope of one’s knowledge (an epidemic on social media, I might add). The public health community’s willingness to extend its area of supposed expertise to problems of alleged racial injustice is but one example, but as we’ve seen, when you extend the reach of science into areas of pseudo-science, claiming the mantle of the objective and verifiable on behalf of subjective conjecture, the ramifications for society are enormous.
In my opinion, the Bleedover Effect is a much bigger problem. Whereas the Ultracrepidarian issue concerns the scientific community speaking outside its area of expertise, the Bleedover Effect occurs when outside political viewpoints bleed over into scientific institutions themselves. The result is entirely predictable: The actual reach of science is restricted, and ideology supplants scientific inquiry.
I recently wrote about an example of this concerning wokeness and its influence on covid policy and the decision making surrounding vaccine distribution. Common sense would seem to suggest that the most vulnerable ought to be given priority. Covid risk is heavily striated by age, meaning it’s the elderly who are most vulnerable, as they’re susceptible to multiple preexisting conditions. This isn’t rocket science, and the CDC should have set out vaccine distribution guidelines accordingly.
But that’s not what happened. Instead, woke bilge bled into the science, turning it into The Science™.
On November 23, 2020, CDC public health official Kathleen Dooling presented her recommendations for distributing the vaccine to the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). She explained that essential workers should receive the vaccine before the elderly. Dooling’s own modeling acknowledged that this would increase the number of deaths somewhere between 0.5 percent and 6.5 percent (!). But such differences were “minimal,” Dooling stated, when compared with the fact that racial equity could be pursued through her recommended policy.
She emphasized that “racial and ethnic minority groups are underrepresented among adults > 65.” In other words, America’s elderly were too white to be considered top priority for vaccine distribution. Prioritizing younger black and Hispanic people at lower risk of dying from the disease could serve as a sort of reparative measure.
It is on this basis that ACIP awarded three times as many points to prioritizing the more racially diverse group of essential workers, making the crucial difference in the overall determination. Astonishingly, the higher overall death toll resulting from this course of action didn’t feature as an ethical reason to prioritize older Americans.
Understand that this was not a fringe perspective. This plan to use ascriptive characteristics like race or ethnicity to allocate medical resources was adopted by many states and celebrated by the authoritarian Left. On December 5, the New York Times reported that the committee had unanimously supported Dooling’s proposal. As the Times acknowledged, “Historically, the committee relied on scientific evidence to inform its decisions. But now the members are weighing social justice concerns as well, noted Lisa A. Prosser, a professor of health policy and decision sciences at the University of Michigan.”
Here’s what makes this even more insane: Giving the vaccine to African-American essential workers before elderly African-Americans would likely raise the overall death toll of African-Americans even if a somewhat greater number of African-Americans were to receive the vaccine as a result. In other words, the CDC was effectively about to recommend that a greater number of African-Americans die so that the share of African-Americans who received the vaccine would be slightly higher. Prioritizing essential workers in the name of “equity” would likely kill more people in all relevant demographic groups.
Thankfully, intense public blowback to the CDC’s standards forced them to revise—but not entirely. After medical workers were treated, the CDC recommended that the elderly and frontline workers be placed in the same cohort, still putting a large group with a comparatively low risk of death ahead of a large group with a significantly higher risk of death. Vaccinating the elderly over the same period as essential workers delayed when some of those at greatest risk received the vaccine.
Only this time, the CDC didn’t mention how many additional deaths would result from the refusal to prioritize the most at risk. An estimate is absent from the updated guidance.
Think about the implications here. Lives have been sacrificed on the altar of a dangerous and deeply illiberal ideology. It’s borderline evil. There’s no better example highlighting how left-wing discourse and policy-making around covid have little to do with actual science, but a lot to do with culture, politics, hierarchy, psychology, and control. Moreover, America’s botched guidance on who gets the vaccine first firmly attests to how big of a problem wokeness is, and how this asinine ideology is influencing policy decisions that affect us all.
When science becomes The Science™, people rightly begin to doubt public health. And as they watch the institutions of science hijacked by authoritarian leftists seeking to impose their preferred ideology on society in top-down fashion, they rightly begin to lose trust, which is absolutely imperative during a pandemic. The reasons for this mistrust are perfectly encapsulated in the series of surreal episodes we’ve watched play out in which the expert class — many of whom have proven themselves to be of decidedly limited mental acuity — pretends at scientific integrity and puts politics before probity. This crisis of trust reared its ugly head when the time came to try convincing the skeptical masses to submit to an unproven vaccine.
We cannot tolerate the abuse and manipulation of health expertise for political ends. Until this changes, we should reject the automatic institutional legitimacy of the self-described scientific establishment.
It’s worth noting that the “Summer of Love” saw radical increases in viral transmission, which the media blamed on Memorial Day gatherings that occurred the same week protests broke out. But cities like New York actually told their contact tracers not to ask whether those diagnosed with covid had attended a protest.
During the “unrest” in Los Angeles, many of the cars parked outside my apartment building had their windows smashed. (I fondly recall professional basketball star JR Smith pummeling a scrawny anarchist who smashed his car window.) Others had “ACAB” (All Cops Are Bastards) spray painted on the hoods. Because racism, right? I’d love for someone to try explaining how that kind of senseless bullshit fights “systemic racism” and “police brutality.” You really think that’s going to endear people to your cause? I was lucky: I paid the extortionate $150 monthly fee to park my car behind my apartment building where it was gated.