Professors Martin Kulldorff and Jay Bhattacharya, writing today at The Federalist, rightly decry the misunderstanding and misuse of science over this past year, and they defend five heroic scientists who refused to join the mob. Some slices:
The COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns have not only been devastating for society, they have had a chilling effect on the scientific community. For science to thrive, opposing ideas must be openly and vigorously discussed, supported, or countered based on scientific merit.
Instead, some politicians, journalists, and (alas) scientists have engaged in vicious slander of dissident scientists, spreading damaging conspiracy theories, even with open calls for censorship in place of debate. In many cases, eminent scientific voices have been effectively silenced, often with gutter tactics. People who oppose lockdowns have been accused of having blood on their hands, their university positions threatened, with many of our colleagues choosing to stay quiet rather than face the mob.
What these scientists have in common is that they have been proved right. With so many COVID-19 deaths, it should now be obvious to everyone that lockdown strategies have failed to protect the old.
While anyone can get infected, there is more than a thousand-fold difference in the risk of death between the old and the young. The failure to properly exploit this fact about the virus has led to many unnecessary deaths and the biggest public health fiasco in history.
Lockdowns have generated enormous collateral damage across all ages. Depriving children of face-to-face teaching has hurt not only their education but also their physical and mental health. Other public health consequences include missed cancer screenings and treatments, worse cardiovascular disease outcomes, and deteriorating mental health, to name a few. Much of this damage will unfold over time, something we must live and die with for many years to come.
How do we climb back from this toxic and damaging scientific environment? How do we ensure that science moves forward through the open discussion of multiple ideas and perspectives? How can we return to an academic climate that encourages scientific discourse and academic freedom? Given the damage done by misguided pandemic policies, how can we restore the public’s trust in public health?
The responsibility for this rests on everyone in the scientific community, but especially on scientific leaders such as university presidents, provosts, and deans, scientific journal publishers and editors, and the directors of major scientific funding agencies such as the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and the CDC. These leaders need to defend and encourage open scientific debate with multiple perspectives.
On the science, vigorous and hard scientific debate should be encouraged, but smearing, slander, politicization, and conspiracy theories that insinuate guilt by association must be combatted and never tolerated. The future of science and society depends on it. If we fail, the 300-year Age of Enlightenment will come to an end.