To doubt a scientist is not to doubt science. Quite the contrary, personal authority is precisely what science dispenses with, as much as possible. Dr. Fauci’s assertion of authority creates skepticism about all his assertions—legitimately, because the distinction between science and a particular scientist is essential. To be sure, nonscientists often have to trust scientists to inform them what the science has discovered. But that is all the more reason that scientists bear the responsibility of not letting political or other nonscientific criteria affect their explication.
If scientists expect their statements to be trusted, they must themselves be trustworthy in making them. One had better be scrupulously honest before asking people to surrender their own judgment and simply believe what they are told. Scientists should be especially careful not to misrepresent political or policy judgments as being scientific. And they must protest vigorously and loudly when other influential people claim to speak in the name of science while misrepresenting it.
Dr. Fauci admitted that he first stated that masks were ineffective in part because there was a shortage of masks and he wanted to preserve them for medical workers, who needed them most. He doesn’t seem to have considered: Once he shades the truth for a reason of policy, why shouldn’t reasonable people assume his other statements are based on policy considerations rather than science?
Perhaps the clearest sign that a scientist, or anyone else, is misrepresenting science is a confusion of a science with political or social claims that it is thought to imply.
Ron DeSantis, the much-hated and much-admired governor of Florida recently said about mask mandates that “Politicians wanna force you to cover your face as a way for them to cover their own asses.” We overreacted, truly, and couldn’t walk it back until saved by a deus ex machina in the form of a medical intervention – and even then, the mask mandates got harsher, for pretty incomprehensible reasons. Whether the vaccines are as effective in every way as their proponents first hoped doesn’t really matter. They were a game-changer that gave politicians a way out, a way not to admit wrongdoing in the first half of the pandemic.
Our political leaders and their bureaucratic underlings made plenty of errors in the last year and more, rooted on by an ever-more authoritarian press and more intolerantly divided electorate. More so the decades before that, with terrible foreign policy decisions (Iraq, Afghanistan), domestic surveillance and inapt and invasive TSA searches, macroeconomic decisions (low interest rate policies, bailouts, invasive financial regulations), health care decisions (affordable care), and many more.
Back to Fauci. This photo is taken from a Disney Channel special on Fauci. (HT Todd Zywicki) As Matt (Boarding Group C) says on Twitter about this photo …
I just finished the Fauci documentary on Disney+ so you don’t have to. Here is what was, for me, the defining image: Fauci at work in his home office, beneath a larger-than-lifesize oil painting portrait of himself.