This blog is written by Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Posts appear Monday & Wednesday.
Activist scientists have appointed themselves arbiters of who’s entitled to protest and who isn’t.
Last June, Glenn Greenwald penned a fantastic essay that addresses a topic about which I’ve been concerned for years: activist scientists. This brand of scientist imagines that their scientific training makes them super smart about non-scientific matters. (In fact, the available evidence points in the opposite direction.)
This brand of scientist attends political rallies not as a private citizen who considers her voice equivalent to other voices, but wearing a lab coat that imparts special status. This brand of scientist wants democratically elected leaders jailed for the crime of thinking differently. This brand of scientist will even falsely claim to be a Nobel laureate to advance their political agenda.
Greenwald’s essay, The Abrupt, Radical Reversal in How Public Health Experts Now Speak About the Coronavirus and Mass Gatherings, addresses those scientists who, in response to racially-charged, anti-police-brutality protests last year, performed a total COVID-19 backflip.
In his words, prior to these protests we were all told to STAY HOME:
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, and the separation of people from their loved ones and communities…
…People who left their homes for any reason other than officially approved “essential” functions were – no matter how careful they were – publicly shamed if not fined and arrested…respect for science and medicine mandated that we acquiesce to this framework.
Then, as he says, the messaging changed – “dramatically, radically and abruptly”:
self-isolation gave way to massive street protests, where tens or hundreds of thousands of people gathered together in the U.S. and around the world, often one on top of the other, chanting, yelling and singing: a virtual laboratory for what we had spent four months hearing was exactly what one must not do in the middle of this pandemic.
…in very stark contrast to the vehement denunciations from public health experts of prior protests or out-of-the-home activities of any kind, virtually no prominent experts have denounced any of this on the ground that it will spread the coronavirus and ultimately kill more people (even though that is highly likely to happen). To the contrary, many infectious disease experts have done the exact opposite: they have endorsed and encouraged these mass street protests…
Greenwald correctly calls an open letter circulated by University of Washington epidemiologists an egregious example of the “utter manipulation of public health science and expertise for nakedly political ends.”
Either public gatherings during a pandemic are a health risk, or they’re not. Rather than being consistent, the authors of this letter carved out an exemption for political rallies to which they themselves are sympathetic – while continuing to insist that other kinds of political rallies should be forbidden.
Scientists did this. Personnel associated with the University of Washington School of Medicine did this. Talk about chutzpah. Talk about hypocrisy.
The full letter can be read here. It declares that “infectious disease experts must be clear and consistent in prioritizing an anti-racist message.” (Worrying more about racial stigma than a deadly virus is how we got into this mess.) It says the response to these massive rallies “must be wholly different from the response to white protesters resisting stay-home orders.”
Like everyone else, these people care more about some issues than others. To them, fighting racism is more important than fighting a pandemic. They are entitled to that view, but there’s nothing scientific about it. Other people are equally entitled to the view that lockdowns are inflicting irreversible economic harm, and therefore need to end.
But this letter demonizes that perspective. Indeed, it outrageously declares that anti-lockdown protests are “rooted in white nationalism.” Scientific training is supposed to impart intellectual rigour. But these people have no problem casually, lazily, and reflexively tarring those with whom they disagree with the worst possible brush.
Greenwald, bless him, cuts to the heart of the matter:
How is it remotely within the scope of the expertise of epidemiologists to pick and choose which political protests should be permitted and/or encouraged and which ones banned and/or denounced?…For scientists to purport to dictate which citizens can and cannot safely choose to leave their house – based not on health judgments but on their political ideology – is repressive…
…it is vital that we have the same health and legal standards apply to all citizens and all political ideologies… [bold added]
This is important. Over the past year, we’ve learned many things that shouldn’t be forgotten. This letter, “signed by 1,288 public health professionals, infectious diseases professionals, and community stakeholders” provides concrete, non-contestable proof that activist scientists are happy – indeed, they are eager – to suppress the political rights of their fellow citizens.
In this letter their willingness to employ a public health rationale to quash the ‘wrong’ kinds of protests – while simultaneously insisting that rationale doesn’t apply to protests they support – is clear and unmistakable.
These people are disgusting. And dangerous.
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