I have tremendous respect and admiration for Dr. Anthony Fauci, and I am disgusted and appalled by the treatment he has received over the past several years. Even today, he and his family continue to receive death threats and other forms of harassment. Even though Dr. Fauci has saved countless lives throughout his career, and notably over the past nearly-three years of the Covid pandemic, some claim that he was single-handedly responsible for the creation of the virus. It’s a classic case of “shoot the messenger.”
Two articles crossed my radar yesterday. The first was a lovely tribute by Dan Rather [see below], and the other is an ‘exit interview’ published in The Washington Post that shows Dr. Fauci for the intelligent and patient man he is. Dr. Fauci is retiring at the end of this month and he leaves behind some very big shoes to fill! I wish him the best and hope the people of this country can show some good sense and leave him and his family in peace so that he can enjoy a well-earned retirement.
Thank You, Dr. Fauci
Withstanding an assault on science
Dan Rather and Elliot Kirschner
11 December 2022
One of the most dedicated public servants in this nation’s history is stepping down after decades of government service. That this same man is being scurrilously attacked by the world’s richest man on a rapidly degenerating social media platform is a sad but instructive snapshot of our times.
Dr. Anthony Fauci has served presidents since Ronald Reagan. He has led efforts against infectious diseases ranging from HIV/AIDS to Ebola to, of course, Covid-19. His work and dedication have saved countless lives. And for much of his career, he was viewed with great respect on both sides of the political aisle.
But we all know what happened. Fauci has become a target for the anti-science, conspiracy-theory-marinated movement stoked by the former president. And today, Elon Musk sent out a tweet that epitomizes the debasement. Like a smirking bully on the schoolyard, he wrote; My pronouns are Prosecute/Fauci.
Many online were quick to point out how Musk had earlier tweeted favorably about vaccines. And they noted how he has been staggeringly wrong about the pandemic, which he said early on would just disappear. Plus, for what exactly is Fauci supposed to be prosecuted? You have to be fluent in crazy conspiracy theories to start trying to answer that question.
But even to try to debate on the merits is to have already lost.
This isn’t about facts and the truth. This is about scoring political points. It is about flooding our global discourse with horse manure. It is about attacking the very notion of expertise. It is about saying everything can be true so nothing is true. It is about intimidating scientists and health officials. It is about feeding the MAGA crowd with the red meat of a sacrificial lamb.
The rabid tone of the anti-Fauci brigades stands in stark contrast to the man himself. He is careful with his words, soft-spoken, and dedicated to the bounds of data and science. Perhaps what set Musk off was Fauci’s New York Times Op-Ed today, which is essentially a goodbye letter to his decades of service.
It is also a stirring call to action for those who will follow. Fauci writes, “I am confident that the next generations of young physicians, scientists and public health practitioners will experience the same excitement and sense of fulfillment I have felt as they meet the immense need for their expertise to maintain, restore and protect the health of people around the world and rise to the continual unexpected challenges they will inevitably face in doing so.”
He also looks back at his own career, stating with pride, “I always speak the unvarnished truth to presidents and other senior government officials, even when such truths may be uncomfortable or politically inconvenient, because extraordinary things can happen when science and politics work hand in hand.”
Public health is always going to be a mixture of policy and science. It is about weighing complicated and often competing factors. Furthermore, information, especially when diseases are new, is often incomplete. As science learns more, advice can change.
We can wish all we want that the world were simple. It would make everything far less complicated. But the truth is that most of what we contend with in life, like nature itself, is a web of complexity.
We are living in a time when many who try to confront this complexity through their expertise are denigrated, dismissed, and even demonized. Knowledge and facts are distorted by the funhouse mirrors warping our political discourse — social media, right-wing media, and the potent conspiracy theories they help foster.
The Covid-19 virus doesn’t watch Fox News, and neither do the chemical compounds altering our atmosphere with climate change. They don’t care what Musk tweets or what politicians haranguing scientists like Fauci say in a game of political gotcha in congressional hearings. Politicians can’t change the laws of chemistry, biology, or physics. But policies that ignore the data can have real life-and-death consequences.
This isn’t to say that scientists are always right. They aren’t. And on many complicated topics, scientists of good faith can disagree. Science, especially on the frontiers of knowledge, is about grappling with uncertainty. And any scientist will tell you that failure is part of the experimental process.
But that doesn’t mean that all opinions are valid. That doesn’t mean we just dismiss data or experts like Fauci who live in that world and try to use what they have learned to help the rest of us. Fauci and the overwhelming majority of scientists base their conclusions on the best available evidence at the time. All the while, they continue experimenting and innovating in the never-ending search for more knowledge.
So thank you, Dr. Fauci, for your service and for your courage. You have been the epitome of steady, and the world has benefited because of it. Godspeed, good doctor.