Tuesday, October 5, 2021

When Scientists Ignore Science

John Tierney takes us back in time to the 1980s, to the AIDS epidemic. And he trots out authoritative figures like Anthony Fauci and Robert Redfield to show how these eminent scientists whipped up national hysteria by claiming that AIDS could be transmitted by anyone anywhere anyhow. 

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, Tierney explains that Fauci led the way toward unscientific reasoning:

One early alarmist was Anthony Fauci, who made national news in 1983 with an editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association warning that AIDS could infect even children because of “the possibility that routine close contact, as within a family household, can spread the disease.” After criticism that he had inspired a wave of hysterical homophobia, Dr. Fauci (who in 1984 began his current job, as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases), promptly pivoted 180 degrees, declaring less than two months after his piece appeared that it was “absolutely preposterous” to suggest AIDS could be spread by normal social contact. But other supposed experts went on warning erroneously that AIDS could spread widely via toilet seats, mosquito bites and kissing.

And then there was Robert Redfield, director of the CDC during the Covid pandemic. What did Redfield have to say about AIDS?

Robert Redfield, an Army physician who would later direct the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during the Covid pandemic, claimed in 1985 that his research on soldiers showed AIDS would soon spread as rapidly among heterosexuals as among homosexuals. He and other scientists became much-quoted authorities for the imminent “heterosexual breakout,” which was proclaimed on the covers of Life in 1985 (“Now No One Is Safe from AIDS”) and the Atlantic in 1987 (“Heterosexuals and AIDS: The Second Stage of the Epidemic”).

Of course, it was not true. Everyone knew that it was not true. Yet, these eminent scientists were happy to traffic in lies:

 One major study estimated the risk of contracting AIDS during intercourse with someone outside the known risk groups was 1 in 5 million. But the CDC nonetheless started a publicity campaign warning that everyone was in danger. It mailed brochures to more than 100 million households and aired dozens of public-service announcements, like a television ad with a man proclaiming, “If I can get AIDS, anyone can.”

Why were they lying? They imagined that if the country knew that AIDS was largely limited to gay men and to IV drug users, it would not dedicate enough resources to fighting it. So, it was about manipulating the American mind in order to gin up the research funding:

The CDC’s own epidemiologists objected to this message, arguing that resources should be focused on those at risk, as the Journal reported in 1996. But they were overruled by superiors who decided, on the advice of marketing consultants, that presenting AIDS as a universal threat was the best way to win attention and funding. By those measures, the campaign succeeded. Polls showed that Americans became terrified of being infected, and funding for AIDS prevention surged—much of it squandered on measures to protect heterosexuals.

When it comes to Covid, serious political leaders in places like Australia tell people that they should stop conversing with others, because talking can spread the disease.

At the least, we know that we have been here before and that the same scientists who systematically misinformed the public about AIDS expect us to grant them credibility about Covid:

The AIDS fear-mongers suffered few consequences for their mistakes. The false alarms were long forgotten by the start of the Covid pandemic, when the news and public policy were dominated by scientists who overestimated fatalities by a factor of 10 and erroneously warned that people could easily be infected by touching contaminated surfaces or breathing air outdoors. Today most people, especially the young, vastly overestimate their risk of dying thanks to press coverage more uniformly alarmist than during the AIDS epidemic.

The mainstream press and public-health authorities have largely ignored or smeared eminent scientists who question the worst-case scenarios and the wisdom of lockdowns and mandates for tests, masks and vaccines. Their legitimate challenges to Covid orthodoxy have been rejected by medical journals, denounced by officials like Dr. Fauci, and censored by social-media platforms. The journalistic, political and scientific establishments haven’t merely ignored the lessons of the AIDS epidemic. They’ve repeated and amplified the mistakes, spreading more needless fear and eliminating more civil liberties than the AIDS alarmists ever imagined.

1 comment:

Webutante said...

A terrific post, Stuart, and a great reminder of what havoc so-called experts like Fauci can wreck when they're ensconced in an authoritarian institution.