By JOHN BARTLIT
New Mexico Citizens
for Clean Air & Water
COVID Woes Evolve Facts, Which Electioneers Prune Away
Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has been in the center of the news spotlight throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Most people consider him the most trusted individual source of COVID information. No one can match the office he holds; his many scientific achievements; his role as adviser to every president since Ronald Reagan; added to his concise, capable explanations of the coronavirus and previous virus outbreaks.
Strange to say, the breadth of trust in Fauci impels each big political party to choose snips of his advice to cripple public knowledge. Despite the dilemma, the sensible Brooklyn-born leader of Italian descent has been hard to conscript. Still, both parties keep snipping. Pigeonholing Fauci was hard as long ago as 1958, when the now 5-foot 7-inch stalwart was chosen captain of his high school basketball team.
COVID does more than make many people sick. It also makes many people poor, which is unhealthy. Fauci and his close ally in COVID press briefings, Dr. Deborah Birx, make clear that their expertise is in controlling disease. The coequal task of preserving people’s livelihoods requires decisions by others about economics and political perspectives.
Fauci and Birx are well aware of the dual crises; Fauci and Birx have said often in many ways that they are not in the business of adjusting advice on disease to manage economics. They keep advising that the crucial political part of the equation must be added in by people in other jobs that use other processes.
On that point, a hazy phrase looms up in the news, “Don’t politicize the virus.” Some people quickly take these words to mean, “do not make political decisions.” These people ignore that we struggle with two crises at once. The most total progress against both crises depends on different advice: “Do not prune away vital facts to prove your politics.” This good sense rejects both parties’ plans to win out by selectively pruning away facts. Time was when key facts from both sides comprised the pros and cons of proposals, which were used in forming full-fledged answers. No longer.
Before the virus had spread from China early this year only to evolve further in Europe, world knowledge of the virus amounted to little more than its general genetic makeup. Essentially unknown were its symptoms, progression, behaviors, or useful treatments. Details surfaced. The evolved virus spreads faster than the original, but does not seem to make people sicker.
Models are the most accurate means of combining measurable statistics to forecast the likely spread of the disease in populations. Initial models were generic for lack of statistics. Soon, new data were added daily to improve predictions. This continual work is the core of modeling.
Because of progress made, any given rate of public infection today poses less risk than that rate posed back when little to nothing was known about the symptoms, progression, and treatments for the disease. Knowledge of all kinds has improved. Still, politics spends volumes of time rehashing leaders’ misdeeds. That practice devotes precious little time and ingenuity to making clear the latest details that add valuable knowledge.
Science glories in gaining knowledge in finer and finer detail to use in making smart decisions. For its part, politics keeps on electioneering. Thus, many a key factor gets slight notice, such as what the U.S. Constitution says about state and federal emergency powers. News reporting keeps pace with electioneering, but lags behind in showing the range of fresh knowledge as it comes. So, evolving advice looks like blind stumbling.
Politics shrinks from hard duties. It works much harder at cutting out information. Alas, our nation cannot solve COVID’s dual crises by voting on which knowledge to throw away. Political campaigns have become contests for choosing which realities to leave out. This abuse of knowledge has drawn voters and Congress farther and farther from dealing with the pros and cons of policy options. And farther from solutions.
Better to fight against the two perils: Resist wasting facts about a working economy or about masks. Electioneering stifles facts in big batches.