Trust the Science? Fauci Finally Admits Pandemic Errors

Posted on Monday, January 22, 2024
by David Lewis Schaefer

AMAC Exclusive – By David Lewis Schaefer

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, Chief Medical Advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci and White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Ashish Jha participate in a press briefing Tuesday, November 22, 2022, at the White House. (Official White House Photo by Erin Scott)

Former leading government scientists have finally admitted, albeit unintentionally, that they botched the response to COVID-19. But what we don’t yet have – and what the public deserves – is any sense of accountability for the immense harm inflicted on the American people under the pretense of “trusting the science.”

In testimony on January 9 before the House select subcommittee investigating the federal government’s COVID policies, Dr. Anthony Fauci, recently retired from his position as Director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, in which capacity he was the face of the federal COVID response, admitted that some of his ”scientific” recommendations during the pandemic were based on purely arbitrary judgments.

Most notably, according to the subcommittee chair Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio), who is also a physician, Fauci acknowledged that his “recommendation” that people “socially distance” by six feet (rather than, say, three, or twelve, or any other number) to minimize the virus’s transmission was “likely not based on scientific data,” but “sort of just appeared” to him.

But Fauci was unrepentant about the deleterious effects his randomly chosen recommendation had on American life – most notably school shutdowns throughout the country (since few schools had room to set up classrooms with students sitting six feet apart), closed businesses (for similar reasons), massive federal spending (often wasted) to try to keep businesses afloat and workers paid, kids prevented from playing with their friends, and so on.

Even worse, in contrast with what every parent who observed how little their children were being taught from online classes could see, Fauci still denied that there was any proof that the school shutdowns caused learning loss at all.

In reality, a multitude of studies issued by reputable research organizations have confirmed such losses. For instance, the Center for School and Student Progress, operating in conjunction with the Northwest Evaluation Association (a nonprofit educational testing organization) reported, “In nearly all grades, achievement gains during 2022–23 fell short of pre-pandemic trends.” More precisely, the study found that the average student will need the equivalent of “4.1 additional months of schooling to catch up in reading and 4.5 months in math,” and that ”marginalized [that is, minority or low-income] students remain the furthest from recovery.”

In contrast to Fauci’s reluctance to admit that his policies had any harmful societal effects, his former boss, Dr. Francis Collins, who ran the National Institutes of Health during COVID, admitted that same week before Congress that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other public-health bureaucracies had flubbed the pandemic reaction, albeit with the best of intentions.

“If you’re a public health person and you’re trying to make a decision,” Collins explained, “you have this very narrow view of what the right decision is, and that is something that will save a life.” With this perspective, Collins acknowledged, “you attach zero value to whether this actually totally disrupts people’s lives, ruins the economy, and has many kids kept out of school in a way they never quite recovered [from].”

With hindsight, Collins admitted to the detrimental effects that the government’s vaccine and masking mandates had for the entire nation. Those guidelines failed to reflect the vast difference in the risk of COVID transmission between a minority of the population – the elderly and individuals already suffering from other serious diseases – and healthy people. While tens of millions of Americans contracted COVID, most cases of mortality or major illness were confined to those specific classes – and a significant number of people developed COVID even after having been vaccinated.

As for masking, the evidence shows that the early mask mandates had no protective effect at all; only more stringent requirements for N-95 masks may have had some modest benefit. But again, since the risk to most healthy, non-elderly people was minimal, so was that benefit.

Moreover, Collins also admitted in retrospect that the vaccine mandate, which some people (including star NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers) resisted out of fears of possible side effects, generated a more generalized fear and suspicion among the general population about taking any vaccines, thus adding to the increasingly widespread myths (such as that the smallpox vaccine causes bipolarism) that truly endanger people’s health. And in January, Washington, D.C. health officials were “sounding alarms about a possible measles exposure at two major airports,” according to the New York Post – possibly reflecting the fact that the 2021-22 academic year saw only 93 percent of kindergartners having received the standard MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine, with the CDC reporting the highest ever recorded rate of vaccine exemptions.

But Fauci’s record in dealing with COVID looks even worse considering his long, dogmatic insistence that the virus must have originated in a Chinese “wet market” a few miles from a Wuhan biological laboratory that was engaged in gain-of-function research and receiving U.S. funding.

Early in 2020, Fauci appeared at a press conference with President Trump, citing a research paper by Dr. Kristian Andersen and published in the journal Nature Science to support his claim. What Fauci failed to disclose was that he himself had commissioned and edited the study – a fact discovered only later by House Republicans. As Andersen finally admitted, Fauci made clear that he wanted the study to disprove the lab-leak theory.

These facts were only uncovered in a report issued by the House subcommittee, which also found evidence that Collins himself had been complicit in asking that the study “put down” the lab leak hypothesis.

Notably, when President Trump still pursued the question of whether the virus could have originated in the lab (as common sense would suggest, given the nature of the lab’s work), he was ridiculed.

Subsequently, Fauci denounced anyone who questioned his claims about the virus’s origins as an opponent of science, since, he asserted, “I represent science.” And when, during a Senate hearing in July 2021, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul (a medical doctor) pressed Fauci further to state whether the NIH had funded risky gain-of-function research at the Wuhan lab, Fauci angrily denounced Paul for propagating a “lie.”

Yet only a month earlier, Harvard scientist Dr. Alina Chan (coauthor of the book Viral: The Search for the Origin of COVID-19) told the British Science and Technology Select Committee that it was “reasonable” to believe that COVID had been genetically engineered in China. Then, in February 2023, an investigation by both the Energy Department and the FBI concluded that a lab leak was the “most likely” origin of the COVID-19 virus.

Fauci was thus compelled to back off from his original claims categorically denouncing the lab leak hypothesis – but never offered any public apology to Senator Paul. Testifying in a closed hearing before the House subcommittee during the second week of 2024, according to the Post, he repeatedly said that he’d “forgotten” a great deal from the start of the pandemic, though he is also reported to have claimed in private to having taken the lab-leak theory seriously.

Despite the seemingly endless series of reversals and equivocations from Fauci, one thing is certain: as New Zealand data scientist Gilles Demaneuf, a member of a group of internet sleuths looking into COVID’s origin, told Vanity Fair, without knowing just how the virus escaped from the lab, “I am 100% sure there was a massive cover-up.” As Dr. Chan observes, the great lengths that Chinese leaders went to in order to conceal the original outbreak and then to “sabotage” the World Health Organization’s inquiry into the matter – among other steps, destroying masses of data – only fortify the lab-leak hypothesis.

Just before his last prior appearance before the House subcommittee in December 2022 (when the House still had a Democrat majority) Fauci, who had worked at the NIAID with distinction for nearly four decades, serving as director for 18 years, had accused Republicans of having “clearly politicized” public health. In an interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation” in November of that year, he mocked any candidates who criticized his policies during their campaign, saying, “That’s ridiculous. I mean, this is a public health issue. So yeah, it’s going to keep going likely much more geared toward me.” He added, “I didn’t get involved before in the politics and I’m not going to get involved now in the politics.”

Unfortunately, despite his long career as a scientist, Fauci did become involved in “politics,” and not in a way that should embellish his previously stellar reputation. One can only attribute his dogmatism, whether in issuing non-science-based “recommendations” (that were widely taken as mandates) or dismissing investigations into COVID’s origins, to his sudden prominence having gone to his head – along with his wish to preserve his agency’s reputation rather than acknowledge its careless grant-giving.

Apparently, Fauci just couldn’t admit his uncertainty about some issues, or outright error in others. As a longtime professor at the College of the Holy Cross, I am particularly distressed at this development, since I long regarded Fauci – along with Bob Cousy and Clarence Thomas – as one of the college’s most distinguished alumni over the second half of the twentieth century.

But the lesson of this story isn’t that science shouldn’t be subordinated to “politics.” Rather, as Dr. Collins’s testimony indicates, it is the job of political leaders to supervise in a responsible way how science is conducted (for instance, preventing U.S. taxpayer dollars from funding gain-of-function research in Chinese labs that could theoretically produce bioweapons).

Conversely, it is the job of government scientists to cooperate with elected leaders when it comes to balancing scientific findings and data against other aspects of the public good. Americans elect their leaders to craft public health policy with input from scientists, not the other way around.

In a democracy, as political scientists Marc Landy, Marc Roberts, and Stephen Thomas argued three decades ago in their classic study “The Environmental Protection Agency: Asking the Wrong Questions from Nixon to Clinton,” scientists and bureaucrats working on such complex issues are obliged to try to educate the public by showing them both sides – not just try to make their agency look good so as to increase its budget.

In a recent insightful column in the New York Times, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Leonhardt, a certifiable liberal, lamented the tendency of liberals “to adopt positions that are not based on empirical evidence,” and “wish away inconvenient facts.” Among these positions are “the notion that standardized tests are worthless or counterproductive,” and a reluctance “to acknowledge that extended COVID school closures were a mistake, that policing can reduce crime, and that drug legalization can damage public health.”

The disposition that Leonhardt criticizes is by no means limited to the political left. It is true, as he argues, that such tendencies have been exacerbated by the polarization of American politics in recent decades: if politics is viewed as a zero-sum war for supremacy, then conceding you were wrong on any point seems like surrender.

But the tendency for people’s opinions, even on matters remote from politics, to be biased by their narrow self-interests, their group affiliations, or sheer egotism (not wanting to admit you were wrong) is grounded in human nature itself, as James Madison observed in Federalist No. 10. Even in times of crisis, responsible news media should take account of this fact in assessing rival claims, even when they come from “experts.”

If Leonhardt’s lament is taken to heart by all well-meaning citizens, that will be one lasting benefit of the COVID debacle.

David Lewis Schaefer is a Professor Emeritus of Political Science at College of the Holy Cross.

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