Dear Mr President: Start Respecting Science

March 12, 2020


China has rightfully taken criticism for squelching attempts by scientists to report information during the outbreak. Now, the United States government is doing similar things. Informing Fauci and other government scientists that they must clear all public comments with Vice President Mike Pence is unacceptable. This is not a time for someone who denies evolution, climate change, and the dangers of smoking to shape the public message.

While scientists are trying to share facts about the epidemic, the administration either blocks those facts or restates them with contradictions. Transmission rates and death rates are not measurements that can be changed with will and an extroverted presentation. The administration has repeatedly said—as it did last week—that virus spread in the United States is contained, when it is clear from genomic evidence that community spread is occurring in Washington state and beyond. That kind of distortion and denial is dangerous and almost certainly contributed to the federal government’s sluggish response. After 3 years of debating whether the words of this administration matter, the words are now clearly a matter of life and death.

And although the steps required to produce a vaccine could possibly be made more efficient, many of them depend on biological and chemical processes that are essential. So the president might just as well have said, “Do me a favor, hurry up that warp drive.”

I don’t expect politicians to know Maxwell’s equations for electromagnetism or the Diels-Alder chemical reaction (although I can dream). But you can’t insult science when you don’t like it and then suddenly insist on something that science can’t give on demand. For the past 4 years, President Trump’s budgets have made deep cuts to science, including cuts to funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the NIH. With this administration’s disregard for science of the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the stalled naming of a director for the Office of Science and Technology Policy—all to support political goals—the nation has had nearly 4 years of harming and ignoring science.

Now, the president suddenly needs science. But the centuries spent elucidating fundamental principles that govern the natural world—evolution, gravity, quantum mechanics—involved laying the groundwork for knowing what we can and cannot do. The ways that scientists accumulate and analyze evidence, apply inductive reasoning, and subject findings to scrutiny by peers have been proven over the years to give rise to robust knowledge. These processes are being applied to the COVID-19 crisis through international collaboration at breakneck, unprecedented speed; Science published two new papers earlier this month on SARS-CoV-2, and more are on the way. But the same concepts that are used to describe nature are used to create new tools. So, asking for a vaccine and distorting the science at the same time are shockingly dissonant.

A vaccine has to have a fundamental scientific basis. It has to be manufacturable. It has to be safe. This could take a year and a half—or much longer. Pharmaceutical executives have every incentive to get there quickly—they will be selling the vaccine after all—but thankfully, they also know that you can’t break the laws of nature to get there.

Maybe we should be happy. Three years ago, the president declared his skepticism of vaccines and tried to launch an antivaccine task force. Now he suddenly loves vaccines.

But do us a favor, Mr. President. If you want something, start treating science and its principles with respect.

National Review:

Trump so far hasn’t passed muster on any of these metrics. He resisted making the response to the epidemic a priority for as long as he could — refusing briefings, downplaying the problem, and wasting precious time. He has failed to properly empower his subordinates and refused to trust the information they provided him — often offering up unsubstantiated claims and figures from cable television instead. He has spoken about the crisis in crude political and personal terms. He has stood in the way of public understanding of the plausible course of the epidemic, trafficking instead in dismissive clichés. He has denied his administration’s missteps, making it more difficult to address them.

This presidential behavior is all too familiar. It is how he has gotten through scandals and fiascos for more than three years in office. But those were all essentially political in nature, and most were self-created. The country has been lucky in the Trump era, largely avoiding the sorts of major, unforeseen crises that make the greatest demands of the modern presidency. That luck has now run out, and this demands a new level of seriousness from the president and those around him.

President Trump needs to rise to this challenge. His partisan adversaries are sure he can’t. We hope he proves them wrong.

10 Responses to “Dear Mr President: Start Respecting Science”

  1. dumboldguy Says:

    Telling our accidental president to respect science is like telling a dog to stop peeing on trees or sniffing other dog’s butts. It AIN’T gonna happen.

    I seriously doubt that most of the other Repugnants in the administration would show the disrespect for science that Trump has in so many ways since his accidental election—-many of them are quite dumb, but NONE approach his level of mental illness. What he said (that was shown so well in in PANDUMBIC) is beyond belief.

  2. Sir Charles Says:

    That moron in chief just burnt 10% of the Dow with his EU Travel ban.

  3. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    Super stupendously magnificently excellent summary of the spread of CoVID 19:
    View at

  4. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    Screwed up the link
    View at

    • doldrom Says:

      I had already seen it elsewhere, but a good read indeed.
      The scariest part is what 1 day delay in effective measures could make (40%) which could translate into health care collapsing and a 10× higher fatality rate (exponents!). The scary thing is that the fatality rate does not just go up for Corona infections, but for anything else (car accident, trauma, stroke, caridiac arrests).
      In another take on the S-curve implied by the numbers, reducing the growth rate of new cases from 15% to 5%, over 60 days, is the difference between 105 million cases and 400 thousand!

  5. The president does not believe in science. It is just an opinion.

    • The president believes in the science of bronzer, hair extensions and extreme corsetry

      • dumboldguy Says:

        The president does NOT “believe” in hair extensions. It’s all his. He HAS had scalp reduction surgery to gather it together, lets it grow long, combs it around to cover his baldness, and uses lots of hair spray. Get your facts straight.

        • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

          He got the bronzer right, at least. A lot of people are saying it is spray tan, when it’s slathered-on orangey concealer.


  6. doldrom Says:

    There is no vaccine for HIV. SARS was in 2003, the closest analogue to the current virus. There is no vaccine yet. Formulated vaccines made the infection much more severe. Vaccines cannot just be churned out of the improving cookie cutter machinery. You cannot say in advance whether it will be quick, tedious, or impossible.

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