Guest essay by Eric Worrall
h/t TNP, Nick – Could criticism of government science be outlawed? A science journal paper appears to have equated Republican attempts to fire Dr. Fauci with physical intimidation and NAZI oppression of science, and appears to urge that criticism of scientists be considered a hate crime.
Note that the following paper is marked as an “uncorrected proof”.
Mounting antiscience aggression in the United States
Peter J. Hotez
Published: July 28, 2021
There is a troubling new expansion of antiscience aggression in the United States. It’s arising from far-right extremism, including some elected members of the US Congress and conservative news outlets that target prominent biological scientists fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.
A band of ultraconservative members of the US Congress and other public officials with far-right leanings are waging organized and seemingly well-coordinated attacks against prominent US biological scientists. In parallel, conservative news outlets repeatedly and purposefully promote disinformation designed to portray key American scientists as enemies. As a consequence, many of us receive threats via email and on social media, while some are stalked at home, to create an unprecedented culture of antiscience intimidation.
Over the spring and summer of 2021, four major incidents stand out. First, Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green (R-GA) introduced house bill 2316 . The “Fire Fauci Act” called for halting payment of Dr. Anthony Fauci’s salary as Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and auditing his digital correspondence and financial transactions. Green’s follow-up press conference on 21 June 2021 included 13 Republican House supporters or co-sponsors, possibly the largest congressional delegation in modern times to single out and attempt to humiliate a prominent American scientist.
Historically, such regimes viewed scientists as enemies of the state. In his 1941 essay, Science in the Totalitarian State , Waldemar Kaempffert, outlines details using the examples of Nazism under Hitler, Fascism under Mussolini, and Marxism and Leninism . For example, under Stalin, the study of genetics and relativity physics were treated as dangerous western theories, and potentially in conflict with official social philosophies of state . Today, there remain examples of authoritarian regimes that hold similar views. In 2019, the Hungarian Government under Prime Minister Viktor Orbán took over the control of the Hungarian Academy of Scientists. Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro cut funding for Brazilian scientific institutions and universities while downplaying the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic or undermining evidence of deforestation in the Amazon due to climate change.
For researchers working in the pandemic response to continue to do so effectively, we seek help in halting the aggression. This is essential not only for our personal safety or national security, but also the reality that attacking science and scientists will both promote illness and cause loss of life. For example, currently more than 99% of the COVID-19 deaths now occur among unvaccinated people, and almost as many hospitalizations. To begin, the following steps must be considered:
- The President of the United States, together with science leaders at the federal agencies should prepare and deliver a robust, public, and highly visible statement of support. The statement would reaffirm the contribution of scientists across United States history.
- We should look at expanded protection mechanisms for scientists currently targeted by far-right extremism in the United States. Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY) has introduced a bill known as the Scientific Integrity Act of 2021 (H.R. 849) to protect US Government scientists from political interference, but this needs to be extended for scientists at private research universities and institutes. Still another possibility is to extend federal hate-crime protections.
Read more: https://journals.plos.org/plosbiology/article?id=10.1371/journal.pbio.3001369#pbio.3001369.ref001 (PDF backup copy here)
I’ll never forget a description I once read of a US scientist who visited an academy in a South American country. After he delivered his speech, and asked for questions, nobody put their hand up. When he later asked one of the students why, the student explained that asking questions is rude.
I’m totally against scientists being physically intimidated, regardless of what anyone thinks of their scientific conduct. But scientific progress absolutely depends on the unfettered right of anyone to verbally challenge scientific claims, and verbally criticise the conduct of scientists.
Robust criticism is the only means we have to expose pseudoscience, especially when the pseudoscience is backed by politicians and scientific institutions, something which has happened way too often throughout modern history.
NAZIs, Soviets, all of them had their own politically convenient collection of scientific “truths”, which were vigorously defended, not by evidence and open discourse, but by harsh government laws designed to punish critics.
Free speech, a right to criticise, also gives us an opportunity to discover and and object to unethical scientific experiments.
The measures Peter Hotez is proposing in my opinion risk creating the authoritarian nightmare he claims to oppose.
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