Rescuing science from politics

The Covid pandemic witnessed an extraordinary politicization of science. Masking up in parks became a sign of being on the right side of reason. Cities and unions insisted on keeping schools closed long after it became clear that the danger to school-age kids was minimal, claiming they were following the science. Epidemiologists warned about the dangers of mass gatherings, even outdoors, then backed away from the warnings to leave room for racial justice protests, because racism was a health emergency. Questions about the origins of Covid, most especially any suggestion that it could have been accidentally released from a laboratory in Wuhan, were dismissed as a conspiracy theory (it isn’t) and racist (it isn’t that either). Any debate on lockdowns, or the projections for deaths that justified them, was shut down with “trust the science.” And on the right, lawmakers recklessly dismissed the value of vaccines — a strange reversal on an actual scientific breakthrough for which the Trump administration could claim credit. 

Covid ended up killing more than 1.1 million Americans, and there is every reason to get a full accounting of the pandemic. Unfortunately, this week’s congressional hearings are not giving us that. The circus of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) telling Anthony Fauci, the nation’s Covid response chief, that he should be imprisoned for mass murder evidenced zero real truth-seeking effort. There is value in tracing the history of the virus and reckoning with the pandemic’s failures and successes. But we are missing our chance. After the Kennedy assassination — as fertile a soil for paranoia as is imaginable — the nonpartisan Warren Commission made a heroic and largely successful effort to untangle fact from speculation. A similar Covid Commission now could go a long way toward restoring faith in science and resolving the pandemic’s many lingering questions. It’s a sign of just how damaged our science and politics have become that nobody has even dared to ask for that. 

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