Release Date: July 28, 2020
BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Trump administration has worked to discredit Anthony Fauci, director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other officials who contradict the president on the COVID-19 pandemic.
For example, the White House recently issued statements to the media highlighting several mistakes and presumptions by Fauci and others.
These actions left many in the health science and research communities, including Nancy Nielsen, senior associate dean for health policy in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo, shaking their heads in disbelief.
“When the novel coronavirus first emerged as a pandemic threat to humanity, plenty of mistakes were made. But learning is the hallmark of the scientific method: observe, measure, test, modify. We acquire knowledge by questioning, not by assuming,” said Nielsen, who is also a past-president of the American Medical Association. “There were plenty of mistakes by CDC in the early days of testing for the virus. There’s little to be gained by dwelling on mistakes, but a great deal to be gained by learning from them. But persisting inflexibly in the face of clear evidence to the contrary — well, that’s a character flaw.”
When the outbreak began in the U.S., Fauci and other health care experts said the general public didn’t need to wear masks. However, Fauci also said that it was too early to be definitive about that and other policies. Months ago, he changed his advice regarding masks.
“We then we learned that 40% or more of people who contract COVID-19 are asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic and yet can transmit the virus unknowingly to others. Masks have been shown in key ‘natural experiments’ to halt virus transmission to others,” said Nielsen. “An infected traveler flew from Wuhan to the U.S. but wore a mask throughout the flight. No other passengers became infected. Two hair stylists in Missouri were ill with the disease but worked anyway, wearing masks, as did all their clients, and none of them became ill.”
Nielsen continued: “‘Never apologize, never explain’ may have been a good John Wayne line in the 1940s, but it is a really terrible maxim for any world leader who has to confront what no one fully understands yet. How hard is it to admit that earlier advice, given in good faith, has now been shown to require a change of direction? Why must mistakes be defended with falsehoods and mischaracterizations instead of learning from them?”
According to Nielsen, “bizarre” is the right term to describe attacks on scientists and public health professionals by President Trump and White House officials.
“The John Wayne line was actually a little longer: ‘Never apologize, never explain. It’s a sign of weakness.’ No, it’s pigheadedness and it has enormous consequences,” Nielsen said.