Yesterday, my colleague Alex Parker posted on a rather absurd article that appeared in the Proceedings of the Library of Science (Biology) titled “Mounting Antiscience Aggression in the United States. The article is Medical School Professor Suggests Hate Crime Charges for Anyone Who Criticizes Government Scientists. The author is Baylor School of Medicine professor Peter Hotez.
This is how he sets up the argument:
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.
It gets better.
These events have context. Prior to 2021, a program of antiscience disinformation that dismissed the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic was aggressively pursued by a White House committed to policies of “America First”. The America First element of the far right focuses on nativism, anti-immigration, and a foreign policy built around strong military build-up and deterrence, and confrontation with China. A darker view links it to voter suppression, and loyalty tests to the former President that question the veracity of the 2020 Presidential election. Harvard University political scientist, Steven Levitsky (the co-author of How Democracies Die), point out how these elements converge to form a modern day authoritarian regime , seeking to concentrate power among a selected few while limiting the reach of opposition groups.
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.
— Natalie Winters (@nataliegwinters) August 1, 2021
We don’t want to get into the role “science” played in the creation of this pandemic or why sane and rational people might look askance at the advice given by the people who quite possibly had a hand in said creation when they give contradictory, self-serving, and profoundly misguided direction on how to deal with it. Obviously, any political movement that threatens the gravy train China represents to American research universities must be maligned.
The most ridiculous bullsh** that Hotez throws out is an assertion, without evidence, that totalitarian regimes view scientists as “enemies of the state.” I have to admit to being unacquainted with Waldemar Kaempffert, but I can say without fear of contradiction that I know more about World War 2 right now than he knew about it in 1941. Being endowed with a modicum of curiosity, I did not assume, as I’m sure Hotez wanted his readers to, that Kaempffert was some sort of dissident German. He wasn’t a scientist. He was a science writer for the New York Times. There is no indication in his biography that he ever spent any extended time in Germany. He was an early adherent of anthropogenic global warming, parapsychology, and “Martian canals.” What Hotez quotes is an essay in Foreign Affairs magazine. Not research. Not refereed. Not based on personal travel. It, like Hotez’s article, is a diatribe. At least, in this case, the New York Times was not flogging communism as it did when Walter Duranty held center stage. In short, he’s no one whose opinion carried weight then or now.
What we did see happen in Nazi Germany and in the USSR was the scientific establishment inextricably intermingled with the regime. For instance, one of the world’s leading malaria scientists, Klaus Schilling, signed on with the Nazis and used concentration camp prisoners for his subjects. He wasn’t a Nazi, per se, as I understand it, he just appreciated the ability of a totalitarian regime — one that made its citizens carry identification papers and, in some cases, wear distinctive insignia on their clothing — to get human subjects for him to play with. Here he is getting his just reward.
Tropical medicine expert Gerhard Rose infected concentration camp inmates with typhus. There was no shortage of German scientists and doctors ready and willing to carry out human experimentation or engage in abortion or euthanasia…gee, see a pattern here?
Likewise, in the Soviet Union, scientists were an elite. They competed for international recognition as a means by which to demonstrate Soviet superiority. Soviet claims to have invented things was a punchline in comedy routines and spy movies. Psychiatry became an adjunct to the penal system. There were areas where the state meddled in research, but I would argue that the Soviet government’s interference was no more pernicious in its impact than the current US grant awards system that rewards group think and in-crowd status. Indeed, we have our economy in thrall to cargo-cult science, pushed by the US government, like “renewables.” We also persistently deny that a baby is a human in the moments before its birth, as we claim that a gauze face mask can stop a virus.
He goes on to make this recommendation to stop the scourge of saying bad things about scientists: “Still another possibility is to extend federal hate-crime protections.”
Hotez also seems somewhat obsessed with protecting Anthony Fauci’s reputation. That seemed a bit curious, and given the emails between Fauci and EcoHealth bigwig Peter Daszak over the Wuhan Institute of Virology, I hopped over to NIH’s RePORTER database. That shows that Hotez has received $9,556,009 from Anthony Fauci’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. One can’t help but notice that Hotez also declared there were no conflicts of interest in this article. I’d think that taking nearly $10 million from a man and institute you are defending would rate a footnote, but I’m just a dumbsh** infantryman from Southside Virginia, not an Ivy League doctor. Make of all that what you will (see Rand Paul Points Out How Fauci Intimidates Other Scientists Into Silence).
This screed is just know-nothing bluster to attack people Hotez doesn’t like…like the people who vote. He has little knowledge of and no respect for our political system, which includes the right of anyone to criticize anyone. He definitely has no consideration for the lives forfeit and ruined by scientists using the American people as lab animals. It is difficult to believe that a fairly prominent scientist would have published something this partisan, this poorly reasoned, and this, well, dumb. But it did happen, and we have to consider that this might not be an outlier opinion.