Sen. Rand Paul committed blasphemy this week. He gently criticized Anthony Fauci as neither omniscient nor omnipotent. In doing so, the junior senator from Kentucky exposed a god as a bureaucrat — a government employee who relishes power but loathes responsibility.
“I don’t think you’re the end-all,” the doctor said to the doctor. “I don’t think you’re the one person that gets to make a decision.”
Fauci, opining of late on everything from hooking up on Tinder (swipe right) to fans filling NFL stadiums this fall (boo), maintained that he merely offers counsel on health matters based on his expertise. “I give advice according to the best scientific evidence,” he responded to Paul.
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The longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who entered the Beltway bureaucracy shortly after Rand Paul’s fifth birthday, wants it both ways. He wants the authority of the abbreviation prefacing his name and his five-plus decades in government and the all-kneel-and-bow-heads word “science” to compel leaders to become his followers, and he wants to disown the decisions of the leaders he sways by describing his role as purely advisory. And he grasps that by virtue of this authority the Fourth Estate reflexively wields its cudgel on his behalf, as a CNN writer did Thursday by characterizing his disagreement with the president over reopening as the doctor’s “facts and logic that conflict with Trump’s chosen version of reality.”
Trump’s difference with his subordinate should not surprise given how many times that subordinate takes issue with his earlier statements. Fauci initially advised Americans not to wear masks. Then he urged Americans to wear masks. “The flu has a mortality rate of 0.1 percent,” he told the House Oversight and Reform Committee in March. “This has a mortality rate of 10 times that.” Only this didn’t, and he could not have known then if it did. The lack of widespread testing made it impossible to know the mortality rate. In February, he called a travel ban regarding China “irrelevant.” The following month he credited it with saving lives.
This does not make Fauci an idiot or evil or anything like that. It makes him fallible. Scientists are human, not supernatural, beings. Considering the newness of what was called, after all, novel coronavirus, no one, not even someone as experienced as Dr. Fauci, could possess that crystal ball equipped to answer everything. His work on AIDS, when he stoked panic by speculating in a journal that “household” and “routine close contact” might spread the disease, should have taught him that a scientist doing speculation isn’t doing science.
The facts say focus on the elderly and medically compromised. The politics say divert attention to children.
Yet Fauci keeps making off-the-wall statements that, given his stature, become the basis for policy. For instance, he explained in response to a statement by Sen. Paul: “We better be very careful particularly when it comes to children.”
Should nuns take special precautions about gonorrhea and Asians preoccupy themselves with sickle cell anemia, too?
In Wisconsin and Missouri, septuagenarians and above compose 72 percent of coronavirus deaths. Neither state experienced a coronavirus death in anyone under the age of 20. In Connecticut, which did experience two deaths in people under 20, those 70 and older account for 81.2 percent of fatal coronavirus cases.
In North Carolina, 59.5 percent of coronavirus deaths occurred among residents of care facilities. The Tar Heel State witnessed 85 percent of its fatal coronavirus cases occurring in people ages 65 and older, 12 percent in those 50–64, and just 3 percent in the 25–49 age bracket. In Minnesota, residents of long-term care facilities accounted for 81 percent of COVID-19 deaths. No Minnesotan under the age of 30 has died from the disease. Those 70 years of age and older makeup 82.3 percent of coronavirus deaths. In Colorado, septuagenarians and above compose 77.8 percent of coronavirus deaths.
In Massachusetts, people with underlying conditions represent 98.4 percent of those who died from the disease. Residents of long-term care facilities constitute 60.2 percent of deaths. Nobody under the age of 20 has died from the disease. Just 66 of the 5,108 deaths occurred in people under the age of 50. People 80 years and over make up 62.5 percent of all fatal COVID-19 cases in the Bay State. The average age of coronavirus death in the commonwealth is 82, more than three years higher than U.S. life expectancy.
In Arizona, 80 percent of COVID-19 deaths occurred in people 65 years old and above. Of the nearly 600 deaths in that state, only one came in someone under the age of 20. In Illinois, the 70 and above demographic constitutes 68.8 percent of deaths from the disease.
Coronavirus is more Murder, She Wrote than SpongeBob SquarePants. Arriving at this conclusion does not require the deductive powers of a Jessica Fletcher. Even Patrick Star could tell you the demographics of this. So why does Dr. Fauci focus on the dangers to children?
It turns out that the public finds them more adorable than octogenarians in stuffed, state-run veterans’ homes. The idea that this disease could kill a child — even though in a large number of states it has not killed a single child — grabs the public by its lapels. This also explains the murderously idiotic decision in many states to evacuate schools but keep care facilities crammed. The facts say focus on the elderly and medically compromised. The politics say divert attention to children. It’s always about “the children” when it’s about winning public opinion.
The exchange with Paul stemmed from Fauci’s earlier remarks, which some heard as tamping down the notion of schools returning to session this fall. His precise words, however, pertained to whether or not the introduction of a vaccine would accompany students to the first day of school. He called that, and not schools opening in the fall, a “bridge too far” — a characterization that appears hard to dispute. Headlines simplified his words to the point of distortion.
He later offered more clarity and conciliation toward Paul’s localist position allowing school districts to decide.
“We have a very large country, and the dynamics of the outbreak are different in different regions of the country,” he noted in his testimony. “So, I would imagine that situations regarding school will be very different in one region versus another so that it’s not going to be universal or homogenous.”
The doctor’s many admirers ignore this and emphasize his adversarial exchange with Sen. Paul, in which Fauci appeared to disagree with the very sentiments he later endorsed. The coronavirus czar — and this is no great fault — does not appreciate the ways partisans (on both sides) and the press twist his words.
Fauci, in overlooking negative economic, mental health, quality of life, and other consequences of the doctor dictatorship because of his fixation on outcomes directly related to infectious disease, suffers from the intellectual’s disease. He gives off the impression that his specialized fixation is indeed the “end-all.”
Jonathan Haidt obliquely addressed this myopia in The Righteous Mind by observing, “People who devote their lives to studying something often come to believe that the object of their fascination is the key to understanding everything.” Or, as laymen might say, he only knows what he learned in his major.
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