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Doug Rollins: History is rife with ignorance of science

FILE - In this April 29, 2020, file photo Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci speaks during a meeting between President Donald Trump and Gov. John Bel Edwards, D-La., about the coronavirus response, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. From left, Fauci, White House coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx, Bel Edwards, and Trump. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Public health experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. Deborah Birx, Dr. Rick Bright and Dr. Robert Redfield give their best assessment of the current health situation. To suggest their ideas be ignored because they create fear that undermines our leaders is ridiculous and belittles people’s intelligence. But our past is rife with such recklessness.

In the 1870s, Joseph Lister, a British surgeon, put forth the germ theory of disease and the practice of antiseptic medicine. Colleagues mocked, laughed at and denied his ideas. That denial resulted in years of medical practice in which infections caused unnecessary death following surgery.

The tobacco industry mocked and denied the science warning us smoking was harmful. Public denial fanned by the unscrupulous pseudoscience of the tobacco companies resulted in decades of permissive smoking that led to countless unnecessary deaths and illnesses.

Man’s role in climate change denied by the spurious claims of the fossil fuel industries against climate scientists delay the transition to clean energy sources that will come eventually.

We disregard science in times of crisis at our peril. We should listen and pay attention to what science, scientists and experts are saying regarding our public health. Not every recommendation must be followed, but every recommendation should be given honest consideration. Denial of science and critical thinking haunts our response to the above crises and to the current public health catastrophe.

Science is not perfect. A few examples of its successes are notable: NASA; polio, smallpox, yellow fever eradication; warning of the destructive effects of DDT; drug, food and water safety; radar; and the successes of medicine such as organ transplantation. Cancer and heart disease are not yet conquered, but we take great strides.

Some argue science does nothing more than dampen the progress of business and stifle the economy. But despite the many scientific advances our economy thrived. The economy will survive the current crisis.

To mock and deny the recommendations of our leading scientists will likely lead to a resurgence of the coronavirus that may drive the economy further behind and for a longer than necessary period of time. If our leaders can’t see this, then hopefully people will, and respond accordingly.

I understand people are suffering. Many are without jobs. People are afraid of meeting together, airplane travel, cruise vacations, sporting events, dining out and movie theaters. Contrary to what the virus conspiracists claim, expert scientists do not cause the loss of jobs and fear. Unemployment and fear are the natural result of a pandemic. Flaunting health directives will only prolong the agony.

Instead of blaming this or that politician or scientist, our leaders should reduce the health and economic pain we feel. Our leaders should give serious thought to what science and public health experts say so the situation is not made worse.

We are not an infantile nation. Unpleasant facts need not be withheld, so as not to frighten us.

Scientists will make a vaccine and develop drugs to lessen the virus’s death toll. These will require proper clinical testing and safety protocols that take time. Cutting corners with anecdotal studies and quack medicines will not hasten the effort and may thwart it. Treatments will eventually protect most of us from this dreaded infection. Opposing vaccination, as I am sure is planned by those in the anti-vaccination movement, will threaten the health of the nation and the return to a robust economy.

We can ask when a vaccine will be developed. As important, we should ask how we can prevent future pandemics, or mitigate crises such as global warming. We need forward thinking from our leaders, not finger pointing.

This public health crisis is a wakeup call. We must demand crisis preparedness. We should not listen to conspiracists who spew their theories on social media with abandon and without regard for the consequences. Don’t disregard science. Pay attention to past follies and listen to scientists who follow the sound practices of ethical science and who will guide us through the crisis.

Doug Rollin

Doug Rollins, M.D, Ph.D., Salt Lake City, is an emeritus professor of pharmacology and toxicology at the University of Utah. He was medical director of doping control for the 2002 Winter Olympic Games.

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