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Scientists, censors, and scapegoats

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Sep 29, 2021

Who is to blame for the latest surge in the Covid epidemic? The New York Times suggests a scapegoat: Blame it on Republicans.

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Analyst David Leonhardt observes that the latest statistics show registered Republicans less likely to be vaccinated, and sure enough, the numbers also show that Covid cases have grown faster recently in counties that swung Republican in last year’s election. The statistical differences—as Leonhardt presents them—are quite dramatic.

QED? Well, not quite. There could easily be other reasons why the “red states” are seeing higher case numbers. Just off the top of my head, it’s possible that the epidemic hit urban areas first, and is now moving out to more rural districts, which coincidentally tend to be located in the “red states.”

But after presenting the figures, Leonhardt swings into his analysis, saying: “What distinguishes the US is a conservative party—the Republican Party—that has grown hostile to science and empirical evidence in recent decades.” Having dropped that bomb, he devotes the remainder of his column to suggestions on how Republicans might be brought around, convinced to accept vaccination and stem the rising tide. He doesn’t have to draw the obvious inference: that these benighted Republicans are prolonging the epidemic, endangering everyone else. Readers who follow his logic can easily reach that conclusion by themselves.

Leonhardt never mentions the reasons why Republicans—and not only Republicans—might resist vaccination. They may have moral objections to taking vaccines whose development involves the use of cells from aborted babies. They may question the efficiency of the vaccines. They may objection to the compulsory use of an experimental treatment. They may worry about potential side effects. Taking all in all, they may be more worried about the vaccine than about the disease. And their worries would not be groundless. Covid cases continue among the vaccinated, and in fact the epidemic is soaring in places with the highest vaccination rates. Complaints about side effects are multiplying, while government scientists issue flatly contradictory statements about the value of the vaccine.

But such worries do not find their way into the pages of the New York Times. And now YouTube has announced that it will block videos that question the reliability of the Covid vaccines and ban the individuals who promote such “misinformation.” Thus YouTube joins the other social-media giants, Facebook and Twitter and Google, in censoring critics of vaccination.

What if it turns out, after further scientific research, that the vaccines are not safe and reliable? What if it is shown (as some scientists already believe) that the vaccination itself has given rise to the more contagious Delta variant? What if—in direct contradiction of the premise behind that New York Times analysis—it is the vaccinated who are now passing the virus along to the unvaccinated, rather than vice versa? Even if empirical research points to those conclusions, will they be barred from most powerful platforms on the internet?

For all their professed reliance on “the science,” the fashionable defenders of the current consensus show very little interest in the scientific method, in subjecting every hypothesis to rigorous testing. Have you noticed how routinely the self-proclaimed “fact-checkers” of the social-media platforms provide alternative opinions or further context rather than actual facts that disprove the alleged misinformation?

One popular meme that continues to circulate through cyberspace—not yet censored, since it does not directly question the vaccination campaign—advises readers to look across the annals of history, and ask themselves when the people who sought to suppress public information have been the “good guys.” Where science is concerned, we should have learned our lessons from the unhappy experience of Lysenko. When science is ruled by political ideology, it trends toward quackery.

Or we might take our lesson from the case of Gallileo. Real scientific discoveries may be suppressed temporarily, by powerful people who find them inconvenient. But eventually the truth will out. Today the most powerful figures in politics, the media, and academe tell us that we cannot, we must not, attempt to move the consensus about Covid vaccination. Nevertheless it moves.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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Show 4 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: garedawg - Oct. 04, 2021 3:46 PM ET USA

    Suppose the vaccines do turn out to be safe and effective. You can bet that many of the so-called conservative news and commentary outlets will be scrambling to hide THOSE pieces of evidence (if they haven't already). The truth is a funny thing.

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Oct. 02, 2021 9:13 AM ET USA

    I differ with St. George. My reaction was not humor, but imprecision. Most in my circle of friends and work colleagues do not "worry" about "the vaccine" as much as they are angered by it. So substitute "angered" for "worried". Angered by the Church's denunciation of civil disobedience by Catholics, and by the civil banning of: medical treatments, enthusiastic research about natural immunity, and religious objections to the reliance of modern pharmacology on abortion. Abortion is not medicine.

  • Posted by: St. George - Sep. 30, 2021 2:06 PM ET USA

    "all in all, they may be more worried about the vaccine than about the disease..." ! I haven't laughed so hard since reading Mark Twain. Thank you.

  • Posted by: feedback - Sep. 30, 2021 6:13 AM ET USA

    The politicians and media outlets that push hard their pro-vaccine propaganda while suppressing or ignoring all legitimate objections to it, happen to be the same sources which lost their credibility by recklessly peddling for three long years the Trump-Russia "collusion" hoax and never corrected or apologized for the misinformation. It's a shame that the Vatican and so many of US bishops dutifully follow their newest wave of agitprop with such disregard for God-given human dignity and autonomy.