Today’s Democratic “progressives,” like the early 20th century “progressives” they admire, like to claim that their policies are based in science rather than politics. Like candidate Joe Biden, they condemn those who refuse or fail to “follow the science” for societal problems. Thus, the Trump administration is constantly taken to task for its failure to “follow the science” on “climate change” and measures scientists recommend for the coronavirus.
Progressives seem to feel that if a group of scientists can be found that agrees with their policy prescriptions, those who disagree should be dismissed as mindless or evil “deniers” and consigned to the outer darkness. No reasonable person can, in their view, disagree with expert advice emanating from the scientific community. In extreme cases, progressive politicians have declared disagreeing with “settled science” criminal — and advocated criminal penalties for such irresponsibility.
Such unquestioning science worship can and sometimes does lead to absurd or even dangerous real-world policies. An earlier generation of progressives flocked to the perceived danger of over-population of the planet and the bogus science of “eugenics.” This led them to advocate the sterilization or elimination of disfavored minority groups from the general population using “science” to build a healthy, homogeneous and incidentally “White” nation.
This sounds absurd to modern Americans, but it attracted do-gooders like Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger and was admired by Adolf Hitler. Those who questioned the new experts were condemned for ignoring the “science” in much the same ways that critics of global warming and what’s now called climate change are treated by true believers. Similarly, progressives remain determined to “follow the science” or at least those within the scientific and medical communities who support locking down the country in the fight against the coronavirus.
The oft-ignored reality that government-by-expert is by definition not just undemocratic, but essentially anti-democratic. To limit the universe of problem solving to one policy and actively limit any critical analysis of it is both wrong and dangerous. In the case of the coronavirus the “science” requiring an economic lockdown may actually be inadvertently advocating policies that are actually killing more people and doing more damage than the virus itself. Yet, progressives persist in dismissing as crackpots or worse those with other views.
These same progressives dislike Donald Trump because he has demonstrated his ignorance by actually questioning the wisdom of the lockdown and the willingness of global warming aficionados to blame most of society’s ills on climate change. Not everyone disagrees with Mr. Trump. When forest management experts dismissed the progressive charge that the president and climate change deniers were responsible for this summer’s California wildfires and blaming them instead primarily on years of forest mismanagement, they were furious.
For months the Twitter world has been reacting with glee whenever a “science denier” contracts the virus as if anyone who disagrees with them actually deserve whatever they get. When President Trump himself came down with it last week, the anti-Trump world filled the Internet with “we told you so,” “it was his own fault” and “he deserves whatever happens” posts. A former high-ranking Obama and Clinton campaign official went so far as to tweet that she “hopes” he will “die of the virus.”
Presidents and others in government should always be open to and consult scientific experts as they develop public policy, but they should not let such experts dictate policy because they rarely reflect the views of all their colleagues, can be dead wrong their perspective is far too narrow.
During the Ford administration, Dr. Jonas Salk, who had developed the vaccine that stopped polio in its tracks, served as an adviser to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and became convinced that what came to be known as “the swine flu” was in fact the re-emergence of the Spanish flu that had killed more than 100 million people worldwide during and after World War I. He and others persuaded then-President Ford that everyone in the country had to be vaccinated lest we lose as many as 30 million people to the virus.
The Ford administration, following Salk’s advice and keeping the suspected nature of the new flu under wraps, developed and inoculated as many as 30 million Americans, but as it turned out Salk was wrong. Fewer than a thousand people died and the administration’s obsession with inoculating everyone against a non-existent threat became the subject of comedy routines.
If Jonas Salk could be mistaken, can anyone accept the word of today’s experts at face value, without debate? Voters should be leery of a politician who argues that his or her answer to a problem must be accepted because it has the support of some friendly scientist. The Founders rejected kings and czars and put their trust in elected officials and those who elect them. The experts who argue that they know more than the people of their representatives will always be with us, but we shouldn’t short circuit democracy to cater to their desires no matter how convinced they may be that they know better than we what’s good for us.
• David Keene is an editor at large for The Washington Times.
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