Using science as a political tool is counterproductive. 2023

“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts,” the late, great U.S. senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously observed. Unfortunately, the gavel’s influence has persuaded House Republicans that they are entitled to their own facts.

The first set of witnesses at the March 8 meeting of the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Epidemic all stated that they think the coronavirus that caused a global pandemic came from a laboratory breach in Wuhan, China.

Jamie Metzl, a senior associate at the Atlantic Council and former State Department official, stated, “There is no smoking gun supporting a laboratory origin scenario, but the rising mass of circumstantial evidence points to a pistol that is at least warm to the touch.”

Robert Redfield, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, concurred: “My first examination of the data led me to conclude, and I continue to believe now, that Covid-19 was more likely the consequence of an unintentional laboratory leak than a natural overflow incident.” This view is mostly supported by the biology of the virus.

I know almost nothing about medical science. Yet, my knowledge of politics and journalism leads me to believe that this problem of the virus’s origins will be used as yet another grenade in the cultural wars, tossed with an equal proportion of true uncertainty and feigned certainty, targeting political opponents first and foremost.

Yet, the subcommittee chairman expressed proper humility over the investigation’s status. Rep. Brad Wenstrup stated, “I’ve amassed a great deal of this material over the past three years that does provide breadcrumbs pointing to the lab.” “This is my current opinion. In the future, we want to be able to detect a pandemic, plan for one, and protect ourselves from one.”

However, such sensible caveats as “now” are lost in the Twitterverse and on cable news, where it is crucial to select a side and then align the facts to favor that side.

Fox News coverage, such as here and here, highlighted FBI director Christopher Wray’s recent remark that the virus “most likely” originated in a laboratory, but forgot to mention that other intelligence organizations had not reached the same conclusion.

You have to consult The New York Times to learn that other government agencies had not reached this judgment. Their post on the upcoming hearing stated:

Christopher A. Wray, director of the F.B.I., acknowledged this week that the bureau believes the cause of the epidemic was “likely a probable laboratory mishap.” But, four other intelligence agencies and the National Intelligence Council have decided, again with low confidence, that the virus started in animals and subsequently spread to people organically. The C.I.A. has taken no stance.

You may claim that this argument is reasonable and balanced.

By citing science in dubious ways, certain leftist media outlets and spokespersons set themselves up for a backlash, should it be determined that the virus originated in a laboratory. How often have we heard the term “the science is established” throughout the years? This statement is, at best, imprecise and susceptible to abuse. Although the science is always evolving, we know that the sun will rise in the east, not the west. The science around the creation of a virus is murkier than the dawn, and when scientists track the infection to a totalitarian state, good luck getting to the bottom of the matter.

You do not need to be a scientist to know that the Republican Party’s focus on the lab-leak scenario is related to their belief that President Joe Biden is weak in China and that this alleged weakness is related to his son Hunter’s business transactions. The party still led by the greatest con artists in history, the Trump family, can not understand the irony in their attacks on Biden and his son.

A deeper issue regarding the use and misuse of science is not just that it may be used to attack a political opponent, but also that some individuals are ready to undermine the value of science in general. There is something particularly sick and wicked about the MAGA-Republican propensity to bomb first and then ask questions. Right-wing populism in contemporary America is nihilist, destructive, and dystopian. I am concerned for individuals who have fallen under Trump’s spell, especially Christians. How can they not realize that nihilism is the antithesis of what Genesis teaches us? What, if anything, is the conservatism of destruction?

Science is a fine, and even amazing, thing. Consider the advancements accomplished throughout our lifetime in fields as diverse as heart surgery, space exploration, and the forecasting of catastrophic weather. There is, however, a propensity on the left, exemplified by the Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker, to give science greater epistemic authority than it actually possesses; this trend dates back to Voltaire and the Encyclopedists. Science cannot abandon philosophy or the humanities; if it does, it becomes scientism. Understanding the limitations of science does not make one a caveman. In fact, knowing science’s limitations helps one defend it against those who would exploit it.

Choosing between Tucker Carlson and Tony Fauci is not difficult. Nonetheless, we should all urge science advocates to be more cautious and humble in their assertions. However, if it is ever shown that the virus originated in a Wuhan laboratory, other scientific theories with more provable confidence will be called into doubt. A civilization that can no longer reach a consensus on even the most fundamental truths is in grave peril. And where is Pat Moynihan when we want his services?

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