Dr. Peter Hotez is the dean of the School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, and is the chair of Tropical Pediatrics at Texas Children’s Hospital. Dr. Hotez does a lot of great work, including research on fighting neglected tropical diseases that helps a lot of people around the globe. He also developed a low-cost, non-patent open-source COVID vaccine that has been credited with being effective against Omnicron in India, where 70 million doses were administered to adolescents. For this, he was nominated for a Nobel Prize in 2022.
Now, one might think this makes Dr. Hotez a hero, but in this Timeline of the Batshit Insane, he is the target of trolls and frauds like Elon Musk, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., and Joe Rogan. He receives regular death threats.
The flagship of the anti-science efforts, the anti-vaccination movement, is responsible for this bullshit. As with so much these days, this is not an innocuous disagreement between two camps who need to find understanding in each other’s opinions, but something quite dangerous. It needs to be viewed that way.
Hotez estimates that 200,000 Americans needlessly lost their lives to COVID due to anti-science aggression. And he calls it that because it is indeed aggression and not misinformation. He says this because it is not a random thing where it’s merely isolated junk on the Internet, but instead, an organized, well-financed, and highly political campaign to attack and destroy science. This campaign has led to not just people needlessly perishing from COVID, but has also given us a resurgence of diseases long thought vanquished, like polio and measles.
The attacks on science are not just here in the United States but also pushed by the far-right in places like Hungary and Brazil. And yes, it is the far-right. If your response is “what about RFK Jr.” the support he gets from far-right figures like Steve Bannon is right out in the open and hard to ignore.
While the anti-science crowd claims that Big Money is behind science, anti-science is itself quite lucrative. Despite mounds of evidence that supplements like so-called brain health pills might not work, the supplement industry is booming. Sadly, the supplement hucksters, especially the ones who advertise on right-wing media, are very vocal about how they are the put-upon underdog attacked by the greedy medical industry.
Now, of course, our healthcare system is a hot mess, but taking questionable supplements (or eating horse paste to cure COVID) is not really the answer. But to the anti-science crowd, it is.
Beyond health, the anti-science crowd does a ton of damage in the fight against climate change. The GOP, despite the loss of life due to wildfires and other extreme climate-related events, are not really budging in their attacks on climate scientists. They continue to subpoena scientists for show trial hearings on climate change and vaccines, treating people who work hard to solve the great problems of our time as if they are villains.
To fight back against this, the clear “good guys” in this fight need to get louder. Biden and Democrats in Congress are speaking up more and more, and that needs to continue. But in addition, people like university presidents need to not worry about offending wealthy donors and speak up more as well, and be clear about where this is coming from. Claiming this is a problem on both sides is foolish and disingenuous, ridiculous to claim this is the case when so much venom towards science comes from one side.
We can win this fight. It is vital we do. There is a dark history of autocrats targeting scientists as enemies of the state, such as Joseph Stalin and Pol Pot. The attack on science is another example of America’s risk of sliding into full fascism. Scientists, like Dr. Hotez, need us to have their back.
The last word goes to They Might Be Giants.