The Chicago Tribune’s Rex Huppke has a column today talking about Ebola. He basically makes fun of everyone who’s concerned not about the science of Ebola – although there are questions about that – but the government’s ability to contain it.
“Some believe science is just opinion-based information that’s not particularly important.”
If that sounds farfetched, take a moment to consider how science denial is no longer just the preoccupation of kooks but the reflexive parlance of ostensibly intelligent people. Whether it involves Ebola, climate change or childhood vaccines, opinions have somehow become counterbalancing facts to scientific conclusions, giving the perception that the mutterings of the uninformed are worth hearing.
They are, in most cases, not.
Huppke is mostly right about Ebola and vaccines. There is some unfounded hysteria out there – as there is with most things that become Topic A on Facebook and get their own hashtag on Twitter. But where his argument goes off the tracks is with climate change – and here’s why:
Climate change is the best example of where the government and politicians have repeatedly told us one thing, but most people knew in their bones that they weren’t getting the full story. After decades of making dire predictions about the environment and being scolded for driving midsize cars by politicians who travel in limousines and Hollywood A-listers who regularly fly halfway around the world on private planes for a one-day film premiere, we learned that the numbers were fixed.
The same is true with the unemployment rate, both nationally and in Illinois. The politicians and the papers keep telling us that it is going down, without reporting why: a labor participation rate that’s at a four-decade low. So people read in the paper that the economy is improving, but that’s not what they see in their neighborhood. That engrains distrust with the politicians and the reporters who reprint the jobs numbers with little or no analysis or explanation.
That’s the disconnect in Huppke’s column and the reason some people are asking questions about Ebola. It’s not that they don’t understand the science, it’s that they don’t trust politicians and reporters.
Let’s take America’s current Ebola “crisis” — which is not a crisis — and the disease’s “outbreak” — which is not an outbreak — in Texas. The overwhelming word from the medical and scientific community is that Americans are in no grave danger, the disease is difficult to transmit and enacting a travel ban on flights from the West African countries that have had Ebola outbreaks would be counterproductive.
The response from the public at large and from many political leaders has been, and I’m paraphrasing: Scientists? What do they know? EVERYBODY PANIC!
Again, the public isn’t so much distrustful of scientists as they are of politicians. The politicians are telling us “Don’t panic” and the public’s reflexive response is “Why not?” And for that, we’re labeled idiots who don’t understand science.
Exacerbating this well-founded distrust people have of the government is politics. When President Obama finally realized he had to do something to make it look like he was doing something, he decided to appoint an Ebola czar. But he didn’t choose the best infectious disease expert in the country, or a scientist who had studied Ebola. He chose a longtime political fixer.
Amid all this, some have asked, “Where’s the surgeon general on this?” Good question. Sadly, the answer is a political one again.
According to the current media narrative, surgeon general nominee Vivek Murthy hasn’t been confirmed because of “obstructionist Republicans” who refuse to confirm him. The truth is, Murthy wasn’t chosen because he’s the best person for the job, but because he wants to treat gun violence as a public health issue. In other words, Democrats want to use the surgeon general to advance their gun-control agenda.
And they wonder why we’re skeptical.
Huppke shows his political stripes in all of this when he writes about the debate over a proposed travel ban from African countries battling Ebola:
Now I’m no fan of “very potentially dangerous flights,” but according to a slew of domestic and international medical experts, from the heads of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to the health director of the International Rescue Committee, a travel ban is a bad idea. It makes it harder to deal with the outbreak at its source and more difficult to track the movement of people who may be infected.
No one’s talking about keeping medical personnel or the military from going into these African countries to deal with the outbreak at its source. They’re talking about banning African citizens who may be infected from traveling to the United States. Big difference.
So, no, Mr. Huppke, we’re not being hysterical or denying scientific facts when we ask questions about Ebola. We’re being skeptical of our government’s ability to protect us, which, the last time we read the Constitution, is the government’s primary responsibility.
But we’ll keep watching…and reporting.