America’s Top Science Journal Has Had It With Trump

What specifically are you thinking of? Is it, say, the controversial emergency use authorizations by the Food and Drug Administration of hydroxychloroquine and then convalescent plasma as Covid-19 treatments?

Well, there’s that, but there’s also just the constant drumbeat that scientists and science are somehow out to get the administration. You know, the people I write for are the people who have been working in the lab for 14, 18 hours a day, trying to find a vaccine or an antibody or something about the immune response to the virus. They go home, they’re exhausted, they turn on the news, and their president is on TV saying the opposite of what they’re finding, and trying to imply that somehow they're hurting the world by doing what they're doing. So my editorials are meant to give voice to those valiant souls, who are the ones who are going to get us out of all this.

Is what’s happening to scientists now really any different than the gaslighting that anyone who studies climate change might have felt, though? Any existential scientific issue with big policy implications gets this kind of pushback.

I mean, the first tough editorial I wrote about the president was about the new EPA transparency rules. So yeah, there are a lot of parallels between climate denial and this kind of denial. I think what is different here is the speed of it and the degree to which the president is willing to go into the Rose Garden or the briefing room and just say things that are blatantly untrue.

But what specifically made you decide to start writing more critical editorials?

The first really tough editorial that I wrote about Covid-19 was called “Do Us a Favor.” It was in March, when Trump sent out the tweet saying, you know, Covid-19 is just the flu, and Kellyanne Conway and Larry Kudlow were on TV saying the virus was contained. And Trump had a meeting with pharmaceutical representatives where he said of vaccine research, “Do me a favor, speed it up.” And to me that “Do me a favor, speed up a vaccine” was one of the worst things a president could say to scientists—even corporate scientists at pharma companies. Because, you know, we can’t speed up the biology. We can work hard, and we can try to do everything as quickly as nature will allow us to. But as you’re seeing in these vaccine trials, they have to run long enough that enough people in the control arm get Covid. That’s not something you can just say and expect to have it happen. And I think the president thinks that he can just say something forcefully enough and make it true. That’s not really how science works.
That’s where the whole Bob Woodward thing becomes interesting. To find out now that he wasn't clueless—he knew precisely that the virus was deadly, that it was going to be a really tough problem, that it affected young people. And still he was saying all those things that he was saying in March. To hear that in his own voice, I think, was one of the most devastating things that has ever happened to science. Not devastating in terms of what science can do, but just psychically devastating.

Because the president knew what he was saying wasn’t true, and he said it anyway?

Because, think about what science has been putting up with. We have people telling us we’re all deep-state liberals who are trying to destroy the planet, that we’re taking away hope for people, that we're being too melodramatic about how bad this all is. And all of the stuff that Trump and his surrogates have been saying turns out not only to be wrong, but that they knew it all along. All the snark that scientists have been putting up with, from the news and from their family members who are Fox News people—all these things that we were supposedly doing to sabotage the world were all lies and knowingly delivered, planted, by the president of the United States.