Being a frontline actively practicing doctor who likes to do medical research has provided me with unique perspectives, especially in the age of COVID. I have never in my lifetime witnessed the intensity and speed of disintegration of the foundation of scientific inquiry to the scientific process. This breakdown has led to what appears to be unprecedented tribalism both in the medical and other scientific fields.
Let’s take one issue: Vaccines. Do I support COVID vaccines or not? If I do, then I’m in the “evil” “shady” promoters of big government camp. If I don’t, then I’m a stupid, back-water “anti-vaxxer”. Wow! If life were so black and white as this! The sad truth about all this is that we are moving away from scientific and medical definitions that are universally acceptable, in order to prop up a false “us vs. them” mentality. There is no middle ground. Middle ground is for “sissies”. You either love COVID vaccines or you hate them. Why can’t I have an opinion that accepts tenets of both sides? Seriously?
Are we to the point where we have reached a sort of “dark ages” of medicine? In case you have forgotten, the dark ages of the 5th to 10th centuries were marred by almost constant warfare, civil unrest, and political strife. Not all people believe these times were “dark”, as many advancements in philosophy, urban planning, and public health took place during these otherwise bleak years, and I would agree, generally speaking. However, despite these advancements, when you are constantly warring with neighboring tribes instead of working with them, the natural progression of civilization tends to slow down as each of these wars completely upended how people lived, worked, and innovated.
And that is where we are today. Thinly veiled political barbs are flung by scientists and doctors on both sides of the political aisle. Each “team” holds up some nuggets of truth mined from their arsenal. For example, COVID vaccine proponents state that vaccines have saved thousands, if not millions, of lives. And they would be correct. A very significant reduction in COVID deaths were definitely tied to the rollout of COVID vaccines in 2021. On the other side of the battleground, COVID vaccine opponents state that natural immunity provides significantly more protection from a future COVID infection or hospitalization. They too, would be correct. So which side is right? They both are and yet, neither are. This is why open scientific debates are crucial to scientific advancement.
As in the dark ages, both sides claim to be purists–the noble holders of both innocence and enlightenment–while castigating the other side for evilness beyond comprehension and beyond saving.
The level of self-righteous indignation and full-throttled hypocrisy are on full display on both sides. Unfortunately, the greatest damage is being inflicted on the political left–on institutions that, until now, have been held in high esteem. Institutions that for years have basked in the glow of prestige and honor by both liberals and conservatives alike. But now, after taking cheap shots in editorials and publishing brazenly biased research, these institutions, like the American Medical Association, the Center for Disease Control, Science, Lancet, and the New England Journal of Medicine, find themselves in the equivalent of a burning ship that is sinking fast.
One could look at the transition between the majesty, might, and orderliness of the Roman empire against the ensuing centuries of chaos and turmoil that followed its fall and wonder why they regressed instead of progressed. It must have been a curiosity for a peasant living in 7th century Europe to behold old vestiges of a previous civilization rich with advanced technology, education, public health, money, political, and military systems now rusting and rotting, and having no idea how to copy it.
There are many theories of why Rome fell, but I think that one of the main reasons is that their people started dividing into tribes that continually sought to overpower other tribes into submission of their own ideals. Instead of an intellectual tension requiring open questioning and debate on the merits of an idea, there was a race to establish preconceived ideas that formulated a belief system that was codified into tribal doctrine that defined members of that tribe. The end result was a system not built on true curiosity and thirst for new nuggets of truth and inquiry. The end result was that each tribe would circle the wagons so to speak, whenever a newly perceived threat challenged the tribe’s dogmatic doctrine, then annihilate any opposition to that doctrine. In this “us vs. them” mentality, no one was able to cohesively bring together these tribes into a common way of living and thinking that supported each other’s existence.
It’s easy to pin blame on the Roman Catholic church. We love to recall how Galileo was persecuted by the Catholic church in the 1600’s for suggesting that earth revolves around the sun. Or how Martin Luther was persecuted for challenging the idea behind the idea of paying money to be forgiven of their sins. Or how the Catholic church supported the conquest of lands and people from Germany to Brazil to Palestine and forced the conversion of millions to the Catholic faith.
Many in the scientific community, a community with a relatively high percentage of atheists, particularly may find these historical facts about the Catholic church very comforting to live with. The Catholic church is an easy target–after all they believe in some “mythical” being that can’t possibly be proven by any sort of objective measure. And so, the “sins” of the Catholics over the ensuing post-Roman centuries make for easy fodder in a war for scientists without a “god” in claiming to be the “one true” holder of the laws of nature and the universe.
The problem is that now the outcasts who dared to confront the orthodoxy of long ago, are running the show. Science is a new religion or tribe–however you want to look at it–borne over the last century, and catapulted by COVID. The orthodoxy has been established. Ironically, that same Galileo would be just as castigated today by today’s new science religion as he was in the 1600’s by the Catholics. For example, when you circle the wagons and attack a very capable and valid “lab leak” theory by calling supporters “conspiracy theorists” and “misinformation propagandists” from supposed “scientific experts”, you are no longer scientists, you are Salem witch trialists. Enjoy the comparison.
As for me, I’m much wiser now. While I still read the Journal of American Medical Association and other medical journals, I now do so with a general distrust of what the results show. The same goes for the CDC. I am no longer convinced by their use of the scientific process. Have the dark ages in American healthcare begun? Not as long as I and others like me are allowed to continue shedding light on subjects without censorship. I hope I can continue doing so.