You know what it’s like: You have this vague idea and a sort of memory about something but you’re not really sure about either of them. They had to come from somewhere, right? At least you’d like to think so.
Better to have come from somewhere in your own mind than to have been planted by some Russian operative, is how I like to feel about it.
In any case, I was thinking about mad scientists. You know the type: the ones in the movies putting together from various pieces Frankenstein or concocting evil plans for world domination. The ones wearing white lab coats and unkempt hair. While it’s an entertaining stereotype, it hasn’t served us well.
Anyway, my vague idea and uncertain memory was that I had written about mad scientists before, and, Eureka! — as Archimedes is said to have said — so I had.
It was in April 2017, which as we all know may as well have been 1917, considering how the coronavirus has put all the past in the way–back machine. At the time, scientists were coming out of their labs to gather for Earth Day rallies in more than 600 cities across the planet to, as I put it then, “deliver a message about the importance of scientific freedom, as in freedom from political interference.”
Of course it had to do with Trump, the Donald Trump who was president then and remains so now. “Scientists find it appalling that evidence has been crowded out by ideological assertions,” said a scientist at the time. Columnist Rich Lowry, editor of the National Review, flipped that around, saying the march would “damage the reputation of science.”
“The Large Hadron Collider has no position on whether Trump is violating the emoluments clause,” wrote Lowry. That’s true, and neither does COVID-19. As I observed not too long ago, the virus doesn’t care if you’re left wing, right wing, or a goalie.
I still feel the same way I felt in 2017, which is that while we certainly need them in the lab, we “also need to hear from scientists, to learn what they’re doing, how they feel about things, and the challenges they face.” That’s even more important now, now that we’re all facing an immediate global crisis of, at least in my lifetime, unprecedented proportions.
But a lot of what is being said is getting crowded out by nonsense, and that we’re heading toward a presidential election is not helpful when it comes to finding a way through the obfuscation.
This is 2020, a year that deserves all the adjectives you can throw at it — as in difficult, impossible, trying, disastrous, deadly, insane, etc., but you’d think that by now we’d be able to filter our way through “the burgeoning outbreak of coronavirus conspiracy theories, hoaxes, anti-mask myths and sham cures.” That was the Associated Press reporting in its main virus story Thursday. The situation escalated this week, as the AP reported, when Trump retweeted a “false video about an anti-malaria drug being a cure for the virus” and Russians spreading disinformation.
There’s been speculation about why the Northeast has been performing well compared to other areas of the nation when it comes to handling the pandemic. New England’s history of participatory government, town meetings, etc., certainly helps because it leads to more trust in government. Another explanation that makes a lot of sense is that the area was hit early on and we saw up close the devastation and the risks, and are thus more apt to follow when urged to wear masks, maintain social distance and take other precautions.
There are positive and, you could say, more realistic portrayals of science in the movies. As Matt Damon’s character says in the movie, “The Martian,” to survive, “I’m going to have to science the (expletive) out of it.” Stranded not on the Red Planet but in a dangerous situation nonetheless, we can delete the expletive, but science? That’s the way forward and the only way I can think of that’s going to lead us out of this predicament.
Reach Jeffery Kurz at 203-317-2213, or firstname.lastname@example.org