Science is wonderful. But it is not always settled. Sometimes the prevailing view in science is wrong, especially in medicine.
For 2,000 years a primary treatment for disease was bloodletting, sometimes administered with leeches. Doctors don't do that anymore.
A sedative called thalidomide was approved for use in European and other countries in the 1960s before it was found to cause birth defects.
The painkiller OxyContin, about which federal litigation is raging because of its highly addictive and even deadly properties, was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1995. A year later an FDA official involved in OxyContin's approval was hired for a six-figure job at the drug's manufacturer, Stamford-based Purdue Pharma. Now the drug is blamed for thousands of deaths.
Medical mistakes are considered the third leading cause of death in the United States.
This week it was reported that the FDA had given full, formal approval to the Pfizer vaccine for the COVID-19 virus. But the FDA seems just to have extended the vaccine's authorization for emergency use. (See: fda.gov/media/150386/download) Whereupon the acting commissioner of Connecticut's Public Health Department, Dr. Deidre Gifford, urged state residents to "trust the science" and get vaccinated.
It would have been fair to ask the commissioner: Whose science, exactly?
Of course, the commissioner wants people to follow the government's science. But there is other science, though it is increasingly subject to censorship by internet sites and social media under government pressure.
Yes, quacks and cranks infiltrate discussion of the virus epidemic, as they always have infiltrated medicine. But the discussion also includes many highly credentialed doctors and scientists who – at least before they voiced objections and concerns – were renowned and honored in their fields. Some dispute the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines, while others dispute the vaccines' necessity, arguing that effective treatments for the virus are available.
These doctors and scientists could be mistaken. But censorship isn't how contrary assertions should be handled. Contrary assertions should be rebutted and learned from in the open.
This isn't happening because government, its allied medical authorities, and, it seems, journalism don't want a debate that might interfere with their preferred policy, vaccination. They are convinced that they have nothing to learn from the dissenters.
But the public isn't convinced. Many people are indifferent or even opposed to COVID-19 vaccination, and the policy advocated by many in government and the medical establishment is to stop trying to persuade people and start coercing them by denying them the right to live ordinary lives if they don't get vaccinated.
Much indifference and much opposition to vaccination are grounded in ignorance and contrariness. But not all.
Anyone paying attention to developments can perceive fair questions. For example, in regard to the Pfizer vaccine particularly, why is the government pushing it when it is still being tested and side-effects are still being discovered? Is this "approval" really a matter of safety or just political necessity?
And why is Israel's epidemic worsening, with a new wave of virus cases exploding to the level of the country's first wave even though Israel's population now may be the world's most thoroughly vaccinated – primarily with the Pfizer vaccine?
The more what is said to be science relies on censorship and coercion, the less trust it will deserve.
* * *
If the thousands of Afghans swarming the airport in Kabul for airlift out of the country really think that their country's new Taliban regime will be so terrible, where were they a few weeks ago when the U.S. military began withdrawing from the country?
Why did those thousands not enlist in the Afghan army in defense of the less totalitarian culture the U.S.-assisted government supported?
Those thousands might have formed a few useful military divisions, just as throughout history civilians were mobilized to defend cities under siege. Since women will be oppressed by the Taliban again, where was the Afghan army's 1st Women's Infantry Division? And how will Afghanistan's prospects be improved by removing so many people who oppose theocratic fascism?
Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.