Trump's Covid-19 response: science or pseudo-science?

 What if Trump’s disregard for masks and social distancing, combined with his demand to reopen the economy, reflects his advisors’ push for developing herd immunity in the U.S.? if so, Trump may think he is acting in accordance with scientific principles in spite of usually disregarding science as fake and fraudulent.

Herd immunity implicitly presumes culling the herd of its weaker members, those least able to survive a present threat. This adheres to the evolutionary principle of the survival of those best suited for current conditions.

Not wearing masks and not socially distancing allows the Covid-19 virus to spread more easily from person to person. Persons who have an asymptomatic or very mild case are well-suited for survival. Those who develop a serious, life-threatening case are less well-suited for survival.

Reopening the economy increases the probability of these cases overwhelming the healthcare system’s capacity. The human herd collectively – in the U.S. and/or on earth – will become stronger as the weaker die. Existing data suggests, most fatalities will be older individuals, have pre-existing conditions, or be elderly with pre-existing conditions. By the time the population reaches herd immunity, the result will be similar to what a rancher hopes to achieve by culling a herd. Survivors will be less vulnerable to death or serious illness cause by the Covid-19 virus. If enough people die, life will measurably improve for survivors: the rate of global warming will slow, fewer persons will suffer from expensive health problems such as obesity and emphysema, and demand for safety-net programs decrease.

Regardless of those potential benefits, advocating herd immunity smacks of eugenics, i.e., intentional efforts to breed a better, healthier human through genetic selection. In the case of herd immunity, the genetic selection is indirect, a function of demonstrated survivability rather than direct genetic selection. Nevertheless, the parallels are strikingly similar. Both

  • Cull or eliminate the weaker or less desirable, however defined
  • Presume that humans possess the wisdom to know what trait(s) will best equip humans and the rest of the cosmos for flourishing in the future
  • Ignore the accumulating evidence that human flourishing depends upon reciprocal altruism and its presumption that human flourishing requires healthy interdependence based upon mutual respect and care

In sum, words and actions that promote the ideas that masks are superfluous, social distancing is unnecessary, and the economy should fully and immediately reopen suffer from the same scientific defects and ethical shortcomings that led to the rapid branding of eugenics as an unethical and baseless pseudo-science.


Ted said…
Stop blaming Trump for every ill in America. No political or scientific entity has elucidated a workable solution that would work and not destroy our economy and maybe our society. Until there is a workable vaccine people will ignore all attempts to make everyone social distance or wear a mask. Where are the mayors and governors making rules or laws requiring wearing masks and social distance? Most people I see do wear a mask but forget to stay apart. The CDC keeps changing what they feel is safe. Watch last weeks 60 minutes and see how the CDC failed to do basic monitoring of people coming back to the US. Take your politics out of discussions and give good plausible answers to our situations.
George Clifford said…
Ted, you're correct that the way to end the pandemic is unclear. However, there is consistent scientific emphasis on the need to wear masks, socially distance and to sanitize hands. Trump and his campaign have consistently failed to model mask wearing and socially distancing. His staff, especially Dr. Atlas, advocates developing herd immunity as a way to end the pandemic. Those are facts, not opinion. Trump frequently belittles science and shows disdain for scientists and the scientific method. Again, that's a matter of fact and not opinion. Trump may or may not have many positive qualities. That's a matter of opinion based upon a personal assessment of what is or is not a positive quality. Trump, regardless of his personal qualities and abilities, is not a scientist. I prefer to trust scientists for information about the pandemic even though that information emerges slowly and sometimes in contradictory steps. That is how science advances. Hypothesize, test, and then revise in light of any new data. In the case of Covid-19, scientific and medical guidance from the beginning has emphasized mask wearing, distancing and sanitation. Those are steps typically utilized to control the spread of any virus.

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