Reflections on a Century of Junk Science

On Saturday evening I drove to a local pizza joint to pick up a pizza. This was the only way to get pizza. In Kansas City, all bars and restaurants have been closed for a week.

During the last few weeks, I had made a point of not watching or following the news. I trusted none of it. A TV at the pizza place, however, was tuned to CNN. It showed the Coronavirus death toll: 12,000-plus worldwide and 285 in the United States.

The numbers stunned me. Not following the news closely, I presumed, based on the hysteria in the air, that the numbers had to be at least ten times that high both nationally and internationally.

285? According to the Centers for Disease Control 185 Americans died of drug overdoses every day in 2018. According to the CDC, 315 people died of the flu every day during the six-month 2018-2019 flu season. And if protecting life is the goal, we could save about 400 young lives every work hour by shutting down America’s abortion clinics.

That is not about to happen. Most political jurisdictions seem to be exempting abortion clinics from shutdown orders. “During this public health crisis, pregnancy care, including abortion care, remains an essential health service,” insists the National Abortion Federation. “The NAF calls on leaders to ensure that outpatient abortion clinics can remain open and urges hospitals to continue to provide abortion care.”

No sooner did I get home with my pizza than the news broke that the bi-state metro Kansas City would be subject to a stay-at-home order effective Tuesday morning. “After 30 days,” the TV News station reported matter-of-factly, “the jurisdictions will consider whether to extend the order.” That is how easy it is in 2020 America to suspend the U.S. Constitution and wreck the economy.

I would feel better about the order and my fellow citizens if some horrible plague were ravaging the metro. That is not exactly the case. As of Saturday night, there had been a total of four Covid-19 deaths in all of Kansas and Missouri, only one of which was in the KC metro area, a “man in his 70s with underlying health conditions.”

In sharing my skepticism on Facebook, I have been met with a hail of naysayers, some of them fellow conservatives, who insist the science justifies the state of alarm. I do not know enough about this particular phenomenon to enter that debate, but I know enough about American history to know that science often needlessly justifies a state of alarm.

In my 2009 book, Hoodwinked: How Intellectual Hucksters Have Hijacked American Culture, I documented a century’s worth of scientific misinformation, disinformation, half-truths, and lies disseminated almost inevitably to advance a progressive agenda. 

One subject covered was the eugenics movement of the early twentieth century. Those promoting the science and paying for it were not the grand wizards of the Ku Klux Klan but America’s academics and progressives, notable among them Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger and Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes.

Progressives have always worked in crisis mode. “The most urgent problem today is how to limit and discourage the over-fertility of the mentally and physically defective,” wrote Sanger in 1922. “Possibly drastic and Spartan methods may be forced upon American society if it continues complacently to encourage the chance and chaotic breeding that has resulted from our stupid, cruel sentimentalism.” As we are seeing today, progressives rarely shy from “Spartan” methods.

In the years since we have been treated to one science-driven crisis after another. In 1962 Rachel Carson published her hugely popular breakthrough book on the environment, Silent Spring. The chapters have macabre titles like “The Elixir of Death,” “Rivers of Death,” and “Beyond the Dreams of the Borgias,” but the one “poison” that truly provoked Carson’s literary rage was dichlorodiphenyl-trichloroethane or, as it is more commonly known and reviled, DDT.

Worried about the effect of DDT on robins and other birds, Carson seemed indifferent to the fact that DDT was saving literally millions of lives in the malaria-infected regions of the world. The late Michael Crichton, a Harvard-trained M.D., described the Carson-driven banning of DDT as “arguably the greatest tragedy of the twentieth century” and provided the mortality statistics to back up his claim.

In 1968 Dr. Paul Ehrlich began his massively popular book, The Population Bomb, with the startling claim, “The battle to feed all of humanity is already lost.” In the book Ehrlich laid out three possible scenarios that could define the earth “in the next decade or so.” In the most “cheerful” of these scenarios, Americans assume an unexpected “maturity of outlook,” a new Pope “gives his blessing to abortion,” and only half a billion people die of famine.

The spectacular failure of his predictions did not dim Ehrlich’s star. He capped a lifetime of prestigious environmental awards with a $345,000 MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant and the Crafoord Prize from the Swedish Academy of Sciences, the Nobel equivalent for environmentalists.

No disinformation campaign, however, proved quite as immediately lethal as that surrounding the AIDS outbreak.

Most who participated did so out of ignorance or fashion. But a few among them -- educators, public health officials, science writers -- knew what they were doing.

To “de-gay” the disease, they adopted powerful new slogans such as “AIDS: the equal opportunity destroyer.” More insidiously, they finessed the numbers to democratize the disease’s reach. Unfortunately, many gays came to believe the propaganda that the activists, gay and straight, were spreading.

If AIDS was not a ‘gay disease,’” wrote AIDS Activist Gabriel Rotello, “why should gay men examine the ecological reasons their community was so devastated? Clearly it was just an accident of history, a fluke, a momentary incursion of an otherwise universal pandemic.”

Heterosexuals came to believe the “de-gaying” propaganda as well. It was spreading much faster than the disease and infecting people who should have known better. In early 1987, the widely believed Oprah Winfrey began her show as follows:

Hello everybody. AIDS has both sexes running scared. Research studies now project that one in five -- listen to me, hard to believe -- one in five heterosexuals could be dead from AIDS at the end of the next three years. That’s by 1990. One in five. It is no longer just a gay disease. Believe me.

Oprah’s audience had no reason to disbelieve. In 1987, the scare was everywhere. Virtually all media sources were repeating the same rough message. “Now No One Is Safe from Aids,” proclaimed the cover of Life. “The disease of them is suddenly the disease of us,” added U.S. News & World Report.

The popular magazine covers affirmed just who that us was -- white, middle class, heterosexual mid-Americans. Even the more sober and credible media fed the flames. “AIDS has infiltrated the heterosexual population,” the Washington Post cautioned its readers in November 1987, “and a meteoric rise in reported cases of HIV infection is expected because of false assumptions that AIDS is a homosexual disease.”

The science establishment was just warming up. In the decades ahead, they would serve up global cooling, nuclear winter, the alar scare, second-hand smoke, global warming, climate change, and a host of other contrived doomsday scenarios. When the predicted doom failed to materialize, the prophets of doom shifted the date of doom forward and bought more beachfront property.

Never before, though, has a mania wreaked so much havoc so quickly as the Covid-19 scare. Many of the predictions are as incredible as those for heterosexual aids, and even if accurate, they do not justify the assault on our economy and our very freedoms.

Someone please warn the president about the scientists in his midst.

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