The Ebola outbreak reminds me of a dark time in American history when a politically inspired, "anti-science" rash broke out and infected the nation.
It was during the 1980s and 1990s when the nation's public health establishment was struggling to halt the catastrophic spread of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. I say "anti-science" because the Far Left successfully peddled to the American public its rigid ideology that contact tracing, one of the most effective means of halting an epidemic, must not be used.
That’s contact tracing as in what’s now being effectively used to fight Ebola.
As the nearly always-fatal AIDS was spreading, so-called progressives ginned up all sorts of anti-science justifications for opposing contact tracing: It would invade privacy; it would stigmatize people, it would be blaming the victim; it would be ineffective; it would scare people away from seeking medical treatment, and so on. Left-wing dicta reached into the womb, successfully arguing that women infected with AIDS must not, must not ever, be tested for the deadly virus, even though their children would have a much better chance of surviving. Laws were passed.
That despite the fact that contact tracing had been successfully used to fight many contagious diseases, such as the sexually transmitted syphilis and gonorrhea, SARS, tuberculosis, whooping cough and typhoid fever. It was a tool of choice.
All kinds of anti-science nuttiness spread across the land, because adhering to the Left Wing’s article of faith was more important than people dying. Anyone who dared to challenge the given dictates was trashed as homophobic. Or some other nasty name.
The result? More than 630,000 Americans diagnosed with AIDS died, according to the Centers for Disease Control, compared with some 4,500 who have died of Ebola. (The demographics of HIV and AIDS can be found here.) Here’s the legacy of the AIDS epidemic, according to the CDC:
- More than 1.1 million people in the United States are living with HIV infection, and almost 1 in 6 (15.8%) are unaware of their infection.
- Gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (MSMa), particularly young black/African American MSM, are most seriously affected by HIV.
- By race, blacks/African Americans face the most severe burden of HIV.
Left-wingers, who for political purposes now are accusing Republicans of creating hysteria over the Ebola outbreak, might want to revisit their past opposition to contact tracing (or as it now is called, “partner notification”) to stem the AIDS epidemic.
Although AIDS no longer is the death sentence that it once was thanks to medical advances, and contact tracing has become generally more acceptable in some states, the legacy still remains. As Dr. Arthur J. Ammann observed:
Everyone should benefit from these life saving treatments. I believe we should couple universal HIV testing with contact tracing (also called partner notification) so that everyone, but especially women who are disproportionately infected, can be protected or if already infected, can benefit from life saving treatment for themselves and to prevent their babies from being infected. It is estimated that 20% of HIV infected individuals in the US are unaware of their infection; worldwide the percentage in most regions is over 90%. These individuals are capable of transmitting HIV infection to unsuspecting sexual partners and, if they are women, of transmitting a fatal HIV infection to their infants.
(Arthur J. Ammann is president of Global Strategies for HIV Prevention and Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center.) Although he published his observation in in 2012, there is little to indicate that much has changed.
The Left Wing’s sacrifice of scientific integrity to political ideology is so clear that it is rarely mentioned today. I raise it because of the storm of attacks on anyone who doesn’t walk in lock step with “experts” on the degree of danger that Ebola poses to the American public.
How ironic, because the criticism of those who question the handling of the Ebola threat is itself anti-science.
There’s no argument here that some on the Right have gone overboard, trying to score points against President Barack Obama’s handling of the crisis.
But the Left ought to examine the log in its own eye before pretending that they, exclusively, are arguing without any political motivation. One columnist, Rex W. Huppke at the Chicago Tribune (“Ebola fear shows denial of science spreads quickly,” Oct. 20, 2014), went so far as to compare anyone who questions the handling of the Ebola “not an outbreak” (as he called it) with anyone who questions the cast-iron assertions that mankind is causing global warming. In fact, good science leaves open such questions before calling the issue “settled” to a degree that it is immutable and unchallengeable. Those who adhere to this certainty are revealing their ignorance and disrespect of the scientific method. (In an earlier post, I referenced peer-reviewed research that explored one facet of the issue that leaves the question open for further discovery.)
Likewise, the argument that the U.S. should restrict flights from West Africa is a legitimate one, and it's unworthy to dismiss it as just so much political eyewash. I can see the arguments on both sides, but there’s this: The only person who died from Ebola in the U.S. arrived here on a flight from there.
As someone who has worked side-by-side with scientists and engineers, and reported on their research, I know first-hand how uncertainty and reserved judgment are intrinsic to their work. They would be the first to argue that politics should be kept out of it.
Yet, because their work often forms the basis of public policy decisions, it is hard to remove science from the public arena. Nor should it be. But, keep in mind, America is a democracy, and we—the citizens and our representatives—are responsible for public policy decisions. We cannot hand over that responsibility to scientists. Nor should we hand over our minds to those who would corrupt science for their own means.
In that regard, it would be nice if progressives would acknowledge and apologize for their anti-science contribution to the spread of the AIDS and the hundreds of thousands of deaths it caused.
For information on my award-winning historical novel, "Madness: The War of 1812," visit: http://www.madness1812.com
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