This administration is fond of saying that its policy of opposing quarantining health care workers who may have come in contact with Ebola but embracing the internment of American soldiers in the same condition is based on “science.”
Administration officials reportedly berated Govs. Andrew Cuomo and Chris Christie for imposing a mandatory 21-day quarantine on potentially symptomatic care workers who were exposed to Ebola by saying that this policy “doesn’t comport with science.”
White House Press Sec. Josh Earnest insisted that the president’s administration acquiesced to the quarantining of American soldiers who served in Ebola-affected regions only because they had let “science drive the process.”
On Wednesday, Barack Obama expressed how America’s response to the Ebola crisis has made him “frustrated.” In a veiled reference to the governors of New Jersey and New York (and now California and New Hampshire, which has also imposed a 21-day in-home quarantine on residents of those states who have had contact with Ebola-afflicted patients in West Africa), Obama said Americans are not known for “hiding under the covers” in the face of a threat.
“We don’t want to do things that aren’t based on science and best practices,” the president insisted.
The administration’s blatantly contradictory quarantining policies may not be so offensive if they did not defend them with by merely shrieking “science” condescendingly at their dissenters. The implication is clear: ours is a policy based on rationality and reason, and those who disagree are shedding common sense and succumbing to their reptilian instincts.
Those self-assured Neil deGrasse Tyson fans who tell themselves that their uncritical and reflexive deference to the White House is based entirely on Copernican empiricism got some bad news on Thursday when a Nobel Prize- winning doctor abandoned “science” and backed Christie’s quarantining proposal.
Dr. [Bruce] Beutler, an American medical doctor and researcher, won the Nobel Prize for Medicine and Physiology in 2011 for his work researching the cellular subsystem of the body’s overall immune system — the part of it that defends the body from infection by other organisms, like Ebola.
He is currently the Director of the Center for the Genetics of Host Defense at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas — the first U.S. city to treat an Ebola patient and also the first to watch one die from the virus. In an exclusive interview with NJ Advance Media, Beutler reviewed Christie’s new policy of mandatory quarantine for all health care workers exposed to Ebola, and declared: “I favor it.”
Dr. Beutler warned that quarantining and monitoring is a sound policy, not because it is clear that the potentially exposed are clearly infectious, but because their data is inconclusive and there are too few observed cases to know exactly how this disease transmits from host to host.
“It may not be absolutely true that those without symptoms can’t transmit the disease, because we don’t have the numbers to back that up,” Beutler said. “It could be people develop significant viremia [where viruses enter the bloodstream and gain access to the rest of the body], and become able to transmit the disease before they have a fever, even. People may have said that without symptoms you can’t transmit Ebola. I’m not sure about that being 100 percent true. There’s a lot of variation with viruses.”
It looks like the science is not settled – it never is. Deliberation and disagreement are the crucibles in which knowledge is forged. It is a supreme irony that the aspiring tyrants who insist their monopoly on “science” is reason enough for you to clam up are stifling that clarifying debate and, thus, preventing progress.