The Real Debate is Between Fauci and Other Scientists, Not Fauci and Trump

By D. Axe, W. Briggs, J. Richards Published on October 26, 2020

President Trump has finally taken the gloves off when it comes to his inherited advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci. In a call with his campaign team, the president reportedly described Fauci as a “disaster.” In the debate on Thursday night, he was conciliatory toward Fauci. But Trump is right to be mad. Fauci gave the president bad advice on lockdowns, and yet the public health official has paid no price for it. On the contrary, the press has lionized Fauci. That’s made it hard for the president to pivot away from the lockdowns.

Unfortunately, by taking on Fauci directly, Trump allows the media to frame the dispute as Trump versus “the science,” with Fauci as the stand-in for the science. The real debate, though, is between Fauci and the growing body of scientific evidence that contradicts his advice. What’s more, there are thousands of scientific experts who are ready to talk about that evidence.

Tyranny of Experts

The lopsided influence of a few scientists like Fauci is the result of what we call the tyranny of experts. Being a public health official is not a gold medal for scientific acumen. It confers no advantage when it comes either to smarts or to public policy. Officialdom merely allows narrow specialists to exercise power in areas outside their ken and competence.

Imagine, for instance, if an immunologist who had worked for decades in the federal government told the president that if he doesn’t shut down the country, 2.2 million people would die. And imagine if that advice were based not on evidence but on a computer model that other expert modelers later described as “a buggy mess that looks more like a bowl of angel hair pasta than a finely tuned piece of programming.” Finally, imagine if that advice were protected from critique by other reputable scientists.

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You don’t have to imagine this. It happened in March. Dr. Anthony Fauci and someone else — not yet identified — gave just that dubious advice to President Trump. At the time, the president had no access to experts who would have challenged Fauci’s claims. He was also under siege by a hostile press that championed Fauci and the lockdowns. As a result, the president had little choice but to act on that advice.

This is the tyranny of experts.

Scientists Don’t All Think Alike

After a few months, the president realized that scientists weren’t speaking with one voice. Many scientists had disputed the lockdowns from the very beginning. Finally, Trump appointed Dr. Scott Atlas as his COVID-19 advisor. Atlas, unlike Fauci and others, is an expert on weighing the costs and benefits of a public health policy.

Atlas has taken to his new role with bravery and gusto. It’s no wonder that so much of the media, and social media giants, are doing their best to marginalize and censor him.

The president needs to do everything in his power to make clear that the debate is not between him and science, but between scientists themselves.

But Atlas isn’t a lone voice crying in the wilderness. He speaks for hundreds of experts who argue that lockdowns inflict great pain for little if any gain. (We argue that in detail in our new book The Price of Panic.)

President Trump was wise to bring Atlas in, but it’s just a first step. The election will be, in part, a referendum on the lockdowns. Joe Biden claims that he, unlike the president, listens to “the science.” The president needs to do everything in his power to make clear that the debate is not between him and science, but between scientists themselves.

A Referendum on Lockdowns

On one side are those who claim lockdowns work and who call for more of them. On the other side is an army of scientists and other experts who argue that the lockdowns are a disaster. Even the World Health Organization now more or less agrees with this.

Trump should cite scientists such as Harvard’s Martin Kulldorff, Oxford’s Sunetra Gupta, and Stanford Medical School’s Jay Bhattacharya every chance he gets. Indeed, he should deliver a prepared speech making the scientific case against more lockdowns. Joining him on the platform should be the forty or so top co-signers of the Great Barrington Declaration, which calls for an end to the lockdowns and a sensible strategy of “focused protection.”Cover of The Price of Panic

One of those scientists: Stanford biophysicist and structural biologist Michael Levitt, who won the 2013 Nobel Prize for chemistry.

Trump should elevate the platform of Levitt and these other scientists, and let them argue with Fauci et al. This would re-frame the debate to the president’s advantage and allow the public on November 3rd to weigh in on the wisdom of lockdowns themselves.


Jay W. Richards, Douglas Axe, and William Briggs are the authors of The Price of Panic: How the Tyranny of Experts Turned a Pandemic into a Catastrophe

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