Anthony Fauci: scientists must ‘speak persistently’ to politicians

White House coronavirus adviser focuses on antivirals rather than vaccine at University of Melbourne forum

October 28, 2020
Anthony Fauci

Scientists who talk up their own expertise risk undermining their influence, while they must also “speak persistently” to politicians “based on the science” rather than altering their message in pursuit of impact, according to White House coronavirus adviser Anthony Fauci.

“The purpose of your communication is not to impress people about how smart you are,” Dr Fauci told a University of Melbourne forum that is to be broadcast on the institution’s YouTube channel. “The purpose is to get them to understand what the heck you’re talking about.

“Often scientists…try to be very arcane, and nobody has any idea what they’re talking about. That’s a problem. You’ve got to make sure you don’t talk down to people, but you’ve got to make sure they understand what you’re talking about.”

Scientists sharing podiums with politicians “should never be afraid to tell somebody something that they may not like to hear”, added Dr Fauci, who heads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Maryland. “One of the traps that some scientists get into is that they like the idea of having impact…and sometimes they might hesitate to say something that is not popular to the politician.”

As a plain-speaking lead member of the White House’s coronavirus task force, Dr Fauci has repeatedly drawn the ire of President Trump. He said scientists should be guided by science, not political sensitivities: “You should always remember that in order to maintain your credibility you’ve got to continue to speak persistently based on the science.”

Sharon Lewin, director of the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity, told the forum that the key lesson from an earlier epidemic was that “science matters”.

“Science absolutely turned around HIV,” Professor Lewin said. “It turned around the way we treat people, which transformed HIV from a death sentence to people having normal life expectancy. It turned around the way we diagnosed HIV with incredible innovations and changes in testing, which are also now being used with Covid.”

Dr Fauci said scientists could also draw lessons from the progress against HIV, based on antivirals rather than vaccines. “A vaccine…would really be the showstopper for Covid, [but] if we put the resources into developing direct antivirals – similar to what we did with HIV – we could really take away the fear and dread of this particular disease.

“If you can make a quick diagnosis of a symptomatic person with Covid, you probably would only have to treat them literally for a few days with a combination of potent antivirals – not [a] lifetime, which is what we have to do with HIV. We have better therapies for advanced disease when you’re on a ventilator…but we need therapies early.”

Melbourne dean of medicine Shitij Kapur, recently named the next president and principal of King’s College London, told the forum that people found it hard to grasp the “humility and fallibility” of science. “They expect science to give clear, dichotomous, black-and-white answers. Of course, the answers of science are often probabilistic.”

Dr Fauci stressed the importance of conveying that science “isn’t static”, pointing out that what had been known about Covid in the early days of the outbreak was considerably different to what was understood now. “Science is a dynamic process, and it’s self-correcting,” he said. “That’s the thing that people need to understand.”

john.ross@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (1)

AMERICA MUST CHANGE TO SAVE ITSELF Dr. Anthony Fauci is an honorable and honest man, unfortunately he works under an ignorant and self-willed and arrogant boss. Some important things American people must be aware and take action NOW. 1.This phenomenon denotes the futility of the efforts of the powerless under a tyrant and dictatorship. 2.It is a shame that America in 21st century discards scientific facts for political AND ideological opinions. 3.The destiny of a nation largely depends on its leaders. For a 1,000 years China was lucky to have a great leader in Deng Xiaoping who in 40 short years turned a backward and poor country into the no. 2 economy in the world and marching forward. In comparison, since President Richard Nixon who sought a just and lasting peace for the world, all his successors sought an absolute military superiority and turned the good Republic into an evil empire. 4.Open your eyes and look around if you can find an able, credible, respectable, responsible, and moral leader in America today? Where can you find a Lincoln or Jefferson? Sad is the American situation, a nation is led to the wrong direction with high speed. According to a famous historian, Arnold Joseph Toynbee who said, “Civilizations die from suicide, not by murder." Russia and China are no threats to America. My fellow Americans, do you see our country is committing suicide by American leaders and politicians? 5.Now, do something, speak up, stand up for America. Insist America to give up the evil empire, and return to a respectable Republic. Rebuild and reform America! Willie Wong, 10/30/2020 - wongwilliehc@tutanota.com

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