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  • Addison Lewis

Science can't be democratic

On January 18th, 2019, The Economist published an article that, in my view, been one of their biggest correct predictions over the past few years. "Beware of the bio-populists" explores how skepticism of vaccines and medical science can be exploited by (right-wing) populists for deadly results.

As medical science and vaccines have been at the forefront of current political affairs, this trend could not be more obvious. Anti-vaccine and anti-medical establishment sentiment goes hand-in-hand with many rhetorical and political positions of right-wing politicians. This is due to both a distrust in expertise at all levels, and a me-first, ignore-externalities libertarian mindset.

Many 'bio-populist' politicians leverage fear and skepticism about medical processes and procedures to (usually) implicitly sow doubt about the medical establishment. Their rhetoric aims to communicate "the facts are still up in the air" and "this is still a debate" using a perception of democracy as a smokescreen for mass scare tactics. This has been clearly illustrated in the discussion around climate science.

While climate change is human caused, accelerating, and dangerous, politicians have been able to leverage the attempted 'objectivity' of journalists to change settled debates into two-sided narratives. The fact that there is still mass doubt about climate change in the United States can be largely attributed to the ability of right-wing politicians to question elite consensus on the basis of 'democratic thinking.'

The playbook of bio-populists is both scary, and unsurprising. Bio-populist politicians use their ability to amplify public fears to spread their agendas, be it fears of vaccines, demographic displacement, cultural displacement, or outsourcing. "Beware of the bio-populists" ends with the eerily line, "A Europe skeptical of medical expertise, determined to blame illnesses on outsiders and wrapped in national flags may find it harder to cope with such a [pandemic]. Viruses, after all, know no borders." The Economist was right.

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