Should We Always ‘Follow the Science’?
“Follow the science.” That is what Americans were told when all but five states issued draconian stay-at-home orders to quell the spread of the COVID-19 virus. That is what federal workers were told when the Biden administration issued an executive order requiring vaccination against COVID-19. And that is what residents of Alameda County were told when local officials reinstated indoor mask mandates late last week.
“Follow the science.” For a government-endorsed slogan, it is admittedly catchy, a statement that appeals to rationality, yet demands a submissive compliance to the so-called “experts.” After all, who are we to question the insurmountable knowledge and wisdom of those in authority? Who are we to critique “science” instead of simply submitting to it like a good citizen?
Misinformation. Conspiracy theories. Pseudoscience. Since the onset of COVID-19, these are the labels that have been placed on any form of dissent regarding the government’s handling of the virus. In a systematic campaign that was remarkably successful, the pharmaceutical monopoly and the federal government joined forces to convince many Americans that the paternal government held all the right answers to the pandemic.
But in moments like these, it is important to think both critically and skeptically, to wonder why Americans have been told to keep silent and listen obediently to those in authority.
A quick glance at history shows that there is precedence for the presumptuous physicians who today warn of impending doom if we do not follow their exact guidance; who, in claiming to know “what’s best,” commit shocking abuses in the name of science. History illustrates that despite all its wonderful advancements, medical science is not invariably rooted in morality and truth. Indeed, if the past has anything to show us on the subject, it is that blindly “following the science” can have catastrophic consequences.
Consider Dr. Wendell Johnson’s unpublished study on the origins of stuttering in the 1930s. Johnson, a professor at the University of Iowa and himself a stutterer from a young age, sought to confirm his belief that a diagnosis of stuttering could precipitate the condition — a hypothesis he later termed as the Diagnosogenic Theory. In order to test his suspicions, he recruited one of his clinical psychology graduate students, a woman by the name of Mary Tudor, to attempt to induce stuttering in children from a local orphanage. Most notably, the six orphans Tudor chose for this harrowing experiment were deceived into thinking they were to receive speech therapy.
Below is an excerpt of the introductory statement Tudor made to each of the six children:
The staff has come to the conclusion that you have a great deal of trouble with your speech. The types of interruptions which you have are very undesirable … You have many of the symptoms of a child who is beginning to stutter…Don’t ever speak unless you can do it right…Watch your speech every minute and try to do something to improve it. Whatever you do, speak fluently, and avoid any interruptions whatsoever in your speech.
Tudor berated the children in a similar fashion for five months, with disturbing final results. She determined that while it was impossible to actually mold the children into stutterers, it was possible to cause the children to behave as if they were stutterers. All the orphans exhibited behavioral changes reminiscent of stutterers: shuffling of the feet, snapping of the fingers, whispering, gulping, gasping, and selective mutism. Tudor continued to visit the orphanage following the conclusion of the study. In a letter to Johnson, she expressed concern that the induced symptoms in the six orphans were not only persisting, but worsening.
Unsurprisingly, Johnson did not publish Tudor’s findings, though whispers of the study made their way around Johnson’s colleagues and students, who dubbed it the “Monster” study. Several of Johnson’s peers feared that if the experiment were ever discovered by the public, he would be likened to a “German concentration camp scientist.” Despite Johnson’s efforts to conceal the “Monster” study, all the grisly details would later be put on full display in a 2003 lawsuit brought forth by the surviving orphans.
Johnson’s study was faulty in that it purposely coerced uninformed children. In a similarly coercive vein, the Tuskegee Syphilis Study conducted by the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) from 1932 to 1972 targeted African-American men.
Though the purpose of the study was never expressly stated, it is clear that the USPHS wished to study the symptomatic progression of untreated syphilis. Thus, in coordination with the nearby Tuskegee Institute, the researchers promised free medical care to 400 black men with latent or late syphilis if they, in turn, participated in the study. The men were led to believe they were being treated for “bad blood,” a purposefully vague term that could be construed to mean several different ailments. Over the next 40 years, the men were provided a placebo treatment of vitamin tonics and aspirin, and were not given access to penicillin despite its becoming widely available in the 1940s. The study indicates that anywhere from 28 to 100 of the original participants died as a direct consequence of syphilis.
In 1972, the Tuskegee Syphilis study was brought to public attention. Widespread outcry and condemnation followed suit, as well as review panels and congressional hearings. The experiment was quickly terminated and exposed as a racially motivated research project that viewed the black participants as nothing more than impersonal “subjects.” A letter written by USPHS researcher Dr. Oliver Wenger in 1933 says it all: “As I see it,” he wrote, “we have no further interest in these patients until they die.”
The development of the Nuremberg Code in 1947 and the Declaration of Helsinki in 1964 codified ethical principles concerning human experimentation, with the hopes of ending immoral research practices. Unfortunately, this was not to be the case.
In 1996, the Nigerian state of Kano saw a deadly outbreak of meningococcal meningitis. Pfizer, the world’s largest pharmaceutical company, took advantage of this scenario by conducting experimental drug trials in Kano. The drug, known as Trovan (trovafloxacin), was administered to one hundred children infected with meningitis, despite the fact that Trovan was not approved for use on children in the U.S.
The pharmaceutical company failed to properly educate the children’s families on the experimental nature of the drug. Even more alarming, Pfizer purposely chose not to inform the families that free and approved treatment was available at a nearby hospital.
Five of the children that were given Trovan subsequently died, and several others developed permanent mental and physical deformities. Lawsuits promptly followed from families of the children, who alleged that Pfizer conducted harmful experiments without obtaining informed consent. Pfizer denied the allegations and still maintains that it was not at fault, despite settling out of court with four of the families and a guilty verdict reached in an independent investigation.
Trovan was approved for adult use in 1997 by the Food and Drug Administration, but even this was a short-lived win for Pfizer. The drug was later limited to use only in life-threatening infections after reports of serious liver problems emerged.
Unfortunately, our society still has not learned from these examples of bad science. Instead, we are watching the effects of careless scientific investigations play out in real time when it comes to the research used to justify transgender procedures. Just like with the Trovan drug, children, who are the most vulnerable in any population, are the ones most physiologically and emotionally devastated by the demands of some to blindly and unquestionably believe the results of a few studies that purport happiness if only you donate your healthy body to science.
Despite much evidence that these procedures do not yield the results they claim to produce, such as improved mental health outcomes and reduced suicides, the procedures are still trumpeted as the cure-all for gender-dysphoric youth. Notwithstanding the evidence that shows physiological harm from puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, and surgeries, we continue to see political and academic figures like Rachel Levine declare that the “science is settled” on transgender physiological procedures.
If the transgender issue had any other name in our current debate, common sense would prevail against a claim that removing a healthy kidney or organ equates to positive and sustained mental health.
If only we were to truly “follow the science.” At minimum, there should at least be room for debate, not least because the basic tenants of the scientific method dictate that all research findings should be viewed as tentative, open to criticism and refutation. The statement “the science is settled” is in violation to the scientific method itself. True science is meant to benefit a society. When science is devised to benefit one group of people (particularly financially), it becomes an investigation unto confirmation. Science, then, ceases to adhere to the defined purpose and is better understood as a political weapon.
Click on the following links if you want to know more about evaluating science or scientific reviews of prominent transgender research.
Dr. Jennifer Bauwens is the Director of the Center for Family Studies at Family Research Council. Brooks Robinson is an intern at the Center for Family Studies.
Dr. Jennifer Bauwens is the Director of the Center for Family Studies at Family Research Council.