Letter: Science at the Fore

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Letter to the Editor

Academic scientists push the boundaries of knowledge by learning thousands of rules and then testing potential new rules. With a collaborator in Germany, Professor Jennifer Doudna of UC Berkeley won the Nobel prize for chemistry last week for the discovery of CRISPR gene editing, now widely used around the world. Her parents, both Hilo, Hawaii, college teachers in non-science fields, read widely, including books on science. In high school, Jennifer was fascinated by the beauty and diversity of the plants comprising Hilo’s rainforest and wanted to understand what biological mechanisms gave rise to these amazingly diverse plants. So, she chose to major in biochemistry at Pomona College. 

The typical introductory textbook on biochemistry has 1,300 pages of rules to learn. And these are just the tip of the iceberg. Every productive scientist had to learn thousands of rules before testing hypotheses that might lead to yet additional, novel rules. Without rules, there is no science. 

You can imagine, then, the visceral horror that scientists have experienced in response to a scientifically illiterate U.S. President, famous for breaking rules, who thinks that human contributions to global warming are a “hoax,” who downplays scientific projections for COVID-19 transmission, who disagrees with top infectious disease experts about what U.S. residents should do to protect their families from the COVID-19 pandemic, who replaced many academic scientists on federal regulatory science advisory committees with industry-friendly regulators and who was recently caught supplanting science-based guidance with politically more palatable guidance concerning the wearing of face masks on trains, planes and buses to minimize COVID-19 virus transmission. 

For the first time in their respective 175-year histories, the New England Journal of Medicine and Scientific American independently have made endorsements in the upcoming presidential election. They both called for the defeat of the current administration in this November’s election because “they are dangerously incompetent.” President Trump’s disrespect for rules has contributed to tens of thousands of avoidable U.S. deaths. If voters value the lives of their loved ones, they should heed those who follow the rules and vote out of office candidates who flagrantly flout the rules.

William McCarthy