Fear vengeance, not justice

Scientists and their IFLS cheerleaders who are wringing their hands about an antiscientific backlash from the right-wing extremist anti-vaccination crowd are completely failing to understand who is going to be after their heads.

There is a troubling new expansion of antiscience aggression in the United States. It’s arising from far-right extremism, including some elected members of the US Congress and conservative news outlets that target prominent biological scientists fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.

A band of ultraconservative members of the US Congress and other public officials with far-right leanings are waging organized and seemingly well-coordinated attacks against prominent US biological scientists. In parallel, conservative news outlets repeatedly and purposefully promote disinformation designed to portray key American scientists as enemies. As a consequence, many of us receive threats via email and on social media, while some are stalked at home, to create an unprecedented culture of antiscience intimidation.

Over the spring and summer of 2021, four major incidents stand out. First, Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green (R-GA) introduced house bill 2316 [1]. The “Fire Fauci Act” called for halting payment of Dr. Anthony Fauci’s salary as Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and auditing his digital correspondence and financial transactions. Green’s follow-up press conference on 21 June 2021 included 13 Republican House supporters or co-sponsors, possibly the largest congressional delegation in modern times to single out and attempt to humiliate a prominent American scientist.

Also in June, the Republicans organized a House Select Subcommittee on the origins of COVID-19 with the presumption that it was ignited by gain-of-function genetic engineering research from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Despite evidence pointing to spillover from a viral infection in bats to additional mammals and ultimately humans accounting for previous coronavirus epidemics [2], the hearings took on a sinister tone, pointing fingers at virologists both in the US and China. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), stated that Dr. Fauci was “afraid of something” and falsely claimed that he was covering up the engineering of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus [3]. The far-right media harasses or stalks other prominent US scientists, including Dr. Peter Daszak who heads the EcoHealth Alliance and conducts research on the zoonotic origins of human virus infections.

But scientists shouldn’t be worried about the staunch opposition from the people who don’t believe them, don’t trust them, and ignore their advice. They should be worried – indeed, they should be completely terrified – of the retribution that awaits them at the hands of the poor fools who were credulous enough to take them at their word and harm themselves and their children at their behest.

We’d absolutely like to see all of the scientists responsible prosecuted, convicted, and imprisoned for their crimes against humanity. But because we see them as fundamentally evil and wrong, they haven’t done us any harm. Their victims, to the contrary, are almost certainly going to be much more inclined to bypass the law and seek vengeance rather than justice.

If the fake vaccine debacle turns into one of the CASE NIGHTMARE scenarios, even one of the lesser ones, science may not survive the reckoning.