Science Doesn’t Obey Your Party Lines

Since late 2019, we’ve all been watching a novel virus blanket the world in chaos. And from a purely scientific standpoint, it’s been interesting to see the retroactive analyses coming in that tell us we had evidence of the novel coronavirus long before we started diagnosing it. One would think that the most infuriating thing about this virus would be the new analyses and modified preventative measures being suggested nearly every day, but as a woman in the STEM field, it’s truly not. I may not have a rich background in virology, genetics, or advanced biology like some have, but the single most infuriating thing about the pandemic is how it’s playing out on the national stage. 

Simply put, science is not open to political interpretation. Even if you don’t agree with the findings.

Watching politicians interpret the science being communicated to them is equal parts hilarious and maddening. I don’t care if you haven’t sat in a science class since high school or you are navigating a STEM-based career at this very moment, scientific findings don’t cross party lines. You are not immune to a virus because you decide it’s a hoax made up by your opposition. And you look incredibly stupid to those of us who trust the science and the people behind it. 

Now, before we get too far into this, I hear your calls of “results can be forged!” and “statistics can be misleading!” and “not all science is good science!” And I hear you, I really do, but let’s take a moment and analyze why you think these things. We make examples of people in the STEM field who falsify research. People who fudge the numbers get a lot of publicity because they betray the trust that the public has in them, but the scientists making good discoveries and doing good work don’t get nearly as much traction in the media. Science and technological advancement drive our world and we put a lot of faith into the researchers behind the scenes. The few “scientists” that are making up numbers are a minuscule percentage of the millions of other scientists making positive advancement in our world.

You may not agree with their findings, and that’s ok, but you can’t decide the findings are fake because you don’t like them. That’s like saying “I don’t like shortbread cookies, so they are not a real cookie and they are not being sold anymore by the Girl Scouts.” Not only is the second half of that statement a lie, but it also sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?

While I’ve been watching this whole COVID-19 crisis play out, I’ve been thinking about the fragile relationship between science and politics. I wanted to understand the trend of ignoring science that doesn’t fit within a narrow belief system, and when this trend began. I’m sure it stretches long before my starting point, but let’s take a look.

Let’s travel back in time to the late 15th, early 16th century for a moment. Remember geocentricity? Geocentricity is the theory that the earth is the center of the universe. The Church, i.e. the main governing body, really liked that idea because it supported their narrative of God creating the universe, as outlined in Genesis. It was the theory that was understood and there was little to no evidence to the contrary at the time. But our good friend Copernicus came around and said, “hey, what if the sun was the center of the universe instead of the earth?” and everyone lost their minds. The Church said, “no don’t believe him, he’s a liar and we’ll set him on fire to prove it.”  A little over 100 years later, Isaac Newton came along and said “look at all this math I did to prove that gravity exists! Turns out good ol’ Copernicus was right and we orbit the sun and the sun orbits something else in the universe!” 

But it took over 100 years for this idea of heliocentricity to be accepted because the governing body basically said “no that’s false, it’s not what I believe.” Do you see the pattern?

Over the next few centuries, there have been a lot of scientific advancements, and while some are widely accepted, some still carry this inherently political burden. In my lifetime, the most notable of these instances is the climate crisis. The earth is dying, and it’s going to continue to die whether you’re a Republican, Democrat, or independent. Greta Thunberg is out here at 17 trying to make the politicians in the UN and around the world understand that climate change is real, and people will still claim that global warming is a political hoax.

And now, COVID-19, arguably the most ridiculous example of partisan politics ignoring science I’ve ever witnessed. At the beginning of this whole crisis, I remember hearing “oh, this was just invented by *insert political party of choice here* so they’ll win the election this year.” I’ve heard a lot of ridiculous things in my 20 years, but I’d be lying if that’s not in the top five most ridiculous things. 

Since the stay at home orders are lifting, though, people seem to have forgotten that this virus still exists. Masks are optional at best, gatherings are happening whether social distancing is enforced or not, and most notably, we’re back to the partisan narrative. Even the president is spewing partisan nonsense about the legitimacy of the virus. As a scientist, I am appalled by the lack of common sense that this nation has as a collective. The image that the rest of the world sees is a failing containment strategy and a ridiculous effort to use human lives as bartering chips in an election. They’re seeing individual freedoms being supported at the cost of the collective health of entire communities. 

But science doesn’t see your party lines. We don’t have another 100 years for you to understand this. A virus doesn’t say “oh you belong to X Political Party, you won’t make a good host.” And viruses don’t vote. Politicians, you are not gaining favor by “invalidating” science with your opinion. You are not winning polling points by blaming the opposition for a pandemic. All you’re doing is risking the health of your constituents. 

The legitimacy of the novel coronavirus is not up to interpretation by your partisan politics. Start listening to the actual scientists who are brainstorming safe ways to return to a limited degree of normalcy. Stop listening to the people who value their individual freedoms over the health of their communities. This is not an elementary episode of the blame game, this is real life and the only way out of this hellscape is by listening to the hardworking science community now.