The phrase is ubiquitous on social media posts from individuals grateful that they or their children have just been vaccinated against Covid-19.
I’m grateful for the impulse people have to express gratitude. And surely science, in the sense of the technical knowledge required to develop an effective vaccine and the empirical method used to test its safety and efficacy, has indeed played a crucial role in vaccine development.
But thanking “science” at such a moment betrays a certain tendency to attribute good things to science while ignoring the role that science plays in bad things. Such an approach is not consistent with the logical rigor and clear thinking that characterizes the best science.
Yes, science has helped create and manufacture the vaccines.
But so did President Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who championed the Operation Warp Speed effort to discover and distribute an immunizing shot.
Somehow, needle-in-arm vaccination photos with “Thanks, Jared Kushner” labels seem to be rare.
In capitalism, the profit motive provides financial rewards for innovative products and services that people voluntarily purchase or consume. This particular case is complicated because government played a significant role as a purchaser of vaccines and funder of research.
Even so, the vaccines were developed and made by for-profit companies, such as Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson.
Individuals are voluntarily choosing to be vaccinated, and for-profit companies like CVS and Walgreens are playing a significant role in administering the vaccines.
Somehow, needle-in-arm vaccination photos with “Thanks, free-enterprise system” labels are as rare as the “Thanks, Jared Kushner” ones.
The American vaccine development process has benefited not only from free enterprise but also the free movement of people, that is, immigration to America.
Moncef Slaoui, the head of Operation Warp Speed under Trump, was born in Morocco. Albert Bourla, the CEO of Pfizer, was born in Greece. Stéphane Bancel, the CEO of Moderna, was born in France. Katalin Kariko, who did pathbreaking work on the messenger RNA technology that underlies both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, was born in Hungary. Moderna’s chief medical officer, Tal Zaks, was born in Israel. It takes people to do science, and somehow, the traits that make good scientists—creativity, risk-taking, industriousness, persistence—seem to overlap with those of immigrants.
How about a “Thanks, immigrants” hashtag for those vaccine photos?
The religious among us thank God for the vaccine. Atheists or skeptics might argue that it’s not fair to thank God for the vaccine without also blaming God for the pandemic.
This is not a column about theology or theodicy, but a similar complaint about inconsistency also applies aptly to those thanking “science” for the vaccine.
After all, some of the world’s top biologists recently wrote in a letter to the journal Science that the theory that the virus was released from a lab—presumably the Wuhan Institute of Virology—remains “viable,” and that the so-called lab-leak hypothesis must be taken “seriously.”
The Chinese government has resisted an independent investigation into that lab. Such an inquiry, if it found the virus were accidentally released from the lab, might change people’s views. Carve “no thanks, science” onto the tombstones of the more than 3 million who have reportedly died worldwide from Covid-19?
Science is a tool that can be used for good, like the coronavirus vaccine, or for bad, like the chemical weapons that Bashar Assad’s brutal dictatorship is deploying to cling to power in Syria.
The same Chinese Communist government that funds the Wuhan Institute of Virology has been forcibly implanting contraceptive devices on Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang region.
The Chinese Communist doctors waging this campaign use scientific innovations such as ultrasound scanners and birth control pills, according to an Associated Press report.
Notoriously, the Nazis used carbon monoxide or Zyklon B poison to commit genocide against Jews. The Axis powers were eventually defeated in part by Allied scientific innovations such as radar and the atom bomb.
So thank science, sure. But if you do, add thanks, too, for capitalism and freedom, for democratic governments and for inspired individuals who have chosen to use science not to persecute but to heal.
Ira Stoll is editor of FutureOfCapitalism.com and author of "JFK, Conservative." Read Ira Stoll's Reports — More Here.
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