Observations by a Citizen
“Science, Not Politics” - Really?
Rick Bright is today’s media favorite. He is being portrayed as a “whistleblower,” because he opposed budgetary choices imposed on his agency, the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority. (BARDA) BARDA is an important part of the search for a vaccine to save us from the “covid19” epidemic. Bright was head of BARDA. He claims that his removal “was in response to my insistence that the government invest the billions of dollars allocated by Congress to address the Covid-19 pandemic into safe and scientifically vetted solutions, and not in drugs, vaccines and other technologies that lack scientific merit.”
The House of Representatives, noting Bright’s opposition to Trump, quickly scheduled a hearing to give him a platform for his criticism. Central to what I heard him say in the televised presentation was that: “science – not politics or cronyism – has to lead the way.”
“Science” is a word that is uttered these days as if it had magical powers; that it is a body of proven facts that cannot be argued.
But, science is not a result, it is a process. The “Scientific Method” has proven its usefulness by giving us the world we live in - airplanes, cars, electricity, chemistry, - and medicine.
The “Scientific Method” is expressed in a variety of ways, and the variables can become complex, but it is essentially quite simple. The method begins by asking a question about something - how it works, why it is there, how to solve a problem, and so on. That initiates the observation step - look at what is happening, what others may have observed, in order to identify the interaction of things that seem related to the question. Then you form a guess as to how these things interact to cause a result - this is the “hypothesis.” Then the hypothesis has to be tested. Once the test is designed and executed, the result is compared to the result that was expected. If these agree, then the hypothesis can be used as a working theory. There are usually degrees of agreement and failure, and the next step is to adjust the original hypothesis, or devise a different one, based on your guess as to what caused the variations between what was expected and what actually happened.
This process never really ends. By 1742, using hand-made telescopes and mechanical clocks, Europeans calculated the speed of light by timing the orbits of Jupiter’s moons. They came up with 180,000 miles per second. Beginning in 1887, physicists Michelson and Morely experimented with artificial light and spinning mirrors between distant mountains in California, refining that to 186,000 MPS.
But, that is not the hypothesis they were initially trying to test. They were looking for proof that the universe is filled with an invisible “aether,” that affects the speed of light going in different directions.
Science - the process - is really productive that way. What you discover is often not what you were looking for and is something you never would have expected. About the same time as the later Michelson-Morley experiments, Alexander Fleming, a biologist in England, had been sorting out bacteria to learn about the diseases they were causing. He noticed that one petri dish had accidently been contaminated with a mold growth. Then, he noticed that the bacteria around the mold had vanished. And this was the beginning of the invention of penicillin, that has saved millions of lives.
Bright testified that he had been fired because “Specifically, and contrary to misguided directives, I limited the broad use of chloroquine … which clearly lack scientific merit.”
If he was refusing to test the hypothesis offered by the chloroquine advocates, how can he argue that his decision was “scientific?” He chose based on his political need to steer the vaccine development funds away from people who disagreed with him.