Scientists are the public face of lockdowns — and politicians aren’t making it easy for them.
Americans used to celebrate Anthony Fauci by putting his face on cupcakes. Now, some are calling for him to be fired.
Fauci, the U.S.’s top infectious disease expert, is not alone. An Italian counterpart, Walter Ricciardi, has come under attack from populist League leader Matteo Salvini and his supporters after saying that the country’s lockdown should be kept in place longer to prevent a second wave of the coronavirus.
“I think it's a moral and professional duty of scientists to always tell the truth,” Ricciardi told POLITICO.
The Covid-19 pandemic has put scientists in a difficult position. Little-known epidemiologists and virologists are now in front of the cameras telling people to stay at home and keep businesses closed, while the politicians throw their hands up and say they’re just following the science.
That’s made the scientists a target.
German public health expert Christian Drosten has received hate mail. The U.K. government said it won’t release the names of the experts on its Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) for the scientists’ own safety.
Angry Americans chanted “Fire Fauci” as they protested social-distancing restrictions around the U.S. over the weekend, alongside vaccine-skeptics and the prominent conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. In Italy, Ricciardi found himself in a Twitter-fueled war with Salvini after cautioning against reopening the northern region of Lombardy — and tweeting critical comments of U.S. President Donald Trump.
“He argues with his fellow doctors and with governors, he publicly insults the American president, he said that face masks don't help with anything” Salvini tweeted Sunday. He urged the government to drop Ricciardi from his role as an adviser. “He doesn’t get one [thing] right regarding the virus and now he’s also insulting Trump!" Salvini added.
This populist anger — fueled by high-level politicians — is increasingly mixing with conspiracy theories about the origins of the virus and anti-vax paranoia. It’s “a recipe for disaster,” said Sander van der Linden, a social psychologist at the University of Cambridge.