The insufferable pettiness of Anna Krylov

I just discovered an op-ed from 2021 written by Anna Krylov, the crusader against political correctness whose terrible paper I criticized on YouTube. It’s also a terrible opinion piece, but it is evidence that she is trying to launch a career that would appeal to the right wing, and also that she isn’t very thoughtful.

The piece is called The Politicization of Science and it’s the same ol’, same ol’. She starts off by giving her personal history — she grew up in the Soviet Union, in a town that was renamed multiple times in response to the shifting political rule, and she knew people who were denied educational opportunities because they weren’t sufficiently deferential to the powers-that-be. It’s deplorable stuff, and the stupid whims of the political class wrecked many aspects of Russian science. I can see where Krylov is sensitive to the problems.

Unfortunately, after the history lesson, it goes off the rails. She thinks the US is following the same path (and it may, but not for the reasons she cites.)

Fast forward to 2021–another century. The Cold War is a distant memory and the country shown on my birth certificate and school and university diplomas, the USSR, is no longer on the map. But I find myself experiencing its legacy some thousands of miles to the west, as if I am living in an Orwellian twilight zone. I witness ever-increasing attempts to subject science and education to ideological control and censorship. Just as in Soviet times, the censorship is being justified by the greater good. Whereas in 1950, the greater good was advancing the World Revolution (in the USSR; in the USA the greater good meant fighting Communism), in 2021 the greater good is “Social Justice” (the capitalization is important: “Social Justice” is a specific ideology, with goals that have little in common with what lower-case “social justice” means in plain English). As in the USSR, the censorship is enthusiastically imposed also from the bottom, by members of the scientific community, whose motives vary from naive idealism to cynical power-grabbing.

Wait, wait, wait: I had to stop at that claim that “Social Justice” (capitalized) has little in common with “social justice” (lower case.) That’s weird. I followed her citations to see where that’s coming from, and it’s all Helen Pluckrose, James Lindsay, Peter Boghossian, and John McWhorter — sources that despise the idea of social justice, and have, shall we say, a rather uninformed and biased perspective. But now I was eager to learn about Western censorship.

Her examples are underwhelming.

Today’s censorship does not stop at purging the scientific vocabulary of the names of scientists who “crossed the line” or fail the ideological litmus tests of the Elect. In some schools, physics classes no longer teach “Newton’s Laws”, but “the three fundamental laws of physics”. Why was Newton canceled? Because he was white, and the new ideology calls for “decentering whiteness” and “decolonizing” the curriculum. A comment in Nature calls for replacing the accepted technical term “quantum supremacy” by “quantum advantage”. The authors regard the English word “supremacy” as “violent” and equate its usage with promoting racism and colonialism. They also warn us about “damage” inflicted by using such terms as “conquest”. I assume “divide-and-conquer” will have to go too. Remarkably, this Soviet-style ghost-chasing gains traction. In partnership with their Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion taskforce, the Information and Technology Services Department of the University of Michigan set out to purge the language within the university and without (by imposing restrictions on university vendors) from such hurtful and racist terms as “picnic”, “brown bag lunch”, “black-and-white thinking”, “master password”, “dummy variable”, “disabled system”, “grandfathered account”, “strawman argument”, and “long time no see”. “The list is not exhaustive and will continue to grow”, warns the memo. Indeed, new words are canceled every day–I just learned that the word “normal” will no longer be used on Dove soap packaging because “it makes most people feel excluded.”

What does it mean that Newton was “canceled”? How? We still learn about his work, Newton still gets a prominent place in the history of science, and calling the laws he discovered “fundamental” seems more important than calling them “Newton’s.”

She cites a letter published in Nature expressing an opinion — you know, like Krylov is doing in the Journal of Physical Chemistry letters — that suggests some of the terminology used in computing is poor. In the 17 December 2019 issue of Nature, Carmen Palacios-Berraquero, Leonie Mueck & Divya M. Persaud say:

We take issue with the use of ‘supremacy’ when referring to quantum computers that can out-calculate even the fastest supercomputers (F. Arute et al. Nature 574, 505–510; 2019). We consider it irresponsible to override the historical context of this descriptor, which risks sustaining divisions in race, gender and class. We call for the community to use ‘quantum advantage’ instead.

The community claims that quantum supremacy is a technical term with a specified meaning. However, any technical justification for this descriptor could get swamped as it enters the public arena after the intense media coverage of the past few months.

In our view, ‘supremacy’ has overtones of violence, neocolonialism and racism through its association with ‘white supremacy’. Inherently violent language has crept into other branches of science as well — in human and robotic spaceflight, for example, terms such as ‘conquest’, ‘colonization’ and ‘settlement’ evoke the terra nullius arguments of settler colonialism and must be contextualized against ongoing issues of neocolonialism.

Instead, quantum computing should be an open arena and an inspiration for a new generation of scientists.

OK, if I were working in the field of quantum computing I’d take that into account, and I can see their point. All it is, though, is a strong suggestion in a scientific journal, exactly equivalent (although far less wordy) to what Krylov was doing…but she is oblivious to the comparison. It’s terrible that anyone would talk about the uses of language, but only when the interpretations differ from Anna Krylov’s.

Another example she gives is a set of recommendations from the “Words Matter” Task Force at the University of Michigan. I confess, there’s a lot in there that I find silly and pointless, such as discouraging the use of the phrase “brown bag lunch” (yeah, that’s what color paper bags are!), but others are worthwhile, such as avoiding the word “crippled” to refer to broken systems, or let’s call “man-hours” “person-hours”. It’s all very bureaucratic, but it’s not censorship or oppression.

That a capitalist company would not want to alienate potential customers by implying that they might be abnormal is also not censorship. She should be far more concerned that I’ve been trying to avoid the use of the “normal” word in my classes, replacing it with less judgmental words like “typical” or “common”. Is color-blindedness not normal? Should I imply that a few students in my class are abnormal because they’re not trichromatic? Krylov is even sillier than that U. Michigan list.

That’s the real problem here. Some people, mostly conservatives and Republicans, are trying to distract us with trivial, petty nonsense as far more serious problems are taking over this country. Sure, go ahead and complain that you’ll continue to defy the tyranny of the Left trying to rename “brown bag” lunches — but meanwhile, the Right is banning books, firing teachers who dare to mention that they’re not heterosexual, outlawing women’s health procedures, and making life a living hell for trans people. Those concerns don’t get mentioned by Krylov. Instead, she wants to damn anyone who tries to expand education to historically deprived groups by removing biases. All in the name of saving humanity.

The answer is simple: our future is at stake. As a community, we face an important choice. We can succumb to extreme left ideology and spend the rest of our lives ghost-chasing and witch-hunting, rewriting history, politicizing science, redefining elements of language, and turning STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education into a farce. Or we can uphold a key principle of democratic society–the free and uncensored exchange of ideas–and continue our core mission, the pursuit of truth, focusing attention on solving real, important problems of humankind.

Remember: the Unilever corporation removing the word “normal” from their beauty products is an example of “EXTREME LEFT IDEOLOGY.” Ron Desantis dismantling academic freedom and appointing a Discovery Institute hack to control a liberal arts college…eh, no big deal.


  1. says

    The silence on what’s happening in Florida from the usual “academic freedom” and freeze peach warriors says so much more than all of their blathering over the years.

  2. Silentbob says

    Language evolves. It has ever been thus. There’s a reason “gay” replaced “homosexual”. There’s a reason feminism is no longer “women’s lib” as it was in my youth. There’s a reason nobody says “negro” or “colored” anymore. There’s nothing new at all in language adapting to changing sociopolitical environments.

  3. Dunc says

    In some schools, physics classes no longer teach “Newton’s Laws”

    This claim is sourced to (a) an article by Bari Wiess in an magazine published by the Manhattan Institute (link goes to SourceWatch), which in turn sources it to a single unnamed upperclassman at one fancy school in LA, and (b) to an article in the UK Telegraph which references a draft curriculum development document for Sheffield University, which notes that Newton (among others) “could be considered as benefiting from colonial era activity”, but does not (so far as I can tell) actually propose renaming anything or excluding anything from the curriculum. And given the predictable roll-call of right-wing arseholes trotted out to wring their hands and wail about how this is The Downfall of Western Civilisation, I feel on pretty solid ground in suggesting that if said draft document actually did propose any such thing, they would have mentioned it.

    Pretty weak stuff. Lacking in merit, I’d say.

  4. raven says

    I witness ever-increasing attempts to subject science and education to ideological control and censorship.

    Anna Krylov is complaining about censorship by publishing a very long letter in an ACS (American Chemical Society) journal about physical chemistry.

    There is a huge contradiction here!!!
    Publishing a long letter that anyone in the world can read on the internet is the exact opposite of censorship.

    PS Why is this in the Journal of Physical Chemistry anyway? It has nothing to do with Physical Chemistry whatsoever. I suspect that one or more editors of that journal are sympathetic right wingnuts also.

  5. raven says

    …or let’s call “man-hours” “person-hours”.

    What is the problem here?
    I’ve been calling man-hours person-hours for decades now.

    The right wingnuts such as Anna Krylov don’t make flimsy strawmen and then murder them, they murder…strawpeople.
    Spokesperson is more and more common than spokesman and so on.

    Our ideas evolve and so does our language. Women are now more and more accepted as part of the human species.
    That shouldn’t bother someone with the name Anna Krylov but it does.

    As PZ Myers notes, when you start looking at her evidence, data, and arguments, she really doesn’t have any case to make. It’s all assertions with proof and murdering strawpeople.

  6. says

    Uh, excuse me, the U Michigan recommends replacing “strawman” with “proposed conceptual design”.

    Yeah, that’s stupid, it completely misses the point of the term.

  7. Dunc says

    Further to my comment @ #3, based on an admittedly quick and not-particularly-exhaustive survey, I can’t find a single high-school level physics textbook which doesn’t explicitly name Newton in at least one chapter title, so if he’s being cancelled, it’s not working very well.

  8. billseymour says

    The Politicization of Science

    … she knew people who were denied educational opportunities because they weren’t sufficiently deferential to the powers-that-be.

    Yeah, that sounds a lot like Florida.

    raven @5:  How about “strawfolk” (or “folks” for when we’re feeling folksy)?

  9. raven says

    What’s behind the ring-wing war on librarians? Not books

    Feb 3, 2023 — The brave librarians standing up to the forces aggressively trying to censor them are soldiers in a nation founded on ideals.
    Los Angeles Times › letters-to-the-editor › story › r…

    As noted in the OP and the comments, the real censorship in the USA right now is coming from the right wingnuts. Anna Krylov’s ideological fellow travelers.

    They are attacking libraries and trying to ban books everywhere with some success.
    They are attacking public education and driving teachers out of our public schools as well.
    They are always attacking our universities and colleges for something or other.

    It’s even happening at our local library.
    They have a due process in place to challenge and ban books in their collection. It was never used up until this year. So far they’ve had quite a few books challenged by right wingnuts. They’ve haven’t had much success but the librarians are spooked because they’ve seen what happened elsewhere.

    Only library in Michigan town to close after voters defund it …USA Today

    Nov 10, 2022 — Only library in Michigan town to close after voters defund it for refusing to ban LGBTQ books … DETROIT – A library in Michigan will close after..

    Already one library has been shut down by the right wingnuts.

  10. says

    Whereas in 1950, the greater good was advancing the World Revolution (in the USSR; in the USA the greater good meant fighting Communism)

    No, it meant fighting “Communism,” an expansive category including the Civil Rights movement, anti-war movement, environmentalists, feminists, gay people and gay rights activists, leftwing movements and governments on multiple continents, universal health care, State Department area experts, atheists, Chicano activists, leftwing labor leaders and organizations, anti-Apartheid activists,… If Krylov bothered to read anything about this history in the US, she might understand that she’s just part of another wave of an endless campaign to counter righteous demands for social justice with asinine anecdotes and general hyperventilating ridiculousness.

  11. wzrd1 says

    So, a few proposed changes in terminology by private groups and companies is precisely equal to the Soviet Union sending soldiers in to smash printing presses, throw men, women and children into Siberian gulags and mass executions. Which corporate army is performing such war crimes?
    Ah wait, none whatsoever. Just more performance art by another former Soviet citizen, using hyperbole and bullshit to claim all manner of well, bullshit. Started with Rand, now continuing with Krylov, ignoring the hell out of global and US history in favor of their favored vapors.
    I guess they didn’t send us their best and brightest back in those days. Yeah, I’ll use their own weapons against them.
    I’m wondering if the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters impact factor of 6.88 was calculated before or after this drivel was published.

  12. StevoR says

    @ ^ timgueguen :If memory serevs didn’t George “Dubya” the Lesser Bush try and interfere withy science appointing the equivalent of a comissar fro denying deCliamet change to something or other?

  13. raven says

    Obama ends Bush ban on embryo stem cell research
    The Guardian

    Mar 6, 2009 — The research is allowed in Britain, which in the years since Bush’s restrictions, has become a world centre of stem cell study.

    The only research banned in the USA recently was GOP President Bush’s ban on stem cell research.

    That was overturned by Obama.

    If Anna Krylov wants to know who is really “politicizing science”, all she had to do is look in a mirror.

    The last and still ongoing attacks on science and medicine were and are…the antivaxxers of the GOP.
    They’ve attacked the effective Covid-19 virus vaccines with endless lies, attacked simple public health measures such as wearing masks, while promoting quack cures like hydroxychloroquine and Ivermectin for Covid-19 virus infections.

    They managed to kill around 330,000 people in the USA during the pandemic.

  14. StevoR says

    ^ Dóh! The typios,my apologies. Fat fingers & tired brain strike again.

    Also yeah, shoulda googled first :

    Two private groups, the Government Accountability Project and Union of Concerned Scientists, say 1,600 climate scientists surveyed reported at least 435 occurrences of such interference over the past five years.

    Nearly half of those responding said they perceived, or personally experienced, pressure to eliminate the words climate change from reports and communications, along with new or unusual administrative requirements impairing climate-related work.

    “Political interference is harming federal science and threatening the health and safety of Americans,” said Francesca Grifo, senior scientist and director of scientific integrity program for the Union of Concerned Scientists.

    Grifo adds that nearly 700 scientists or 39 percent of respondents, feared retaliation for openly expressing their concerns.

    President Bush has avoided using the term global warming, and as he did in his State of the Union address, prefers to describe changes in the world’s weather as global climate change, while acknowledging it poses a problem.

    The president favors technological solutions and development of alternative fuels to lessen dependence on foreign oil, in addition to efforts to protect the environment.

    Source :

  15. says

    as if I am living in an Orwellian twilight zone

    Mixed metaphori constitute a Dali-an nightmare of Kafkaesque elements boiling and bubbling in a witches’ brew of Sophoclean tragedy, up with which I shall not put.

    “straw person” was an easy switch.

    Even easier? “Pell”.

    Of course that requires that the “straw persons” which warriors in training were assigned to thrash had the contemporary name of “pell”, only being described as “straw persons” for the uninitiated.

    (“Pell” by the way survives in the phrase “pell mell” which is the slang shortening of “pell-mêlée”, or a close-quarters fight with a pell, understood to be between the inanimate pell and a neophyte at arms, who couldn’t be trusted to swing their weapon other than erratically. Chaos, thus, was understood to define the pell-mêlée, and it is this frenetic chaos of the exuberant but untrained that forms the heart of our modern understanding of “pell mell”.)

  16. raven says

    @14 SteveR

    Both Bush and Trump and the GOP in general are climate change deniers.

    E.P.A. Dismisses Members of Major Scientific Review Board
    The New York Times

    Trump fired most of the scientists at the EPA from
    May 7, 2017 — WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency has dismissed at least five members of a major scientific review board, the latest signal …

    Speaking of politicizing science, the real champions of that are the GOP.

    Trump fired most of the scientists at the EPA because if you don’t study chemical pollution of our environment, then it never happens.

    The more you look at Anna Krylov, the more clueless and just flat out wrong she looks.
    She goes on and on about the attack mouse of social justice warriors while ignoring the rampaging elephant of the GOP, which is attacking science whenever it is inconvenient for the needs and goal of the oligarchies that run the USA.

    It’s Covid-19 public health, the EPA and environmental problems, climate change denialism, Trans medical care, women’s health care, etc..

  17. says

    she grew up in the Soviet Union, in a town that was renamed multiple times in response to the shifting political rule

    In Donetsk! Donetsk!

    They also warn us about “damage” inflicted by using such terms as “conquest”.


  18. wzrd1 says

    However, he recallst hat they were escorted around by government chaperones who would shield and filter possible media questions, listen to them speak to other scientists and track which research posters they read.

    Amazing how many tactics that the Soviets used that the far right is happy to employ. I imagine that gulags would be next, had they retained such power for much longer.
    Likely, with great big ovens…
    All, to house those confined during their cultural revolution.

    I do remember seeing space weather reporting falter for a bit. It was during a far right full court press on weather = climate = nothing to see here, move along. That halted when communications by satellite got hampered without the usual warning due to solar activity.
    I’ve also heard with my own ears a neocon claim that there is no such thing as an environment.
    Fucking beyond mindless!

    The closing advice of “get anonymous” isn’t very effective. FVEY penetrated TOR long ago by owning exit nodes and traffic analysis. So, one would need to use multiple layers of such services, hopefully with some unfriendly to FVEY powers. Even then, linguistic and behavioral analysis, browser signature analysis and other tricks, such as watering hole attacks leave researchers still exposed while trying to be anonymous.
    All can be countered, but for most, it’s beyond difficult to knowledgeably implement and overall, a huge pain in the gonads.

  19. moonslicer says

    Has anyone ever encountered, or even heard of, an American right-winger who seems to be happy in life?

  20. whywhywhy says

    Why isn’t Krylov in an uproar regarding the legislation that just passed the OH state senate and is being considered by the state house?
    The stated focus of the legislation is to create a safe space for conservatives to express their views on college campuses by placing restrictions on professors and requiring a conservative civics course, outlawing DEI, restricting unions, etc. However, the primary reason conservatives on campus feel intimidated has nothing to do with any of the proposed ‘solutions’. Conservative students don’t want to face the social repercussions from other students. The legislation does nothing to address peer pressure but does a nice job of undermining education and having Ohio shift ever closer to being Florida.

  21. says

    Thank you PZ. We, too, for years, have not used the term ‘normal’. There is no ‘normal’ in society. We live in a world where too many turn it into an extremist freak show.
    Some of my organization’s leaders are ‘abnormal’ because they are not trichromatic. Should they be banned because of that?
    Krylov’s ‘The Politicization of Science’ is busy ranting in a highly politicized manner against anything ‘leftist’ (politically correct or woke?) that she disagrees with and apparently wants to censor the censors, but not allow censorship, WTF.

    @3 silentbob says: language evolves
    I reply: if you study language use, as we do, it also frequently devolves (deteriorates) in common use. Communication as wielded by most is not a precise tool. And, a word with multiple connotations can be used innocently by one person, while another tries to use it as a weapon: ‘woke’ as in awake to things and enlightened VS. ‘woke’ as Deathsantis uses it as a pejorative -or- ‘antifa’ as a positive term meaning anti-fascist, vs. those that claim it is some sort of highly organized evil ‘radical left’ cult. Thus, many words are being used by different groups to mean opposites, muddying the waters, and so many words are intrinsically vague. All words have both denotations and connotations (some positive, some negative, some words are just used in a ‘traditional’ way, maybe not intentionally with malice (master password, master key), as a holdover from a less enlightened time (but then we are being pushed into an unenlightened dark ages).
    Krylov’s rant about terminology and politicization is like striking clouds with a stick.

  22. Dunc says

    FVEY penetrated TOR long ago by owning exit nodes and traffic analysis.

    FVEY didn’t need to “penetrate” TOR, they owned it from day one. Quite literally – it was developed by and for the US security services (specifically, it was developed by the Naval Research Laboratory), to enable their in-country assets to communicate back to their handlers without giving themselves away to local counter-intelligence. but in order for that to work, they need other traffic to mask their activities. TOR has only ever worked because somebody with deep pockets has been spending rather a lot of money running nodes – who do you think that would be? Does anybody really imagine that the NRL gave it away for free out of the goodness of their hearts and a deep commitment to the ideals of a free internet?

  23. says

    Dear Akira MacKenzie, I really appreciate your insightful contributions here. (along with all the valuable varied viewpoints of others here). But, I’m concerned that you are feeling overwhelmed by the dark rtwingnut insanity. I find it difficult to prevent myself from flying into a rage at that dark insanity swirling all around us. And, I keep looking for ways (and, I hope you, and others here, can find ways) to dispel any built up (but fully justifiable) anger.

  24. says

    @19 raven and @14 SteveR wrote about Bush (the war criminal) and the current antivaxxers of the GOP.
    They’ve attacked the effective Covid-19 virus vaccines with endless lies, attacked simple public health measures such as wearing masks, while promoting quack cures like hydroxychloroquine and Ivermectin for Covid-19 virus infections.
    Thank you for those additions to the discussion. I AGREE that the rtwingnut ‘pretend scientists’ are murderous. If I remember the article from a few days ago, there are still Over 1,000 people dying the the u.s. each week from Covid.

  25. raven says

    Column: These ‘experts’ sold the U.S. on a disastrous COVID plan, and never paid a professional price

    Anna Krylov beats up a few strawpeople while ignoring the very real and serious War on Science from the GOP and the fundie xians.

    They attack evolution of course, stem cells, women’s health, Trans medical care, the EPA and environment, climate change, and notably the public health response to the Covid-19 virus.
    That last killed at least 330,000 US people, the number of antivaxxers who caught the virus and died. It is probably higher when you add in the collateral damage from people ignoring public health measures such as wearing masks, not infecting your friends and relatives, and pretending this virus isn’t sometimes fatal (“it is just like the flu”).

    The GOP/fundie xians did everything wrong they could think of.

    Claiming the vaccines didn’t work and were dangerous.
    Claiming masks don’t work.
    Claiming any and all public health measures to combat viruses that spread were somehow huge impositions on us.
    Claiming ineffective drugs like hydroxychloroquine and Ivermectin were magic wands that cured the viral infection.
    Pushing the mythological herd immunity that we haven’t reached yet and will never reach anyway as another magic solution. That wouldn’t work and we knew that 3 years ago.

    Here is a column today that explains part of the politicization of epidemiology during the pandemic by the GOP, who did it, and how it didn’t work.

    “In 2019 you would have been considered a quack if you suggested that the best way to get rid of a virus is to spread the virus,” he says. “But that became mainstream and influenced politicians at the highest levels.”

    LA Times
    Column: These ‘experts’ sold the U.S. on a disastrous COVID plan, and never paid a professional price
    Michael Hiltzik
    Tue, May 23, 2023,

    White House coronavirus advisor Scott Atlas (left), seen here with then-President Trump, who bought his unproven herd immunity idea. (Evan Vucci / Associated Press)

    They’ve held credentials from some of the world’s most elite universities — Harvard, Stanford, Johns Hopkins, Oxford. They’ve been welcomed into the highest government policy councils. They became fixtures on television news shows and were quoted incessantly by some of the nation’s leading newspapers.

    They’re a cadre of academics and scientists who pushed a discredited solution to the COVID pandemic, shunning masks, school closings, even vaccines, all in the name of reaching the elusive goal of “herd immunity,” resulting in what may have been hundreds of thousands of unnecessary American deaths.

    That’s the contention of “We Want Them Infected,” a painstakingly documented new book by Jonathan Howard, a neurologist at New York University and a veteran debunker of the pseudoscience contaminating our efforts to fight the pandemic.

    In 2019 you would have been considered a quack if you suggested that the best way to get rid of a virus is to spread the virus. But that became mainstream and influenced politicians at the highest levels.

    Howard takes his title from Paul Alexander, an epidemiologist in the Health and Human Services Department during the Trump administration.

    In July 2020, Alexander offered his view of how to exploit the relative risks of COVID to discrete populations to reach herd immunity. The idea was that so many people would eventually become naturally infected with the virus, and therefore immune, from further infection that the virus would be unable to spread further.

    “Infants, kids, teens, young people, young adults, middle aged with no conditions etc. have zero to little risk,” he told top HHS officials. “So we use them to develop herd … we want them infected.”

    Alexander’s proposal was essentially a screed against lockdowns. That suited the Trump White House, which was searching for ways around the economic dislocations caused by the virus. But he was wrong about the toll of sickness and death that would result, allowing the virus to rage among these ostensibly low-risk groups, and wrong about the prospects of reaching herd immunity naturally.

    “We Want Them Infected” may be the most appalling and infuriating book you’ll read about America’s response to the pandemic. It’s also essential reading.

    The book is populated by quacks, mountebanks and charlatans — and not a few scholars with distinguished academic records — many of whom appear to have been seduced by the embrace of the right-wing echo chamber into promoting unproven and disproved policies.

    “It’s unbelievable that while doctors like myself were working to treat sick COVID patients, begging people to stay at home and be safe,” Howard told me, “there was another group of doctors working at cross-currents to us — prominent doctors wanting to purposely infect unvaccinated young people with the promise that herd immunity would arrive in a couple of months.”

    They consistently minimized the gravity of the pandemic, but rarely if ever acknowledged that their optimistic forecasts of illness and deaths were consistently proven wrong.

    There are a number of problems with the herd immunity theory. One is that immunity from COVID infection tends to wane over time rather than become permanent. Also, infection with one variant of the virus doesn’t necessarily confer immunity from other variants, of which there have been many.

    Another problem is that COVID can be a devastating disease for victims of any age. Allowing anyone to become infected can expose them to serious health problems.

    Moreover, the prospect that COVID could be defeated by the natural expansion of herd immunity persuaded many people not to bother with proven countermeasures, including social distancing, masking, or vaccination.

    Today, more than three years after COVID first appeared, the U.S. still has not achieved herd immunity although it is nearing the goal, in the view of Robert Wachter, chair of the department of medicine at UC San Francisco. The disease’s trajectory has been cataclysmic—the U.S. death toll stands at 1.13 million, hundreds of children have died, and an estimated 245,000 children have lost one or both parents to COVID. The U.S. leads the world in COVID deaths; its death rate of 3,478 per million population is worse than that of Britain, Spain, France, the Nordic countries, Canada and Israel.

    Some herd immunity advocates offered their blithe forecasts in a misguided, if not dishonest, attempt to provide comfort to the American public. Scott Atlas, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University, urged HHS officials in March 2020 to advocate against lockdowns on grounds they were “inciting irrational fear” of the virus, which he estimated would cause about 10,000 deaths. “The panic needs to be stopped,” Atlas wrote.

    Atlas soon became a top advisor to Trump, promoting the herd immunity theory in the White House despite the objections of more experienced advisors such as Dr. Deborah Birx.

    Howard is especially disturbed at how politicizing the pandemic has allowed fringe ideas to infiltrate public health policies.

    “In 2019 you would have been considered a quack if you suggested that the best way to get rid of a virus is to spread the virus,” he says. “But that became mainstream and influenced politicians at the highest levels.”

    In his book, Howard reserves his deepest scorn for the promoters of the “Great Barrington Declaration,” a manifesto for herd immunity published in October 2020 and signed initially by epidemiologists Jay Bhattacharya of Stanford; Martin Kulldorff, then of Harvard; and Sunetra Gupta of Oxford. (Thousands of other academics and scientists would later add their signatures).

    The core of the declaration was opposition to lockdowns. Its solution was what its drafters called “focused protection,” which meant allowing “those who are at minimal risk of death to live their lives normally to build up immunity to the virus through natural infection, while better protecting those who are at highest risk” — chiefly seniors.

    Older people living at home, the declaration said, should be kept apart from other family members except by meeting them outside, and “should have groceries and other essentials delivered to their home.”

    Focused protection, the promoters wrote, would allow society to achieve herd immunity and return to normalcy in three to six months.

    As Howard documents, the declaration was little more than a libertarian fantasy. That may not have been surprising, because one of its organizers was an arch-libertarian named Jeffrey Tucker.

    For a taste of Tucker’s worldview, consider a 2016 article entitled “Let the kids work.” There he ridiculed the Washington Post for publishing a photo gallery of child laborers from 100 years ago, including miners and sweatshop workers as young as 10.

    Tucker’s response was that those children were “working in the adult world, surrounded by cool bustling things and new technology. They are on the streets, in the factories, in the mines, with adults and with peers, learning and doing. They are being valued for what they do, which is to say being valued as people…. Whatever else you want to say about this, it’s an exciting life.”

    A better life, at least, than “pushed by compulsion into government holding tanks for a full decade” — that is, going to school.

    The declaration’s promoters, Howard writes, never specified how to achieve their goals. Delivering food and supplies to millions of housebound seniors? In a Hoover Institution interview, Bhattacharya said, “We could have offered free DoorDash to older people.”

    As Howard observes, Bhattacharya was remarkably sanguine about “creating a program overnight to deliver fresh food to tens of millions of seniors for months on end throughout the entire country.”

    Similar hand-waving addressed the problems of multigenerational households, in which millions of vulnerable elders live. Older family members, the declaration authors wrote, “might temporarily be able to live with an older friend or sibling, with whom they can self-isolate together during the height of community transmission. As a last resort, empty hotel rooms could be used for temporary housing.”

    Of course, hermetically sealing off tens of millions of “nonvulnerable” people from tens of millions of vulnerable people in a few weeks would be “the single greatest logistical challenge humanity had ever undertaken,” Howard observes. “Nowhere in the world used focused protection to achieve herd immunity in three to six months, as the Great Barrington Declaration promised.”

    What the declaration really promoted was complacency. Its drafters, Howard says, were “people with no real-world responsibility for much of anything who made impossible things sound very easy. The task of actually getting food into the houses of elderly people was left up to public health authorities who were understaffed, overwhelmed and underfunded.”

    What may be the most inexcusable element of the herd immunity movement was its implication that children could be used as shields for the rest of the population. Its advocates counseled against vaccinating young children on the grounds that their susceptibility to the virus was minimal or even nonexistent, so they could safely acquire immunity naturally — and perhaps, as Vinay Prasad of UC San Francisco implied, provide an immunity boost to adults in their families.

    Yet although children tended to suffer less from symptoms when they were infected, they were anything but immune. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 1,600 American children under the age of 18 have died from COVID during the pandemic.

    In any case, death is not the only serious outcome from COVID. The CDC says more than 14,000 children were hospitalized for COVID during the pandemic. An untold number of children may suffer from long COVID or other lifelong manifestations of the disease. For doctors to counsel deliberately exposing children to COVID when a vaccine is available, especially if the purpose is to protect adults, is “a moral abomination,” Howard says. He’s right.

    In a world guided by science, the promoters of an unsuccessful herd immunity theory would long ago have lost their credibility and their public soapboxes.

    The opposite has happened. Bhattacharya and Kulldorff still have their platforms (Kulldorff is now associated with the right-wing Hillsdale College). Both were appointed in December by Florida’s anti-vaccine governor, Ron DeSantis, to a “Public Health Integrity Committee” charged with questioning federal public health policies.

    Scott Atlas, meanwhile, was tapped to deliver the commencement address at New College of Florida, a once-renowned liberal arts institution that DeSantis has turned into a haven for right-wing pedagogy. He was greeted with boos from the audience of graduating seniors, however, indicating that the youth of America perhaps can’t be gulled as easily as their parents.

    At this moment, anti-science ideology on the right appears to be in the ascendance. Agitation against the COVID vaccine is metastasizing into an opposition movement against all childhood vaccinations, a trend that threatens to produce a surge in other vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles and polio.

    “The anti-vaccine movement has spotted an opportunity to sow doubt,” Howard told me. “Getting rid of all school vaccine mandates has always been the Holy Grail for them.”

    Howard’s book is a warning. We may be on the verge of a public health disaster, because the promoters of a failed theory that COVID could be fought through “natural immunity” without vaccines have been able to wrap themselves in the mantle of truth-tellers. But they’re not.

    This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

    “”Infants, kids, teens, young people, young adults, middle aged with no conditions etc. have zero to little risk,” he told top HHS officials. “So we use them to develop herd … we want them infected.”

    This isn’t true BTW.
    We saw a whole lot of middle aged people end up in the ICUs.
    They might not have all died but a lot of them ended up with long Covid syndromes and are still sick today.

  26. says

    Has anyone ever encountered, or even heard of, an American right-winger who seems to be happy in life?

    I’ve certainly never heard any of them speaking favorably of any society that’s better, happier or godlier for being more “conservative” than the “woke” “liberal” West.

  27. says

    Thinking more about it I like “straw person” for it’s constancy with other politics and contrast with similar gendered things. It has the potential of becoming something useful with kind of people I’ve argued with on nextdoor.

    The origin is useful but I find myself having difficulty with using it because of the loss of those things.

  28. indianajones says

    I want to try to take this idea down on it’s own terms, which I think is the best way to try to convince Anna-esque people. Because she is right that the USSR did have a bad time with ideology trumping scientific fact. Lamarckian genetics and evolution theory vs actual real biological theory because Lysenko was ace apparently.. Way to screw up your agriculture for decades…

    But the thing is that that is substituting incorrect ideas for correct ones on a purely ideological basis. What she is railing against in the quotes above, I think, is a substitution of mere labels. A very different thing. I don’t care whether you call the laws of motion Newton’s or Fundamental so long as we aren’t ideologically teaching that heavy things fall faster than light things for instance.

    The map is not the terrain.

  29. wzrd1 says

    raven @ 30, funny how it took a book to get that message across – despite literally hundreds of epidemiologists giving the exact same story during the peak of the pandemic.
    But then, the god king wannabe spoke and gods know more than scientists, doctors and scholars. Ignore people like my youngest, who has yet to reach age 40 and has long COVID or myself, with my trashed mitral valve.

    Oh, Trump was in court again today for the criminal fraud case involving Daniels. Judge giving instructions on not making statements designed to trigger unrest and violence, which were instructions in every other case thus far and thoroughly ignored. Trump’s attorneys then going on about first amendment rights while campaigning…
    Trial scheduled for the peak of the campaign season. Circus to be concurrent.

  30. Rich Woods says

    In some schools, physics classes no longer teach “Newton’s Laws”, but “the three fundamental laws of physics”.

    Robert Hooke’s masterplan for revenge slowly but surely unfurls.

    Oops, sorry, I meant ‘leaderplan’.

  31. says

    If there was a rhetorical benefit to a straw person having a gender with a particular opponent that could be useful. Mirroring bigotry in some fashion maybe. If it’s me being gendered in an argument I can start mocking the idea of the argument having anatomy.

    Otherwise I like to separate the forms of irrationality from our narratives about the anatomy of the irrational. The increase in use of female animals in research has shown T isn’t social challenge in some anatomical forms. It’s not even used to make males in all vertebrates.

  32. says

    raven @30: Let’s also remember that Jared Kushner had advised OUT LOUD letting COVID kill off Democratic-leaning urban voters. I really think most, if not all, of that lot knew damn well that “herd immunity” was nothing but a bullshit excuse to let a pandemic kill off voters they didn’t like.