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Science Should Never Shut Down Debate


A recent Wall Street Journal editorial about the suppression of scientific discourse was long overdue. The authors broke from media “groupspeak” in order to tell the story of how Drs Fauci and Collins suppressed the Great Barrington Declaration. 

In science, medicine and public health we do not always agree, but frequently from the respectful sharing of data, its interpretation and discussion of it, we tend to arrive at a consensus. We are not seeing that today.

Debate in medical science is not new. In the early 1900s there were US military surgeons who vociferously criticized the French military’s use of battlefield tourniquets. That’s hard to believe based upon what we know today. Some surgeons wrote editorials about the dangers of using a tourniquet. 

Camps based upon opinions on tourniquets were formed. Debates ensued. But in the end the discourse led to open discussion and refining of uses, approaches and designs for what is a life-saving maneuver used by EMTs, trauma doctors and taught to civilians today. While the debate on the optimal use of tourniquets continues, the discourse remains open and is devoid of suppression of differing theories. It represents scientific deliberation in motion. 

In 2002 neuropathologist Dr Bennet Omalu described what we now refer to as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) while conducting an autopsy on a former NFL player. His paper describing what is well known today was “retracted” by the journal Neurosurgery

Despite an independent review of Dr Omalu’s findings the NFL suppressed the information for 4 years. CTE was and continues to be debated within the medical community despite its earlier suppression by a powerful organization with an agenda. Open debate about CTE continues today. 

The open sharing and discussion of medical science has grown exponentially over the past two decades. In addition to the traditional medical science meetings where attendees are able to query and debate major scientific authors in real time, the establishment of the Open Access movement has extended this discourse to a growing online community. 

Forums such as JournalReview and PubPeer have allowed the discussion and feedback of science and theory to be open to anyone. The overarching premise has been to move toward community interaction. During this pandemic open access to research and information has grown.

In his paper Beyond Open Access: Open Discourse, the Next Great Equalizer, Andrew Dayton wrote: 

 “Let us invite ourselves to commit to Open Discourse. Let us set the tone and establish the precedent of enlightened debate that is public spirited, as well as public. Let us refrain from contributing the inconsequential, the self-serving and the counterproductive. And above all, let us remember that discourse need not be discourteous.”

By calling for “a quick and devastating published take down” (sic) of the Great Barrington Declaration, two of the most powerful health and science government position holders slammed the door on open debate. This is a serious inflection point in our open and free speech society. Imagine in an alternative world where the equivalents of Dr Collins and Dr Fauci said: “Let’s have a discussion with the authors of this document.” 

What could have been? Would the lockdown policy have been modified or shortened? Or the protection surrounding the vulnerable been done better? We will never know because the door was closed to open discussion of views that did not match their self-anointed mainstream science. 

Neither Dr. Fauci or Dr. Collins are unquestionable authorities. No one should be. This pandemic has shown us how information can be manipulated and suppressed from the top down. The public is losing faith in our public health agencies as we have lost ground on open discourse. 

Who should hold these authorities accountable? We do not vote them into the positions they hold. They are appointed by past presidents. That makes them somewhat Teflon, a deeply concerning thought. Collectively Dr. Collins and Dr. Fauci have held their positions for over 49 years.  

They head up our primary federal agency that conducts and funds basic, clinical, and translational medical research. Perhaps it is time for a paradigm shift, a changing of the guard, the bringing up of new leadership, younger in thoughts and ideas and who are less entrenched in policy dogma and control. 

Over the past two years we have witnessed an unprecedented overreach by government and its health patriarchs. It has resulted in a singular approach toward a pandemic none of us has experience with. No one is an expert. No one is informed or misinformed. We are all learning about a virus that is outsmarting us, dividing us. For this reason no one’s voice should be silenced, buried or shouted over. 

The Wall Street Journal was correct in publishing the details of how Drs Fauci and Collins have deliberately manipulated the narrative. They have the ear of the president, something we should find a bit disconcerting. Open discourse can make us smarter, better informed and more objective in facing world challenges. We must never give that up.

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  • Eileen Natuzzi

    Eileen Natuzzi is a retired acute care trauma surgeon, epidemiologist, and former public health COVID outbreak investigator.

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