Guest Columnist

John Richard Schrock

Science Defenders

      During the recent pandemic, many Americans listened to very intelligent COVID-19 and vaccine advice from science experts. This included ranking medical professionals such as Dr. Ashish Jha (Brown University School of Public Health), Dr. William Schaffner (Division of Infectious Diseases at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine), and Dr. Peter Hotez (Baylor College of Medicine).

    But there are risks in promoting science. Galileo, a respected scientist of velocity, gravity, pendulum motion and astronomy proved that Copernicus was correct and the sun, not the earth, was the center of the solar system. The science-ignorant Roman Inquisition in 1615 forced him to recant and live the rest of his life under house arrest.  And when the new science of genetics was improving plant breeding, Stalin’s Lysenko sent the great plant geneticist Vavilov to die in prison. We might assume that today, we are now a society that follows science. We would be wrong. Many science professionals today face a public where many are not just science illiterate, but are actively anti-science. Dr. Hotez is recognized by many television viewers and has documented our growing anti-science crisis.

    Hotez secured his B.A from Yale, his M.D. from the Weill Cornell Medical College, and a Ph.D. from Rockefeller University. He founded and is Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine, Professor of Pediatrics and Molecular Virology & Microbiology at Baylor College of Medicine, and is also Director of the Texas Children's Hospital Center for Vaccine Development.

    Hotez published “Forgotten People, Forgotten Diseases: The Neglected Tropical Diseases and Their Impact on Global Health and Development” in 2008 with a second edition in 2013. Pharmaceutical companies lack reason to develop medications and vaccines for neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) where the suffering populations are very poor—thus not enough money to pay for the effort. This book details soil-transmitted worm infections, snail fever, Guinea worm, river blindness, sleeping sickness, Chagas disease and other NTDs. This book is a non-technical read with diagrams showing the routes of infection and maps of occurrence. This is a very useful book for the high school biology teacher and school library.

    Hotez then wrote “Vaccines Did Not Cause Rachel's Autism: My Journey As a Vaccine Scientist, Pediatrician, and Autism Dad” in 2018. Parts of this book are obviously personal, insofar as one of his daughters is autistic. The false association of the MMR vaccine with autism traces to the well-debunked Andrew Wakefield paper in the journal "Lancet." It was fully retracted in 2010. This nevertheless gave rise to much of the anti-vax movement which has directly led to decreases in child vaccination and the return of measles to the U.S., a serious disease that can lead to death. Hotez provides extensive discussion of nonmedical exemptions to vaccination. He notes that whether in California or France, anti-vaxxers are more likely to be affluent. He does not discuss the very low level of K-12 science education in the U.S., nor the public’s lack of recent direct experiences with severe illnesses.

    With the COVID-19 pandemic underway, Hotez authored “Preventing the Next Pandemic: Vaccine Diplomacy In a Time of Anti-Science” in 2021, updating the spread of measles, the denied access to HPV to teenagers, etc. Here Hotez also associates anti-vax with climate change denial and fear of GMOs.

    “As COVID-19 spread across China in January 2020, Chinese scientists began releasing reports on their studies of its causative agent. Often they used a free and open access preprint service organized by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island, New York, known as Biorxiv and Medrxiv. Despite what is often claimed—that the Chinese were not transparent about their COVID-19 epidemic—my personal experience with their scientists at the bench paints a different picture. Throughout January and February, I would wake up each morning to review the latest information coming out of China.”  Hotez details the  new discoveries their researchers made concerning relationship to the SARS-1, host cell receptors, etc.
    The heavy deluge of politically-driven anti-science, mainly in the U.S. but also found in portions of Europe, drove Hotez to write “The Deadly Rise of Anti-science: A Scientist's Warning” in 2023. Having been targeted for his science views, he details the fuller range of anti-science propaganda. Hotez also details how science calculates that over 200,000 deaths from COVID-19 were due to lack of vaccination due to anti-science propaganda.

    The Roman Inquisition penalized Galileo. Stalin’s science condemned Vavilov and colleagues to death. Modern-day anti-science has again risen. And many U.S. and state legislators are now leaders in anti-science.