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Thistlethwaite: A crisis of trust

 Will Americans be able to get access to accurate data on the coronavirus spread in the future, now that the Trump administration has directed that hospitals no longer send their data on coronavirus patients to the Centers for Disease Control, but to them at Health and Human Services?

I know I am deeply suspicious that we will not, and I suspect this is a political ploy on the part to of this administration to hide the extent of the growing pandemic.

The Trump administration suffers from a crisis of trust of its own making. Trump and his staff have lied about so much, and then lied about lying, that I, for one, no longer believe them about anything.

Here’s a case in point. Recently, there has been an attempt to undermine the credibility of Dr. Anthony Fauci, whom 67 percent of the American people (both Republican and Democrat) trust for accurate information on the pandemic, over Trump at 26 percent.

A Trump trade advisor, Peter Navarro, attacked Dr. Fauci earlier this week. The White House denied this was an effort to undermine this internationally recognized infectious disease expert. Dr. Fauci pushed back effectively, saying of the op-ed by Navarro, “It’s nonsense. It’s completely wrong. The whole thing is wrong. The whole thing is incorrect.”

But the pattern is there. Dr. Fauci is under attack because he gives the public accurate scientific information on the pandemic.  

In the absence of trust in this administration, therefore, what are we to make of the directive to change hospital coronavirus data reporting from the CDC to HHS?

Who is going to believe this Trump administration about the spread of the pandemic when they are clearly intent on politically interfering with the science? This data at HHS is “not open to the public” so this “could affect the work of scores of researchers, modelers and health officials who rely on C.D.C. data to make projections and crucial decisions.”

CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta said the change is “going to lead to more opaqueness” about coronavirus data. “What logic does this have, other than to take away the data from the epidemiologists that are the best in the world at looking at this data, making sense of it, translating it for people, versus giving it to HHS,” he asked on CNN’s “New Day” Wednesday morning.

Former CDC directors have slammed the Trump administration for “sowing confusion” amid the pandemic. They go on to warn that fighting the pandemic without listening to medical experts “is like fighting blindfolded.”

The American people, as well as researchers, are being blindfolded, and tragically, I think this the point of this move to control the data.

No, no, administration members protest, this just means the data will be processed much faster at HHS (except not accessible to the public). No, no, they say. We didn’t direct the attacks on Dr. Fauci. Sure. And if you believe that, I have a nice Mexican border wall in Colorado to sell you.

Defeating the coronavirus requires scientific fact, social responsibility and total transparency. For that to happen, we need to be able to trust what is being said. Otherwise, we will not get out of this cascading catastrophe.

But the repeated lying, and lying about lying, erodes the social cohesion that leads to social responsibility and it leads to a crisis of trust in scientific fact that impedes crucial public health action.

We have a shortage of trust in science and a shortage of social responsibility. Why? Because Donald Trump is more focused on his re-election than on the health and welfare of the American people.

Trump and his enablers have lost the culture war on masks. The death of (as of this writing) nearly 150,000 Americans and the illness of close to 3.5 million has been the tsunami of reality that has overtaken the mask wars.

So, I believe the lying has changed direction. Now the culture wars will be about the actual numbers of those who are sick or who have died.

Trust is a fragile thing. I have taught about trust as a graduate school professor for many years. Both religion and philosophy ask these fundamental questions: Am I alone and what can I trust?

Tragically, this administration is destroying our trust in one another and in science. The promotion of extreme social polarization has led to an erosion of community, and constant lying and lying about lying has eroded trust in science and in government.

I also believe this move by the Trump administration to take control of the data on coronavirus infections and deaths will backfire, just as the culture wars on mask-wearing did.

Will you trust data on the coronavirus as reported by this administration?

I won’t. I’ve been lied to far too often.

And without accurate data, we in the U.S. will be making plans in the dark about what we need to do to reverse the spread of the pandemic.


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