B.C. Daurelle Olivia Wood Pandemic

Capitalists Only “Trust the Science” When It Suits Their Agenda

Trusting science should not mean trusting in the benevolence of the ruling class.
Image: The New Yorker, 2017

By Olivia Wood and B.C. Daurelle / Left Voice

During the Trump presidency, slogans like “Facts Matter” and “#BelieveTheScience” abounded. The idea was that, unlike the outright denial espoused by Republicans, Democrats recognize basic scientific truths about the world, such as the existence of climate change and the dangers of Covid-19. Because they “take science seriously,” it’s implied, Democrats will propose and enact more scientifically-informed policies. It’s been a year since Joe Biden took office on the promise that his respect for science would manifest in more rational policy solutions. So, now is a good time to ask: how’s that going?  

“Follow the science” was an effective campaign slogan during the Trump years, but it was only ever a slogan. On September 20, 2020, Joe Biden tweeted, “Unlike Trump, I’ll listen to the experts and heed their advice — especially when it comes to matters of health and safety.” Now, apparently, “there is no federal solution,” and “nobody could have predicted” the Omicron variant. Biden “wish[es he] had thought about ordering” millions of tests in advance of the holiday. This is a pack of lies. Public health experts presented Biden with a plan for handling the holiday surge by ramping up production and distribution of tests back in October, which was rejected. Instead of taking any meaningful federal action, he wished unvaccinated people a very merry “winter of severe illness and death,” a salutation which also presumably extends to the 20 million children under the age of 5 who couldn’t get vaccinated. 

As B.C. Daurelle and K.S. Mehta wrote at the end of last year, the entire world could be vaccinated in a matter of months, if Biden chose to exercise his existing legal powers to release the formulas and manufacturing techniques of mRNA vaccines. Biden’s refusal to do so shows just how little “trust in the science” his administration actually has. Their hyperfocus on vaccine mandates for workers in the U.S. gives away the game: keeping the U.S. economy up and running at all costs. 

Similarly, in New York, the city government constantly stresses the importance of getting tested, maintaining at least six feet of distance from others, and staying home if you feel sick; yet more than one million K-12 students, plus school employees, are being forced back into crowded classrooms with few safety precautions. Despite the Department of Education’s promises of robust surveillance testing, less than 5 percent of all students are actually being tested each week. The CDC has whittled down the recommendation for distancing from six to three feet just to allow schools to operate at higher capacity. Even with such limited testing, the positivity rate among NYC public school students in the first week of January was nearly 13 percent. New York City mayor Eric Adams, another Democratic champion of “the Science,” has admitted that numbers have been kept low by testing fewer students. The characteristically blunt new mayor is more frank than most about why schools need to stay open: “Parents can’t keep their children home. They have to work.”

Governments ignoring their own public health recommendations is only the most obvious sign that “follow the science” almost never means an actual commitment to policy-making based on material reality. “The Science” itself is politically compromised, because scientific research is subject to the same capitalist pressures as the rest of the economy, as Clifford D. Conner demonstrates in The Tragedy of American Science. Science imagined as a field of pure, unrestricted inquiry, floating free from any political context, is a fantasy— one that the Democratic Party, in particular, wants to sell to its voting base. But science exists in the material world— it is done by real people, working within institutions and networks that are all shaped by capitalist society. Socialists have a particular responsibility to continuously draw attention to the way that notions of scientific credibility and objectivity are inevitably perverted under capitalism, and to point to a better alternative. If the fullest benefits of science for human flourishing are to be realized, it needs to be removed from the influence of capitalists and their governments.

Science is shaped by politics

Political realities shape science from its very earliest stages. The process of becoming a researcher is steeped in class-based gatekeeping and capitalist indoctrination, as described by Mike Pappas with regards to medical students; similar pressures apply to all scientific programs through which expertise and credentials are earned. Particularly in the natural sciences, graduate students gain much of their experience working on projects initiated by established researchers, which severely limits the potential for new lines of inquiry.

More broadly, even the purview of established researchers’ work are delimited by what research can get funding. The source and motives for funding inevitably shapes the direction and outcomes of research. In the past half-century, the funding of high-level science has gone from almost an exclusive purview of government, to today’s arrangement, wherein government funds basic research and then allows corporations to patent and profit off of market-ready technologies. While many are nostalgic for that earlier era, its technical achievements were overwhelmingly driven by military interests whose exclusive goal was ensuring U.S. hegemony. Mainstay technological and scientific achievements credited to the era of government-backed research, like the Space Program, the internet, and VR technologies, all grew out of projects with explicitly militaristic ends. 

By contrast, today’s paradigm — more reliant on funding from companies and foundations— puts the quest for profit more directly at the heart of what drives scientific research. Particularly since the passage of the Bayh-Dole Act in 1980, even research universities have become incentivized to behave more like profit-seeking corporations, particularly in the life sciences. For instance, serious diseases that affect only a handful of people are less likely to be researched than mild illnesses that affect many people. Many of these are not baffling medical mysteries; it’s simply that funding isn’t available to study them. For similar reasons, HIV/AIDS research was a non-starter during the crisis of the 1980s, when AIDS afflicted mainly poor and non-white people. Faced with inaction from the CDC and FDA, members of ACT-UP formed the “Treatment and Data” group, which took the research into their own hands as much as possible given their limited resources. Ironically, the mRNA vaccines for Covid-19 were built using technologies that were originally developed for use against HIV.

Even the story of the Covid vaccines—touted as a miracle of scientific achievement— bears the taint of for-profit science. Early in the pandemic, there was a brief glimmer of optimism in the medical sciences: the enormity of the crisis might allow profit-seeking motives to be set aside, in the interests of unbridled scientific collaboration. But before this model could bear fruit, the shadowy villain of vaccine imperialism itself, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, stepped in to squash the effort. In its place, the Gates’ intervention produced the COVAX project, which is firmly rooted in existing IP and patent protections, ensuring gigantic profits for the private developers of vaccines, and virtually guaranteeing today’s misallocation of vaccines across the global color line.

The Misuses of Science

Even when ‘good’ research is done, the products of that research still exist in a social milieu: not all research or results see the light of day in publication and distribution. That information must still navigate a web of entities with vested interests in the ‘outcomes’ of science. Often, when a study uncovers information that certain entities (the funding agency, the university, the government, corporations in a particular industry) don’t like, they bury or discredit the study. For example, Katherine M. Flegal has been the victim of a 15-year-long campaign to discredit her research demonstrating that being “overweight” is not actually a risk factor for health. Some resistance to her work comes from the weight loss and health insurance industries, but some of it also comes from another classic abuser of “science”: Big Tobacco. When analyzing the data from another study, Flegal found that some of the perceived risks of obesity were actually due to smoking, which had not been accounted for in the original study. 

And, of course, corporations are perfectly capable and willing to fund their own studies, often laundered through partnerships with prestigious universities, to produce results tailored to serve a particular narrative. Even a smattering of evidence that casts doubt on an inconvenient scientific consensus—like the health risks of smokingor anthropogenic climate change—is a powerful weapon that corporations can use to justify nearly anything with an appeal to “science.” 

Even when new findings are made public, opportunistic misinterpretations of the findings, and even outright misinformation, abound. ‘”Scientific illiteracy” forms a structural pillar of capitalist social organization, much more wide-spread and pernicious than simple, outright science denial. Many well-educated people rely on selectively curated misunderstanding, misrepresentation, or denial just to keep doing their jobs. To take just one example, politicians like Lori Lightfoot have repeatedly appealed to studies showing the psychological harms of school closures on children to justify keeping in-person schools open at any cost. The point is not that the science they cite is any less real or reliable than the data showing the spread of Omicron, but that politicians have already settled on a desired policy outcome, and they choose which “science” to rely on accordingly. The unacknowledged political imperative, prior to and overriding any scientific considerations, is that the economy must remain open. It is therefore convenient for capitalists and bourgeois politicians to frame the issue as an unavoidable trade-off between two bad options, foreclosing any consideration of alternative solutions that are equally “scientifically” viable but less in line with  the interests of capital. 

Acknowledging the inherently political character of science is the first step towards challenging the misuse of scientific authority. When politicians tell us to “Trust the Science!”, they perform a rhetorical sleight-of-hand that dresses a narrow set of class interests in the garb of scientific objectivity. “Trust science” should not mean trusting in the benevolence of the ruling class or its governments. In this era of crises, “taking science seriously” necessitates rescuing it from the imperatives of capital. We saw early in the pandemic that researchers, scientists, and workers are able and willing to direct research and production towards the needs of people, rather than their bosses’ profits. We can daily see the fundamentally collaborative and humanist impulse of actual scientists being stifled by the interests of profit, and we can measure its cost in lives, including every life lost because “progressive” politicians like Biden refuse to waive patent protections for the “miracle” mRNA Covid vaccines. And this is only a preview of what’s to come: the challenges of mitigating and adapting to climate change are even more impossible for profit-driven science to address. This is why socialists must take up the mantle of science. We have to contest the ideological grounds on which “following the science” is said to lead to particular policy outcomes, and expose the conflicting interests at work. Most importantly, we urgently need control over the powers and potential of science to be taken away from the bourgeoisie, and placed in the hands of researchers and scientists themselves.

Olivia Wood

Olivia is a writer and editor at Left Voice and an adjunct English lecturer in the NYC metropolitan area.

B.C. Daurelle

15 comments

    1. Embarrassed is what you get when you make a comment before reading the article. 🙂

      1. Why embarassed?

        We have a lot of work with this disaster capitalism, war mongering, and the left-right coalition to make profits by any means at their disposal. A good book here:

        Thanks to climate change, science and socialism have become entwined in ways previously unimaginable. Science brings the news that, unless we act swiftly to control climate change, we will inhabit a dying planet. Socialism traces the causes of this catastrophe to the destructive and chaotic growth model of capitalism and advocates for a different system. Meanwhile, sensing the source of danger to their profits, corporate and government reactionaries fuel disinformation campaigns to discredit science and confuse the public. This has been going on for years, with disastrous results.

        Ian Angus’ new book, A Redder Shade of Green, (red for socialist revolution, green for ecological revolution) is about the prospect of ecosocialism in the face of capitalist ecocide. Angus has written previously about the “Anthropocene,” a name for our era that emphasizes the centrality of human-influenced climate change. He does not accuse humanity as a whole of environmental destruction, but only a small sliver of humanity — the capitalist class, which has left a gigantic, planet-sized carbon footprint. Angus repeatedly stresses that billions of people have a negligible impact on climate change and that the overpopulation argument — which blames humanity as a whole for climate change — has been used to distract and undermine an effective, ecosocialist movement. The US military has a hugely destructive impact on the environment. So does ExxonMobil. The many citizens of Bangladesh, reeling from climate-change-exacerbated flooding, do not.

        So, what about the many environmentalists who believe a primary cause of climate change is that there are too many people on earth? Angus tries to persuade them otherwise. He observes that in the 1960s and 1970s, overpopulation was used to explain environmental degradation as well as poverty in the global south, thus providing a solution to two problems at once in a way that does not question capitalism. It took the likes of Rachel Carson, Murray Bookchin and Barry Commoner to initiate an environmentalism rooted in radical social critique, he writes, adding, “Their analysis was rejected by the traditional conservationists, the wealthy organizations and individuals whose primary concern was protecting the wilderness areas for rich tourists and hunters.” Indeed, it was the Sierra Club that financed Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb, a book heavily promoted by “liberal Democrats who correctly saw it as an alternative to the radical views of Carson, Commoner and Bookchin.” Angus adds that Ehrlich’s book “became a huge best-seller, and it played a central role in derailing radical environmentalism.” The population bombers faded away, but now they are back, shifting the environmental threat focus from corporations to people.

  1. Noticed, during David Brock’s “Correct The Record” stomp-down of all dissident voices, journalists & brave whistleblowers; trolls’ stopped bothering to hide Energy In Depth, Genetic Literacy Project, Canary Mission (oddly real-sounding) names & just cut & paste laughably blatant PR lies from Hill+Knowlton, Berman, Mrak Penn… K Street social networking advocacy firms, as any loyal, life-long Democrat sounding regular commenter was unceremoniously banned, all their comments removed. Like Bezos’ WaPo, Prop’RNot McCarthyism or The Resistance™ censorship of ANY “anti-fracking, TarSands, GE Monoculture, Uber, Ethane cracking, Glyphosate, LNG export… so we’d gotten down to a dozen or so websites, welcoming discussion of contradictory views, likely to harsh crisis capitalism’s feeding frenzy? COVID’s been a real eye opener after RussiaRussiaRussia with the same mRNA vaccines, very BAD under Trump, now the ONLY answer to force chronically PASC essential workers back to work, maskless, now uninsured, ill without sick-pay… or any way to recover usurious medical debts or keep from just infecting more loved-ones, coworkers or commuters, as PMC & retired yuppied all watched NASDAQ portfolios jump 120%, flipping serendipitously vacant apartments & harvesting W4 jobs (as Cuomo, Trump & de Blasio fed us to a virus & Hoschul, Joe and ALL media infect our kids as vectors & a lifetime of MIS-C, PASC, inflammatory circulatory organ damage; being fed LIES we’d known unquestionably BS for 21mos.

  2. Which part of STEM are we looking into, really? The “science” of artificial intelligence? The “science” of Vertual Reality? Computing? Which science do we go by? Just the petri dish and lab kind? Ecology? Integrated environmental systems scienes?

    This is the reality of those scientists —

    Beware — those cute little nerds are working hard on our digital gulag:

    Brazil initiated outreach around a digital government strategy in 2016 with a national strategy for internet of things deployment prepared by McKinsey was made public in 2019. As is the case with many nations pursuing e-government initiatives Covid lockdowns hastened implementation. In 2020 the United Nations E-Government Development Indexgave Brazil a very high rating, one of the top in the Americas lauding adoption of distance learning, track and trace technologies, tele-medicine, and remote work options.

    Officials participated in the UN’s “Roadmap for Digital Cooperation” effort, following the Estonia model, which was devised by stakeholders in 2018-19. Fabrizio Hochschild of Chile chaired. Beyond the UN agencies and world governments, representatives of dozens of influential companies, universities, and NGOs took part. Among them were Future of Life Institute, Alibaba, Microsoft, Mastercard, Ethereum, Gates Foundation, World Economic Forum, ARM, Cisco, Facebook, m-Pesa, Mozilla, Google, Graduate Institute of Geneva, Mitre, Verizon, UPenn, New America, DeepMind, Oxford Internet Institute, Ford Foundation, ICANN, and Omidyar Network. The report’s focus areas included: global connectivity, digital public goods, digital inclusion and data, digital help desks, digital human rights, artificial intelligence, global commitment on trust and security, and digital cooperation architecture. Brazil was assigned to Artificial Intelligence. Currently 45 million residents of Brazil are considered “digitally excluded.” The goal? Get everyone “connected” by 2030; no one “left behind.”

    The very early stages of digital identity in Brazil began two decades ago with the formation of ICP Brasil – Public Key Infrastructure whereby “digital signatures” are encrypted to authenticate transactions and make them legally valid. The intent was to advance transition to e-commerce and e-government. eIDs were first used for tax filing purposes and later for legal filings. In 2010 it was integrated into Civil Identity Registry with RFID chips as well as chipped passports. Digital identity research into public key infrastructure, including development of Ethereum smart contract university transcripts, is being carried out at the LabSec Computer Security Laboratory at the Federal University of Santa Catarina in Florianopolis.

    A year before the pandemic was announced McKinsey Global Institute released a report, “Digital Identification: A Key To Inclusive Growth,” that outlined economic potential for seven countries in the digital ID space, including Brazil. It was prepared in consultation with staff from the Rockefeller Foundation, Open Society, and Omidyar Network. Its findings were that 13% of Brazi’ls GDP could be unlocked once digital ID was imposed. Crisis-precipitated financial inclusion programs boosted millions of unbanked people into the digital economy. The month after the pandemic was announced, CEF (Caixa Economica Federal, the government-owned bank) offered emergency funds to citizens who registered through the DataPrev social welfare screening database and set up a phone-based digital bank account. That spring the government agency Serpro also rolled out a unified digital identity system app with QR codes that combined social security numbers with driver’s licenses and tax form submission.

    The shift to online education also created markets for digital proctoring software. Mastercard and AmigoEdu, an organization that manages entrance exams and scholarship applications, joined to promote Meu ID. KYC (Know Your Customer) biometric authentication company idwall provided infrastructure to link scans of driver’s licenses, facial recognition photos, and background checks onto one smart-phone app. Once a person has their authenticated app-based digital ID, the idea is they would be able to use that digital ID to hold non-education related credentials such as those for banking, travel, or age-limited purchases like alcohol.

    Two years ago, Brazil’s Central Bank CIP (Camara Interbancaria De Pagamentos) began working with IBM and Hyperledger to create a standardized blockchain Device ID. The system links the Brazilian Payment System with accounts that are authenticated with phone and behavioral biometric data. Important to note in reference to the paragraph regarding education authentication leaching over into banking – Dallas Greenlight Credentials also uses IBM and Hyperledger for blockchain education transcripts and mental health data. Device ID has the backing of the national bankers’ association, and Bradesco, the country’s largest bank launched the service in the summer of 2019.

    The Metaverse will run on blockchain, and it must be coded into reality. As I see it, those at the top intend to get low-income Black and Brown youth do much of that work – either through unwaged or low-wage labor. They will likely also coerce youth into self-financing the training to earn the right to do that work, creating new debt products like ISAs (income share agreements) and Career Impact Bonds to further enrich the puppet masters.

    The World Bank is a research partner on “Program Your Future,” a training initiative for “opportunity youth” run out of a community sports center, Vila Olimpica Clares Nunes. They will document the model to create a base of evidence demonstrating “positive social outcomes,” so the low-cost training program can be brought to scale. Similar types of programs cultivating this demographic are cropping up around the world, like a gamified phone-based employment app targeting vulnerable Arizona children as young as sixteen with digital nudges. The app scheduled for roll out in 2022 is being created by students at Arizona State University’s Smart City Innovation Center in collaboration with Amazon Web Services and client St. Joseph The Worker’s Mission in Phoenix.

    I predict app-based gig employment will ultimately be melded with online “lifelong learning” modules, since ASU is deeply involved in blockchain credentials and is rapidly moving forward with the dream of Michael Crow, ASU president and founding board chair of In-Q-Tel, to create a billion-person university. The Koch Foundation has been pouring money into expanding the school’s “trusted learner” network with “customized” learner journeys and mastery transcripts, all of which I expect will circle back around to data-mining to feed machine learning systems as we pressure the coming generations to remake the natural world as a militarized, synthetic counterfeit. The Center for Games and Impact at the university, which maintains close institutional ties with US defense interests, has developed a micro-credential-based “lifelong learning platform” called Thrivecast.

    https://wrenchinthegears.com/2022/01/23/fin-tech-digital-identity-and-e-government-in-brazil/

  3. reactionary right wing puritanism masquerading as thinking. vast evidence exists that obesity contributes to chronic disease—78% of Covid deaths in US are correlated w obesity. Japanese smoke tobacco by a magnitude of 3+ times more than Americans, are healthier and live an average of 10 years longer—little obesity in Japan.
    the misuse of science—cults like, Rolfing, mindfulness, etc, that 47% Americans profess belief in ghosts, that more than half, mainly liberals, believe astrology is scientific—“a metaphysic for dunces”( Adorno) suggests that Christopher Lasch is correct: “America requires a stupefied population”

    1. Few in Japan credit the government’s response to the coronavirus. Despite accelerating the vaccine rollout, Suga was generally seen as being indecisive and too concerned about the economic impact of social distancing. He quit in September after less than a year in office.

      And as was the case last year, media and scientific journals continue to publish hypotheses about an “x-factor,” some characteristic of Japan’s people or its environment that has helped it escape more serious COVID-19 damage.

      “One hypothesis is that there is something intrinsically different about the immune cells that the Japanese people might carry that is able to fight off the infection,” says Akiko Iwasaki, an immunologist at Yale University who, in a paper last year, tackled the question of “Why does Japan have so few cases of COVID-19?”

      In it, she mentions another hypothesis that says that a milder variant of the coronavirus was already circulating in Japan, giving some people immunity to SARS-CoV-2.

      Yet another theory, she adds, holds that the delta variant in Japan has mutated so that it has lost the ability to replicate, pushing itself toward extinction.

      Interesting as these hypotheses may be, Iwasaki says, “currently these are not proven theories.”

      “Even if the theories are right,” agrees Oka, “it is not possible for Japan to keep the country closed and blocked off to outsiders. This will not last forever. The reality is another wave will definitely come.”

      To keep out the omicron variant, Japan closed its borders to nonresident foreigners last month, after briefly easing such restrictions, and case numbers appear to be creeping back up.

    2. You need to check out Zack Bush. He disagrees with you. Need to regenerate the ag department and pull fossil fuels out. The chemicals are doing great harm.

      1. And stupefying us they are absolutely doing. Zack Bush. Some say we start with unions and support them. I say maybe, but I think we could resist in a very loud way by insisting upon and supporting local regenerative food sources and how such a tidal wave of support would reverberate across our waters, air, soils, and our health, and would aid communities and regions in becoming more resilient and strong into a harsh looking future. https://farmersfootprint.us/watch/

  4. If “Follow the Science” was (and still is) “only ever a slogan,” it’s all the more remarkable when people pretending to recognize as much continue to demonstrate, after almost two years of the most absurd and dictatorial displays of pseudoscience, complete indifference toward any investigation of actual science (probably in part a result of being at ground zero of medical martial law in NYC and apparently buying the sales pitches for tyranny there). To be sure, one of the consistent signs of the covidian cult has been pronouncements of propaganda with no more evidentiary basis than such corporate controlled science as Bill the Shill Science Guy (pictured above) or Pharmafia Don Fauci brings us in tv neverland.

    This uninformed manufacture of consent is a particularly acute occupational hazard among professional critics riding the coattails of corporate media, claiming leftish credentials, for instance, while keeping captive audience’s attention focused on the left-right routines of mainstream political theater, conditioning automatic definition of issues and identification of positions in their controlled terms. (Once again pointing to the professionalization of politics and replacement of organic with occupational intellectuals (Gramsci), via such corporate colonization of people’s movements as the NGO/nonprofit industrial complex and ruling class cultural institutions like the university, in order to construct controlled opposition of both left and right alternatives within a narrowly limited range.)

    One of the more disturbing signs of such advanced co-optation is that research past the panic porn and PR of the pseudopandemic remains relatively accessible, if one bothers to look beyond the propaganda system, and its massive and unprecedented censorship.* There in those terrortories for the well-trained and indoctrinated lie such admissions as the manufacturers themselves (historically convicted of massive corporate corruption) make of their own products.

    That these are, for example, like the fabled coronavirus itself, novel (non-)’vaccines’ or rather mRNA genetic editing administered at unprecedented scale to people, aka human lab rats, on an entirely experimental basis (in violation of both Hippocratic Oath and Nuermberg Code). Or that the rushed and aborted trials of these unproven medicines, shrouded in secrecy partly by reason of patent protection narrowly problematized here (also due to Operation Warp(ed) Speed’s control by the MIC deep state), claim to prove at most reduction of (flu-like) symptomatology with no conferral of immunity or non-transmissibility (even as accumulating FOIA-released documents demonstrate both the rigged nature and suppressed injuries and deaths of these trials).

    What we get here is sleight-of-hand misdirection from actual science into abstract, ahistorical theory of science, which applies its critique, such as it is, only so far as boilerplate criticism across echo chambers of the manufactured left of big, bad pharma and the profit system preventing more massive rollout of Frankenscience which bears greatest comparison with the so-called science of eugenics, especially given the philanthrocapitalism of the Gates Foundation, while showing not the least concern over falsified and draconian measures of ‘public health’ like lockdowns, far more lethal, especially along the “global color line,” than a false flag flu covering for a global capitalist coup.

    Apparently like any lie, brainwashing repetition of a slogan like “Follow the Science” (of compliance) is all it takes for some, or many, to gladly walk into totalitarian conditions where Ignorance Is Strength and 2=2=5, and where socialism becomes Ingsoc, leading the way into technocratic rule extinguishing the last remnants of any pretense of rule by we the people.

    *E.g., Over 1000 Scientific Studies Referencing Injuries and Deaths From CV V@XXhttps://zeromandatoryvaxx.com/2022/over-1000-scientific-studies-referencing-injuries-and-deaths-from-cv-vxx/.

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