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Denial of Science is Killing Us

United States Death toll due to COVID-19, 1  on 3/1/2020
United States Death toll due to COVID-19, 4,079  on 4/1/2020
United States Death toll due to COVID-19, 63,006 on 5/1/2020
United States Death toll due to COVID-19, 100,000 on 5/26/2020 and counting..

We are in the middle of a global pandemic, a cold virus gone viral. The death toll due to Covid-19 is rising everyday.  May isn’t even over and we have already crossed  100,000 deaths in the United States alone.

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The virus has bought the whole world to it knees. Almost no one alive today has seen an epidemic on this scale. So paranoia is running amok even among people who should know better. The closest parallel is the Spanish Flu that swept the globe almost a hundred years ago. First it was China and then it was Italy and now we are at the eye of this storm. So far our response has been anything but surefooted. States are scrambling to get medical supplies while the federal response has been halting and inadequate to combat the scale of the unfolding disaster. A microscopic virus invisible to the naked eye has brought the behemoth of the global economy to a complete standstill.

But was this inevitable? The federal response to the pandemic has been guided more by wishful thinking and posturing than by hard scientific data. What explains all the missteps and the fits and starts to combat this pandemic?  At the heart of this unfolding tragedy is the scientific and numerical illiteracy that plagues our society, from ordinary citizens to the President. Climate change deniers, anti-vaxxers and people who believe that the earth is flat have been proliferating  for sometime now. Some of them have ascended to the highest positions of power. Isaac Asimov said it better than I ever could in his 1980 essay.

The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.- Isaac Asimov

This cult of ignorance is proving costly to our health as the death toll keeps rising due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Infectious diseases experts have been warning about a pandemic at the scale of the 1918 flu pandemic for a while now. The President and his team had been warned by experts as far back as January that a catastrophe was looming. They knew yet they did nothing. They disregarded the scientific consensus about the virus just like they have disregarded the scientific consensus about climate change.

One look at the graph of the exponential spread of infection should have scared anyone. Unfortunately for us some one didn’t pay attention in their high school math class or their intelligence briefings for that matter.

People who disregard science forget one thing, you don’t have to believe in science for it to be true. The laws of nature work whether or not you believe in them. The earth’s gravitational acceleration is g =9.8 m/s2  even if you think that the earth is flat. Viruses can infect you even if you are an anti-vaxxer. But ignorance of science and math is not without consequence. People who promote falsehoods that vaccines cause autism are bringing back infectious diseases like measles which were considered eradicated. They also vote into office elected officials who deny climate change and twiddle their thumbs as a virulent virus ravages the nation. They gut budgets that fund our research infrastructure from the CDC to the NIH and NSF. They want to gut CDC funding during a pandemic. The research budgets which were trimmed because of sequestration (across the board funding cuts to the funding of government agencies to  enforce fiscal discipline enacted in 2012) never bounced back when the economy did. Gutting research funding while cutting taxes for the wealthy and corporations is like burning seed corn to have a party right now.

Everyone wants a vaccine for COVID-19 in a hurry now but scientific expertise and research excellence don’t happen in a day or even a year. There is no just-in-time research. It has to be funded generously and in a consistent manner so that people are willing to dedicate their lives to careers in science which for the most part is hard lonely work with little glory. And who else but the government can do this when the rewards, if they exist, are distant?

Investment in science  and math is essential for our very survival. This includes support for science and math education, K-12 and beyond and  robust federal funding for both pure and applied research. I hope that this pandemic has taught us that ignorance of science comes at a steep price, the price tag is 100,000 dead Americans and counting.

Bharat says not so fast Bharatiya Janata Party

Protests have roiled India over the weekend. The Bharatiya Janata Party has become the Bharat Jalao Party (Burn India Party). Last week the Citizenship Amendment Bill become the Citizenship Amendment Act. According to the bill minorities from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan will be eligible for refugee status. The bill excludes Muslims. Neither does it cover  Tibetan or  Sri Lankan refugees.

The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 of the Parliament of India amended the Citizenship Act of 1955 providing a path to Indian citizenship for religious minorities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.[2] The intended religious minorities were explicitly listed as Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians, raising concerns that Muslims were being marginalised.[2] The beneficiaries had to have entered India on or before 31 December 2014, and should have faced “religious persecution or fear of religious persecution” in their countries of origin.[a] The Act also relaxed residence requirement for naturalization from 11 years to 5 years for these migrants.[
status. This bill along with the BJP’s government’s plan to construct a National Register of Citizens portends doom for India’s 100 million plus Muslim population. BJP had tried to pass it in an earlier session of the Parliament but it died because they didn’t
have the numbers to pass it through the upper House, Rajyasabha. But after gaining a imposing majority in the Loksabha in the last elections, this time around many smaller parties decide to go along with the BJP agenda in the Rajyasabha this time and the bill passed both the Houses easily.

The India of my childhood is being dismantled by the BJP. In  our textbooks there used to be a Pledge.

 

India is my country and all Indians are my Brothers and Sisters. I love my country and I am proud of its rich and varied heritage. I shall always strive to be worthy of it.
I shall give respect to my parents, teachers and all the elders and treat everyone with courtesy.
To my country and my people, I pledge my devotion. In their well being and prosperity alone, lies my happiness

Even as a child it seemed hopelessly naïve and idealistic to me. And  God knows we did not live up to that ideal always but that was a worthy ideal to strive towards. The agenda of BJP, is the agenda of the RSS (Rashrtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh)  or Sangh , the political off shoot of the black hats and brown shorts wearing all male volunteer organization is antithetical to both the pledge and the preamble to the Indian Constitution.

The Sangh’s plan for India has always been clear, to rid India of its religious minorities, especially its Muslims or relegate them to an inferior or a secondary status. Their ideology asserts that if India becomes a Hindu Rashtra, all its problems will vanish into thin air. When the BJP was able to form a government on their own strength after the general elections last May, I knew that their long awaited ideological project would gather full steam.

It started with Kashmir by taking away the  statehood of India’s only Muslim majority state, changing the criteria of which refugees can become citizens is the logical next step. What comes after this is the National Citizenship Register, whereby one has to prove their citizenship. The NRC has been applied to the northeastern state of Assam with disastrous consequences, making over a million Indians stateless. You don’t have to be an expert on Indian politics to know who is the target of these actions.

 

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To this murder of the Indian Constitution, not so fast say the students and ordinary citizens of India. Protests have gathered steam all across India including on college and university campuses and elsewhere.

 

mamtabanerjee

The woman in white is Mamata Banerjee the Chief Minister of West Bengal

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More pictures of protests here

Dare I hope that these protests quell the orange tide that threatens to drown India. Watch this space for more on this developing story. If you have questions please leave them in the comments.

Note: Whataboutery and dehumanizing comments will not tolerated.