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Hastings Center News

Dr. Fauci on Public Trust in Science

Dr. Anthony Fauci and Mildred Solomon explored the ethical issues raised by the erosion of trust in science in a virtual discussion hosted by The Hastings Center on November 19. The nation’s top infectious diseases official and the Hastings president looked at how we can improve public understanding of complex scientific issues in this highly polarized, fraught time.

Following the recent announcements that two Covid-19 are about 95 percent effective, Fauci and Solomon discussed the proper balance between safety and speed in the development of vaccines and new therapeutics. Specifically, in the speed to develop these and other vaccines, should people be concerned that there was a sacrifice of safety?

Fauci asserted that the answer is no. “That speed itself is a reflection of scientific advances,” he said. “In other words, the technology of making a vaccine is not your grandfather’s technology.” He also spoke about the process of deciding whether or not a vaccine works. Before a vaccine can be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, he said, it is evaluated by an independent monitoring board “beholden to no one, not to the President, not to the [drug] company.”

Solomon pointed out that the messaging will be important, especially because even once vaccinated, people still will need to wear masks and socially distance for some time to come. The event concluded with a discussion about public trust in science and experts. “You’re one of the most trusted experts in this country. What do you think accounts for that?” Solomon asked.

After quipping that the answer is for others to decide, Fauci gave a four-point answer: he bases his work on solid data and evidence, he is transparent, he is not aligned with any ideology or political position, and when he doesn’t know the answer to a question, he says so.   

 The event is part of The Hastings Center’s series, Securing Health in a Troubled Time.

This event was made possible by funding from the John S. & James L. Knight Foundation and by the Gil Omenn & Martha Darling Initiative for Trusted and Trustworthy Scientific Innovation.

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