Science has been thrown into the national spotlight since 2020, as has National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci, a man who would otherwise be relatively if not absolutely unknown to the general American public.
Even common folk like a mom of 4 who teaches kids to cook now know him down to his Catholic upbringing, and we’ve all expanded our vocabulary to include words like “spike protein,” “viral load,” and “herd immunity.”
I was honored to speak at a TEDx event this summer, encouraging parents to raise children who become critical thinkers, a topic never more important than in this moment.
When I heard the breadth and focus of expertise of my fellow speaker, my heart quickened.
He’s a renowned researcher who has studied the effect of air pollution on the heart, figured out how to create chemicals needs for Covid testing kits in his lab when the supply chain broke down during the pandemic, and has proven that more serious COVID-19 symptoms occur in e-cigarettes users. I couldn’t wait to learn more from him.
I wanted him to tell me something I didn’t know about the virus, the testing process, or the vaccine.
A part of me yearned for him to convince me that I was wrong, and that I needed to see a new perspective on the whole pandemic and the government’s requests. If anyone could do that, it would be this extremely intelligent, kind, Midwestern PhD with whom I was suddenly a happenstance peer.
I wanted him to say something that I couldn’t stop thinking critically about over the next few days.
And he did, when I asked just the right question.
Let’s Understand Science Better
Backstage in the green room, he was having an academic conversation with another speaker about how science has been vaulted into the national conversation, and I couldn’t help listening.
“What people don’t understand about science,” he said, “is that it’s always changing. You have to follow the data, to adapt.” This was also a strong theme in his fascinating TEDx talk, and he followed up with a somewhat related example:
“When people say that vaccine was rushed, they don’t understand that the technology has been worked on for 20 years. It was just finally able to be completed because of the huge influx of money.”
And he would know.
He’s been invited to the White House to speak to both Barack Obama and Donald Trump while each was president of the United States, and he described President Obama as “wise, insightful, a great listener, really interested in learning.”
My interest piqued, my questions began to multiply. I set my mind on talking to this longtime friend of “Tony Fauci” at the after party, and I was thrilled to arrive just after him and join his family at a standing table.
We commiserated on the atrocity that Stanford University scientists formulated “new and improved” e-cigarettes by shifting the pH, specifically making them more palatable to our youth. Teens were then plunged into an epidemic of their own with 25% of high school seniors using.
I told him I wanted to stamp my foot and jump up and down, throwing a proper toddler-style tantrum in righteous anger when he shared that info in his TEDx, yelling, “Scientists should know better!”
He gravely acknowledged that even science tips toward money, and marketing has always been this way.
See – I trust science.
I just don’t always trust the human beings communicating the science.
The possibility that someone’s money has paid for the science.
The policies made after human beings interpret the science.
Finally, we ended up directly next to each other after the table jostled when we returned from a trip to dispose of plates and utensils and get, “Hey, one more!” from the bar.
He asked about my YouTube channel, and we chatted about how content creators monetize online. His university is very strict about researchers making zero outside income in any way, which I appreciated. “You’d have to disclose that at the bottom of every single journal article, right?” I asked, to which he replied, “They pretty much own us.“
I was just ready to jump into my first burning question about the pandemic, eager to hear from an NPR correspondent on the virus, an expert, a real scientist who followed the data and at one point was creating 15,000 COVID-19 test kits per day in his lab-turned-production-facility.
That was when he chose to say, “I’m just so tired of talking about it!”
The Questions I Asked Anyway
I’m not one to be intimidated, though, and I said that I did have one question, and he could feel free to tell me to stuff it if he didn’t want to answer.
He graciously accepted my query about his comfort level to travel and be un-masked in a crowded social situation. (I refrained from including the bit in my head about how his actions went against his friend Dr. Fauci’s official recommendations even for vaccinated individuals.)
Why are You Comfortable with Travel and Large Un-Masked Groups?
“Well, I’m fully vaccinated and boostered,” he said, reacting to my surprise about boosters even being available in early August 2021. “I work in a hospital, and I’ve had my antibodies tested multiple times. A level of 20 is considered protected, and mine are well into the 200s, so I’m good!” he grinned confidently.
He had also tested antibodies before being vaccinated and expressed deep astonishment that he had never caught the virus naturally, since all the college kids in his lab had contracted it (in social situations outside the lab) and the morgue was in the basement of his building. “The virus was surely in the airways, in the ventilation system…”
He tested antibodies, in spite of the fact that the FDA expressly recommended against that practice, both pre- and post-vaccination (sources: 1, 2). His scientist privilege allows him to feel entirely safe, even as the country is shocked to discover that these vaccines were never intended to prevent all infection, and many fully vaccinated Americans are landing in hospitals on COVID floors.
I couldn’t be waylaid by all my curiosity about the virus carousing in his university building’s airducts, because I needed to know about this “rushed science.”
I brought up what he said earlier in the green room, when he also revealed that he graduated with an NPR host who interviewed him regularly during the pandemic and was a close colleague with Kenneth Chien, co-founder of Moderna.
Was Vaccine Testing Rushed?
“I understand that the science wasn’t rushed, but what about the testing? Is it valid to say that we can’t know the long-term effects, simply because we haven’t had to time to study it?” I asked him.
He misunderstood my question and talked about long haul COVID, agreeing with me that yes, we sure don’t know everything about the long term, since it’s a brand new virus.
I corrected: “Yes, that makes sense, but what about the vaccine as well? Is it fair to question the fact that we don’t yet know long term effects, even if the science is sound? Can we say the testing was rushed because we just don’t know?”
Instead of mind-bending insight, I received…validation.
He was pretty quick to agree with me that yes, either way, virus or vaccine, it’s a gamble long term.
We don’t know what we haven’t yet been able to observe.
I’m glad he was comfortable with my use of the word “gamble,” because earlier in the day when we found out why one of our fellow speakers was absent, we weren’t speaking the same language.
You could feel the collective gasp when our incredible volunteer organizers shared that one speaker couldn’t make it because he had COVID-19. Standing next to our lone PhD in the group, I was the one to whom he directed his comment: “That’s ironic.”
I doubled my gasp and couldn’t think of anything to say other than, “I don’t know if it’s ironic, but it’s terribly sad.”
My heart went out to this man I didn’t know who had the courage and dedication to apply for something on thousands of unrealized bucket lists, was accepted, had to wait a full year when our event was postponed, worked dozens of hours perfecting his talk, and then couldn’t participate.
But he’s a scientist, not a writer, I thought, maybe he didn’t use the word correctly. After all, the only words he could come up with to describe speaking in front of President Trump were: “He fell asleep while I was talking.”
Later I realized after much contemplation that perhaps he meant that it was “ironic” for someone to contract a “vaccine-preventable” disease that one can so easily avoid. Perhaps he censored himself from saying, “Served him right.”
Or maybe I’m being unfair. I can’t know what his intent was with the comment. I do know he fully expected that anyone unvaccinated should wear a mask in large groups, like the one at which we were speaking shoulder to shoulder over apps and drinks.
I do know he has a cousin he “can’t even talk to” because she refuses to get vaccinated.
His disgust was palpable, and I wish the photographer would have caught a shot of my face at the moment of his revelation.
I can’t even guess if I veiled my true reaction well enough, realizing how opposite our views were and wondering if that would become clear soon.
Here’s the thing:
I’m a writer, not a statistician.
And he’s a scientist, not a mathematician.
But still, I would have thought it obvious: If 57% of American adults were vaccinated the week before we stood on a windy rooftop venue, simple probability says that quite a handful of people around him were unvaccinated.
He already knew I’m Catholic. (Not that that means as much as it should, thank-you-very-much Mr. “Catholic in word but not policy” President.)
He heard (and complimented) my TEDx speech, which outed me as skeptical of mainstream medicine.
As a scientist, I would have expected him to be constantly observing, playing detective with information like my brain does.
I expected him to question assumptions, only rely on facts, and be ready to adapt if something wasn’t as anticipated.
Yet he clearly spoke as if there was 100% chance I was a fully vaccinated Democrat.
The odds were against him.
I despise politics.
It was as if he was playing right along with the theme of the last chapter book my kids listened to on our long drives: Sometimes you only see what you already know.
I didn’t set him straight.
Why Should I Get the Vaccine?
Instead, I used a strategy from another speaker, who taught us that afternoon how to have great conversations. I asked an open-ended question.
“So, IF your cousin was using logic, what would you say as a scientist to convince her to get the vaccine?”
I felt like I landed upon the perfect question.
Now I had opened the Pandora’s Box.
Now I would get my insider information.
Now I would hear what I’d been waiting to hear, something that would convince me to make the jump, get the poke, and feel as protected as my new PhD cohort was.
I could feel in my bones that it was a monumental question and would get me what I wanted.
Maybe it was the alcohol talking – was it a Captain and Coke, or Diet Coke, in his hand? His second, maybe third…but in my experience, a man of his girth should take more than that to lose judgment and speak too much.
He leaned closer, his vaccinated, antibody-ridden face a mere 12 inches from my own potentially-infested nasal passages, and I caught my breath, anticipating the wisdom that would capture my attention for days.
In barely an undertone with little regard to the 10-year-old entrepreneurs selling lemonade just behind us, he said:
“I’d say, ‘Get the f&*%ing vaccine.’”
Them’s fightin’ words.
And I haven’t been able to stop them from replaying in my mind, dozens of times in 24 hours.
But Doc, tell your friend Tony that it’s exactly that attitude that won’t win any wars, any battles, or convince the educated unvaccinated American public.
Those who, in the true sense of the word ironic, filled a data set of 100% of the people he didn’t already know at the table of 7.
I wanted science.
I yearned for learning, to have my eyes opened about this vaccine.
Sadly, instead I learned that even scientists are human and may not always be able to choose to use logic over emotion.
Note: This article was published with permission from the PhD scientist, who really is very kind and gracious! He read the whole thing, edited one factual error I had, and gave his blessing. I wouldn’t have shared this story if it was untrue, unkind, or would potentially put his job in jeopardy.
As you might have ascertained by now, I’ve done a lot of my own research on a host of health issues, the C and the V included.
In the spring, my husband asked me to put together an organized document of quality sources so that if he’s questioned about his position on the V, he can intelligently answer. Ok, he might not have said “organized,” because he knows me, but he was hoping for something he could follow at least…
I mentioned it in an email to my Kitchen Stewardship® community and asked offhand, “Would anyone like to take a peek at that, even if I don’t have time to organize and annotate it like a post?”
Over 100 responses came in!
But with my own kids finishing school and playing Little League, the Kids Cook Real Food summer camp, and preparing for my TEDx talk in August, I couldn’t even find a few hours to make it shareable.
All that is over now, so I scraped together a few work days and decided to present it live, like a chat with a friend walking through the document.
You can watch the recording and get a list of allllll the links if you’re interested in
(a) having some “organized” info to intelligently support your own decision reasoning
(b) learning from a non-mainstream-media source about current research as you wrestle with your own decision
(c) feeling like you’re not alone if you don’t want to take sides and yell at other people.
Join the KS community and you get to be a part of it all:
Please keep in mind that I’m not a doctor, nurse, scientist, CDC employee, or politician. I’m just a mom who reads a lot, cares about her kids and all of humanity, and still doesn’t know if she’s making the right decision. I explain what I’ve learned so far, just like I would for my husband so he can hang out with his buddies who might ask him questions about his decision.
PS – To address all the skeptics, who are WELCOME here – you’re among friends.
- Some will say that because I have ads on my site and/or affiliates, they won’t listen to a thing I say. Great. Don’t watch. This is my family business and (a) I will spend more on Zoom than these ads will possibly make me, and (b) it’s a lot riskier to to my business to do a webinar on you-know-what than if I just stayed in my lane and talked about food. I don’t even have anything to sell at the end. But if you believe it’s about profit, go find another source. It’s a big Internet.
- Some will say that because I don’t have any science/medical degree, they don’t want to listen to me. Please, go somewhere else.
- Some will say that I shouldn’t password-protect some of my more controversial posts, that I should own what I believe and be up front with it. To be clear, anyone who is in my KS community (i.e. on my email list for free) can read and share password-protected posts with others. They’re protected from the eyes of search engines and big tech who pretty much determine how much traffic I get (which has been slashed by about 70% in the last few years). So I’m not hiding from humans, just overly powerful computer programs who like to censor things.