Dr. Fauci just announced his retirement in December from his National Institutes of Health leadership posts, and presumably his position as chief medical advisor to the president. This would barely be a blip on the news radar screen usually, but not for Dr. Fauci.
The Wall Street Journal editorial board says Fauci has led the NIAID since 1984, and his personal research contributions are impressive. He first became known to the public during the early years of the AIDS epidemic, and his agency was an early backer of the mRNA technology that became the platform for two Covid vaccines.
Alas, he should have quit while he was ahead. Like several of the Hebrew kings of the Old Testament, including Saul, Hezekiah and Uzziah, Fauci started well but finished poorly. He let pride influence his judgment and his legacy will forever suffer as a result.
WSJ says the main legacy of his 38-year tenure will be as the public face of government during the Covid pandemic, for better and for worse. His reassuring authority won acclaim in the early weeks of the pandemic as Americans struggled to make sense of the threat. “Fifteen days to slow the spread,” he famously said in March 2020, and the Trump Administration and America picked up his refrain. But two weeks would stretch to two years, and policy recommendations would change with shifts in the political winds more than new scientific evidence.
Fauci and a host of public-health experts used their authority to lobby for broad economic lockdowns that we now know were far more destructive than they needed to be and caused far more harm than can be justified in any circumstance. He lobbied for mask and vaccine mandates that were far less protective than his assertions to the public. His influence was furthermore enhanced because he had an echo chamber in the press corps and among public elites who disdained and ostracized dissenters.
Science is supposed to be about public debate. You put up your scientific theory, based on your scientific data, and other scientists support or refute your conclusions based on theirs. But Fauci wouldn’t tolerate debate. In response to criticism, Fauci replied, “It’s easy to criticize, but they’re really criticizing science because I represent science.” The hubris in that statement is hard to swallow and represents the antithesis of scientific debate.
The integrity of some of his statements also came into question due to his conflicts of interest. WSJ says, “A flagrant example was Dr. Fauci’s refusal even to consider that the novel coronavirus had originated in a lab at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China. This may have been because the NIH had provided grant money to the nonprofit EcoHealth Alliance, which helped fund “gain of function” virus research at the Wuhan Lab. In a semantic battle with Republicans, Dr. Fauci denied that the NIH funded such research. But his refusal even to consider the possibility that the virus started in a Wuhan lab showed that Dr. Fauci was as much a politician as a scientist.”
Even worse, Fauci smeared other scientists who disagreed with him. The Great Barrington Declaration, founded by acclaimed scientists Jay Bhattacharya of Stanford University, Martin Kulldorff of Harvard University, and Sunetra Gupta of Oxford University opposed blanket lockdowns and endorsed a strategy of “focused protection” on the elderly and those at high risk. It has now been signed by over 930,500 epidemiologists, physicians, and healthcare workers. Yet Fauci and others in government worked to deride that alternative so it never got a truly fair public hearing. “There needs to be a quick and devastating published take down of its premises,” NIH Director Frances Collins wrote to Dr. Fauci. He made sure that others got the message as well.
WSJ says the costs of that mindset have been severe, and not merely economic. We know now that states that locked down fared no better, and sometimes worse, than those that didn’t. (read California v. Florida Showdown) We also know that the vaccines, while invaluable against serious disease, don’t prevent the spread of Covid- even after multiple boosters. Even President Biden recently contracted the disease despite two booster shots and the maximal Covid protection that only a president of the U.S. can enjoy.
In announcing the departure of Dr. Fauci, President Biden recently said, “Whether you’ve met him personally or not, he has touched all Americans’ lives with his work.” That may be true, but more honest candor would have been better for America’s trust in public-health authorities. His legacy, unfortunately, will be that millions of Americans will never trust government health experts in the same way again.