Albert Einstein said, “the important thing is not to stop questioning,” but something strange and unhealthy has unfolded before our eyes during the pandemic. It has become commonplace to see people shamed and even cast out of their social networks for simply asking questions about decisions made by our public health and elected officials. This phenomenon of dismissing and even smearing people as “anti-vax” or “anti-science” for simply asking questions or raising concerns is not only unsettling but also counterproductive. Shame is the least effective way to persuade people that you are right and they are wrong. It is not a way to move the ball forward.
Some of us have more inquiring minds than others. We simply aren’t satisfied with “because the CDC says so.” Let’s remember, the CDC also tells us to cook all meat well done and have children wear hats and sunglasses at recess. How many people do you know that order their burgers well done? Or wear sunglasses during a heated game of kickball in 3rd grade? There has long been a consensus in this country that asking questions and following a “trust but verify” strategy is not only wise but essential. That consensus seems to have evaporated under the weight and polarization of COVID-19. Now we see local and national examples of reasonable and fair questions being ignored, silenced and even ridiculed.
Remember when anyone who gave an ounce of credence to the lab leak theory was censored on social media and looked upon with disdain? Fast forward and Dr. Anthony Fauci has now admitted the virus could have leaked from the lab. That only happened because people kept asking questions.
To add a bit of potentially helpful context here, I write this column as a fully vaccinated person. I only share that so readers don’t assume something about me that isn’t true. But far too many people, especially when they are online, plug their ears and ignore these types of relevant truths. They are so blinded by their own moral certainty that anyone who asks questions or expresses skepticism becomes the enemy.
During a public health crisis, the public needs and deserves answers to basic questions. I have some questions that have been rattling around in my head, and perhaps they are ones that you have as well:
I’d like to know why we’ve decided to force vaccination on people (and potentially fire them!) if they are already protected by natural immunity.
I want to better understand why public health officials in the United Kingdom came to such different conclusions than the U.S. about masking children under age 12.
I’d like to hear an explanation of Rhode Island’s decision to quarantine students who are “close contacts” for 10 days while providing no access to remote instruction.
From an ethical perspective, can we even justify booster shots for older people in high-income countries such as ours when 3.5 billion people still have not gotten a first dose?
Is there any chance we may shift to a one-dose strategy for kids?
Every decision made during this pandemic has come with trade-offs, and it only makes sense to ask ourselves which of these trade-offs ultimately made sense and which ended up doing more harm than good. Efforts to discourage or silence those questions are a major red flag in my book.
Sanzi is the director of outreach at Parents Defending Education and a former educator and school committee member. She writes at Sanzi.substack.com.