Dr. Rick Bright resigns from the National Institute of Health

failed White House leadership

Dr. Rick Bright has resigned from the National Institute of Health on Wednesday, October 7, 2020. Here is his letter.

Of all the tools required for an effective U.S. response to the coronavirus pandemic, one that is sorely missing is the truth. Public health guidance on the pandemic response, drafted by career scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has been repeatedly overruled by political staff appointed by the Trump administration. Career scientists throughout the Department of Health and Human Services hesitate to push back when science runs counter to the administration’s unrealistically optimistic pronouncements.

Public health and safety have been jeopardized by the administration’s hostility to the truth and by its politicization of the pandemic response, undoubtedly leading to tens of thousands of preventable deaths. For that reason, and because the administration has in effect barred me from working to fight the pandemic, I resigned on Tuesday from the National Institutes of Health.

BARDA

Until April, I had for almost four years been director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority. When I strongly objected this past spring to the Trump administration’s insistence that BARDA support widespread access to chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, two potentially dangerous drugs recklessly promoted by President Trump as a COVID-19 cure, I was shunted to the NIH and assigned a more limited role in the pandemic response.

My task at the NIH was to help launch a program expanding national COVID-19 testing capacity. The program is well underway and should reach nearly 1 million daily tests by the end of the year. Since early September, though, I was given no work; my services apparently were no longer needed.

I fear the benefits of dramatically improved testing capacity will be wasted unless it is a part of a coordinated national testing strategy. My recommendations to support a national plan were met with a tepid response. In an administration that suffers from widespread internal chaos, such coordination may be impossible — especially when the White House has seemed determined to slow down testing and not test people who might have asymptomatic infections.

Making it worse

From the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, the administration’s failure to respond with a coordinated strategy only heightened the danger. Now the nation, and the world, are in the worst public health crisis in over a century. More than 1 million people worldwide have died from the pandemic; more than 211,000 Americans are dead. More than half of the states in this country are reporting rising COVID-19 cases.

Nine months into the pandemic, the United States continues to grapple with failed White House leadership. Instead, we get the recent spectacle of the president exploiting his own illness for political purposes and advising the nation, “Don’t be afraid of COVID.” Ironically, he was only able to leave the hospital after receiving two treatments that I had pushed for in January.

Meanwhile, there is still no coordinated national strategy to end the pandemic. Federal agencies, staffed with some of the best scientists in the world, continue to be politicized, manipulated, and ignored.

The country is flying blind into what could be the darkest winter in modern history. Undoubtedly, millions more Americans will be infected with the coronavirus and influenza; many thousands will die. Now, more than ever before, the public needs to be able to rely on honest, non-politicized, and unmanipulated public health guidance from career scientists.

Consume the news for every viewpoint

The need to know

I was on a Zoom meeting with some guys at church in September. The question was how do we consume the news. As I’ve said here before, I read a lot of newsfeeds from various sources.

Some are mainstream, such as the New York Times, Boston Globe, LA Times, and Washington Post. Some are progressive, such as Truthout and the Daily Kos. I consume a lot of conservative material, such as Daily Signal and Red State.

Oh, and there are non-news sources that often have news stories such as Thomas Industries, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and NatGeo. I’ve discovered that I can read about the exact same unlying facts, and discover that the conclusions are quite different.

This explains why I can never seem to keep up with my email. Initially, I subscribed so that I could peruse a balance of articles. I want to be a good, informed citizen. Of course, I come to these with my own biases, my own POV, but I’m willing to be convinced that I’m wrong. And even if I disagree, it might be a good piece for blog fodder.

Since I started working the Census, it’s been more skimming and less reading. It is especially true with the daily newspaper, which doesn’t take that long to read, even on Sunday. Yet it tends to pile up periodically.

Televsion

And TV news is worse. One guy in my group noted that by the time he sees the evening news – he watches ABC- he’s already gotten the gist of most of the stories presented. Largely true for me as well. I record both NBC and CBS, but I tend to fast forward through the stuff I’ve already sussed out. This is especially true of the unfortunate narratives of fires and floods.

Sometimes, there is a story after the first commercial break that’s unfamiliar to me. The later stories often highlight a twist I didn’t foresee. NBC has a series called Inequality in America. It has features about the digital divide or Americans going to Mexico to get COVID-related medications. I need more than Joe Friday “just the facts.” Context matters too.

When my wife was away on a recent Sunday visiting her mom, I partook in something I seldom do. I binge-watched. It was the previous week of The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, plus JEOPARDY! I need to alternate; it keeps my mind in balance.

A recent CBS News poll asked, “When you get the news these days, do you feel…?”
Misled 63%
Angry 56%
Informed 53%
Anxious 46%
Confused 35%

I say now that maybe after the election, I’ll cut back. This is probably a lie. No matter who wins on November 3, I’ll still have an apparently unquenchable need to know.

How do you consume the news? By this, I don’t mean that you get info from “the Internet” or “Facebook”, but WHAT on the Internet, WHO on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram.