Museum of America in the Pandemic Year, 2020

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May 21: The Trump administration and AstraZeneca announce a collaboration to speed development of a COVID-19 vaccine called AZD1222. HHS says it expects the first doses to be available as early as October 2020; phase 3 clinical studies are underway this summer. The CDC updates its guidance on COVID-19 transmission, explaining that the “virus spreads easily between people.” The same day, President Trump states that the United States would not shut down the country due to a second wave of infections.  “We are going to put out the fires,” he says. “But we are not closing the country.” William Bryan, the man who filmed Arbery’s death, is charged with murder. 2.4 million people file new jobless claims. Trump tours a Ford plant without a mask. 

From the cutting room floor...

It goes without saying that, in a pandemic, we truly need consistent, lucid, expert opinion. And, perhaps not surprisingly, a report issued by the Pew Center today suggests that a gap is growing between those on the political left, whose trust in the expertise of scientists and physicians has grown significantly since last year, and those on the political right whose belief in the integrity of scientists and physicians has not changed.

In the study, which surveyed around 30,000 participants, Pew found that Democrats believe that scientists need to play a crucial role in shaping policy, yet they are currently not having much influence in shaping federal policies to control the coronavirus. This would seem to reflect a deeper conviction that there are scientists and public health experts whose advice is needed and available but who are being largely ignored right now. A bit surprising: the study discovered that Republicans also believe scientists are good at making policy decisions when it comes to scientific issues, and they believe that those scientists are currently having significant influence in shaping federal policies regarding the coronavirus.

I find this paradoxical. To be consistent to themselves, Trump supporters must also argue that the president is guiding his ship based on sound scientific advice. Yet he and, according to the poll, his supporters, express a deep skepticism that science can be trusted to help with this crisis. To square this circle, I suppose his supporters must believe that, “science” being good and Trump being on their team, he is using “good” scientists—people who agree with him. Given that Trump frequently disregards expert, scientific opinion, and that his supporters have been told again and again that the coronavirus is a hoax intended to bring down their team, any scientist who disagrees with him must not be a “good” scientist. It’s a nice circle. Trump relies on good scientific information. How do we know? Because he ignores all bad scientists. If they were good, they would agree with him.

Interestingly, there is rising agreement across the board that the opinions of the uninformed, untrained public should not play a role in guiding policy decisions about scientific issues. In 2014, only 35% said the uninformed public should not. During this pandemic, minds changed on the power that the untrained public should have guiding policy regarding science: 55% now say they should not. If Republicans don’t trust the scientists and they don’t trust the public, then there is only one group left to trust: their party leaders and their media luminaries.

This, I suppose, helps in part to explain why we failed to heed the warnings of the scientists about the coronavirus early on.

Even for those of us who were listening to the science, there can be no denying that we received inconsistent information from the scientists themselves on a regular basis. Part of that is understandable; it is, in fact, the nature of scientific inquiry that hypotheses remain tentative and change as new information comes to light. But the culture of the preprint and the 24-hour news cycle meant that these tentative hypotheses reached the eyes and ears of millions, shaping policy and public opinion, and creating cascades of damaging misinformation.

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NBC Nightly News, FBI: Shooting At Texas Naval Air Station Was Terrorism Related, May 21, 2020.

“Elmo Promises He’s Not Copying Stephen Colbert With His New Late Night Talk Show,” The Late Show with Steven Colbert, May 19, 2020.
CNBC Television. Pres. Donald Trump: “We Are Not Closing Our Country” If Second Wave of Coronavirus Hits, 2020.

Kotch, Alex, “Coalition of Pro-Trump Doctors Will Defend the President’s COVID-19 Blunders,” Center for Media and Democracy, May 19, 2020.


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Lee, Stephanie M. “JetBlue’s Founder Helped Fund A Stanford Study That Said The Coronavirus Wasn’t That Deadly.” BuzzFeed News, May 15, 2020.
Pei, Sen, Sasikiran Kandula, and Jeffrey Shaman. “Differential Effects of Intervention Timing on COVID-19 Spread in the United States.” MedRxiv, May 29, 2020, 2020.05.15.20103655.
Funk, Cary, Brian Kennedy, and Courtney Johnson. “Trust in Medical Scientists Has Grown in U.S., but Mainly Among Democrats.” Pew Research Center Science & Society (blog), May 21, 2020.
Unwin, H, S Mishra, VC Bradley, A Gandy, M Vollmer, T Mellan, H Coupland, et al. “Report 23: State-Level Tracking of COVID-19 in the United States.” Imperial College London, May 21, 2020.
Wasow, Omar. “Agenda Seeding: How 1960s Black Protests Moved Elites, Public Opinion and Voting.” American Political Science Review, May 21, 2020, 1–22.
Portal, Lizandra, and Sabrina Lolo. “Woman Who Designed Florida’s COVID-19 Dashboard Has Been Removed from Her Position.” WPEC CBS News 12, May 18, 2020.

Farber, Madeline, “CDC now says coronavirus ‘does not spread easily’ via contaminated surfaces,” Fox News, May 21, 2020.

Allen, Greg. “Florida Ousts Top COVID-19 Data Scientist.”, May 19, 2020.
Social Media
Additional Links
  • Robert Kuznia, Curt Devine and Nick Valencia, ‘We’ve been muzzled’: CDC sources say White House putting politics ahead of science,” CNN. May 20, 2020.
  • Ian Millhiser, “Trump says he’ll cut off funding to states that make it easier to vote,” Vox, May 20, 2020,
  • Wagner, John, Mark Berman, and et al. “Fauci Says He Hopes White House Restores His Coronavirus Updates to the Public.” Washington Post, May 21, 2020.

* Timeline summaries at the top of the page come from a variety of sources:, including The American Journal of Managed Care COVID-19 Timeline (, the Just Security Group at the NYU School of Law (, the “10 Things,” daily entries from The Week (, as well as a variety of newspapers and television programs.