Early in the pandemic, University of Washington professor Carl Bergstrom established himself as a coronavirus hawk, defending Britain’s Imperial College model that predicted up to 2.2 million American deaths and arguing that the health-care system would be “overrun.” During the initial lockdowns, Bergstrom warned against “kids hanging out by the lake,” criticized Florida for “leaving beaches open,” and mocked leaders who “want us all back in church on Easter Sunday.”
Bergstrom’s subsequent conversion to “woke science,” however, was swift and absolute. On May 27, before the death of George Floyd dominated the news, the professor insisted he would wear a mask while walking alone in a public park, even if there is “only a 1-in-100,000 chance [to] save a life.” Three days later, after the outbreak of protests in Minneapolis and other cities, he tweeted that he was “heartbroken by the endemic state violence against people of color in America” and was reading Ibram X. Kendi’s book, How to Be an Antiracist. A few days later, Bergstrom conceded that “science is an inherently political activity” and endorsed the protests, making the dubious claim that millions of protesters rallying, chanting, and gathering in close quarters wouldn’t necessarily spread Covid-19—and even if they did, he “wholeheartedly support[ed] the protests nonetheless.”
Here’s the problem: Bergstrom and other public-health experts persuaded Americans that their advice on the pandemic response was driven exclusively by science and underwritten by cold fact. They argued that politics should be subordinated to scientific knowledge—but when the political grounds shifted, they immediately reversed that formulation. Bergson’s case is especially damning. In less than a week, he made the moral leap from recommending behavioral modification for a “1-in-100,000 chance” of death to supporting protests that, according to his colleague Trevor Bedford, could cause up to 4,000 Covid-19 deaths.
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