By Bob Gaydos
While states were counting and recounting votes to keep proving that Joe Biden convincingly won the 2020 presidential election, there were three significant scientific events the past week. This is a brief look at all three. It is offered as a kind of public service, since, if there's one thing the last four years have demonstrated, it's that many Americans have a tenuous, at best, relationship with science.
- Atlas shrugged. Dr. Scott Atlas, the quack White House coronavirus adviser, told Fox News viewers to ignore the advice of public health experts who warned Americans to avoid indoor family gatherings this Thanksgiving because the virus was spiking again in America. Atlas is a professor of neuroradiology with no background in public health. Not only did he tell American families to gather together for the holidays, he said it was for the good of their elderly relatives, those most susceptible to being seriously impacted by the virus. He said: "This kind of isolation advice is one of the unspoken tragedies of the elderly who are now being told don't see your family at Thanksgiving. For many people, this is their final Thanksgiving, believe it or not. What are we doing here?" In other words, hey, they're probably gonna die soon anyway, let them eat turkey on the way out. Never mind that gramps might be planning on a few more Thanksgivings. Callous doesn't even cover this attitude. Atlas also says masks don't protect against the virus and is a fan of so-called "herd immunity" let the youngest and strongest prevail. The doc's Stanford colleagues disagreed with his prescription, as did many members of the White House task force and pretty much every public health expert, all of whom were shocked at his casual disregard for older Americans. Of course, this anti-science attitude is what got him named to the Trump task force in the first place. Only the best.
- The CDC spoke up. Basically, it said do the opposite of what Atlas said. This is significant because, for much of the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control, which should have been leading the effort to control the spread of the virus, has been muzzled by the Trump Administration. Here's what the agency said: "As cases continue to increase rapidly across the United States, the safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving is to celebrate at home with the people you live with. Gatherings with family and friends who do not live with you can increase the chances of getting or spreading COVID-19 or the flu. Travel may increase your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19. Postponing travel and staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others this year." This is not necessarily what you want to hear, but it's short and to-the-point science with Covid-related deaths approaching 250,000 in this country.
- Arecibo went silent. Oh no, what will Jodie Foster do? The famed radio observatory in Puerto Rico, which was featured in the movie, Contact, has suffered damage to two major cables that suspend the platform over the dish. Engineers for the National Science Foundation say it is not reparable because of the danger to the people who work there. Scientist said they should be able to preserve the visitors center and a couple of other scientific programs at the site, but the telescope, which has produced many scientific discoveries will be decommissioned. This is a major loss not only to NASA, but to the promotion and appreciation of science in general. That's because Arecibo, which, for nearly six decades, was vital to research in radio astronomy, atmospheric science, and radar astronomy, also was involved in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) programs. This is one area of science in which Americans actually demonstrates an interest, even if it is often based on science fiction. Its role in the search for ET gained Arecibo prominence and popularity with the general public through movies and TV shows. The observatory was featured in the James Bond thriller, GoldenEye, the sci-fi horror flick, Species, and the afore-mentioned Contact. The popular film was based on Carl Sagan's wonderful novel of the same name. The observatory was also featured on TV in the X-Files episode "Little Green Men." In the movie, Contact, Foster's character, Ellie Arroway, gives up a teaching position at Harvard University to take a seat at Arecibo's radio telescope. Why? From the movie: Her supervisor says, "Dr. Arroway will be spending her precious telescope time listening for ... uh ... listening for Ellie Arroway replies: "Little green men." Precisely. We get it. They're out there. Basically, Arecibo is a movie star and we miss movie stars when they leave us. The difference here is that this star shone even brighter in real life. Maybe we can scrap Trump's Space Farce for a new set of space ears.
Bob Gaydos is writer-in-residence at zestoforange.com.