The Remarkable History of Infectious Disease, with Anthony Fauci
Anthony Fauci is the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. He is an immunologist who has made substantial contributions to research on AIDS and other immunodeficiencies. He has pioneered the field of human immunoregulation and developed effective therapies for formally fatal inflammatory and immune-mediated diseases. In the field of AIDS research, he has helped contribute to an understanding of how the AIDS virus destroys the body's defenses leading to its susceptibility to deadly infections.
He has also served as an editor of Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine and has authored, coauthored or edited more than 1,100 scientific publications, including several textbooks. Dr. Fauci is a key advisor to the White House and Department of Health and Human Services on global AIDS issues and public health protections against emerging infectious disease threats, such as pandemic influenza. He was educated at Cornell University Medical College and holds 32 honorary doctorate degrees.
Question: Who are we?
Anthony Fauci: That’s a difficult question. I’ll start with the one that I’m very familiar with because it’s what I do. And I think that the whole issue of global health and health, if you look at history, how diseases have shaped societies going back from the Bubonic plague of the early centuries, to the pandemic influenza of 1918, to the total decimation of the Inca and Aztec populations by measles and small pox, I think that health issues have played a major role on how society has been shaped.
And then, as the era of understanding disease and being able to do something about disease has occurred, there has been a rather dramatic protection against the unavoidable decimation of disease; but mostly in the developed world.
And the thing that I see even now as an answer to your question is that we need to have a more global appreciation of the problems that other people have. Because it’s very interesting that, some years ago when I was first getting involved in medicine – and even in the arena of infectious diseases, which is my sub-specialty – there were very well placed people in this country [USA] who were actually saying that you can forget about infectious diseases because they’ve essentially been conquered. We’ve got vaccines. We’ve got anti-microbials. You can conquer infectious diseases.
Which means they weren’t paying attention to, as they were saying that; maybe in our own country, in the United States, or Europe, or Australia, or Canada that was going on; but in the developing world, more than a million people were dying of malaria. A million and a half people were dying of tuberculosis. Hundreds of thousands, if not a million people were dying of neglected tropical diseases [NTDs].
So really, disease has a major impact not only historically in the shaping of our society, but also even today where there are the “haves” and the “have nots” of the world. I would hope that an appreciation of that will have us continue to try and do more and more.
Science is telling us that we can do phenomenal things if we put our minds and our resources to it. I think science is probably the best example of you put resources into something, and you let the creativity and the brilliance of the minds throughout the world – and certainly not only in this country [USA], throughout the world – and phenomenally good things can happen.
You’ve got to make sure that there’s checks and balances on that, because science can also lead to things that are not so good. There’s ethical issues of manipulation at the genomic level. The whole issues of embryos and creating people to your own fashionable, boutique-liking. All those things you’ve got to be really, really careful of.
But science, at its most pure, where you’re looking for discovery, and you’re going to use discovery for the betterment of mankind; I think science stands out among some of the most important endeavors that humankind can pursue.
This is just only a somewhat provincial view. There was a period in my own discipline of infectious diseases back in the late 19th century when people were just starting to appreciate the germ theory of disease. Instead of the historical components, we had these plagues. We had these influenzas. We have ______. We have this. We have no idea where it comes from.
There were a group of people – Louie Pasture, Cook; all of the group from the Institute Pasteur [in French: Institut Pasteur de Lille; also known as, Pasteur-Lille], the German group, Matchnikoff and others – who were able to take a field that was completely bare bones and no one had any idea what was going on, to actually make those first initial discoveries that a microbe actually caused tuberculosis. You can actually take that microbe. You can inject it into someone or into an animal, and you can create the disease that you once thought was just some ______ from heaven that caused it.
So the heroes and the people that I look up to were those people who struggled against a complete, vast unknown.
Right now there’s so much known in science that when I and my colleagues do it – although we occasionally make transforming discoveries – we’re standing on the shoulders of giants who didn’t have what we have 100 or so years ago when they made those phenomenal discoveries.
Well I don’t know if it’s a universal truth, but I think that mankind evolves. There’s no doubt that we have evolved. The whole issue of evolving through carious lower species to our own species of the human.
But there’s also the continuing evolution that is associated with mankind. And a lot of that is using what specifically and particularly and peculiarly makes you a human being. And that is your intellect and your will. You have a choice. You can analyze things, and you can act in an intellectual manner.
And that is, to me, at the very foundation of what science is – how you can better your own lot, the lot of the other citizens of the world, while you’re paying attention to and preserving the world you live in, which is the reason why things like the environment are so important.
And we try and analyze are we doing things that are detrimental to the environment. And if so, how do we stop it? And if we have to stop it, how do we replace it with something that’s environmentally friendly?
And I think science is going t lead us there. And it’s the good will that you have to try and preserve your own species, as well as preserve the environment, i.e. our planet, so that we can have thousands of more years of people doing good things and leading good lives.
Recorded On: July 6, 2007
Anthony Fauci on the past, present and future battles against disease.
Swiss researchers identify new dangers of modern cocaine.
- Cocaine cut with anti-worming adulterant levamisole may cause brain damage.
- Levamisole can thin out the prefrontal cortex and affect cognitive skills.
- Government health programs should encourage testing of cocaine for purity.
Pfizer's partnerships strengthen their ability to deliver vaccines in developing countries.
- Community healthcare workers face many challenges in their work, including often traveling far distances to see their clients
- Pfizer is helping to drive the UN's sustainable development goals through partnerships.
- Pfizer partnered with AMP and the World Health Organization to develop a training program for healthcare workers.
Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:
"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."
Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.
Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.
The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?
Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression
In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.
It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.
Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.
Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.
The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.
It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.
In their findings the authors state:
"The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
upholding First Amendment ideals.
Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is "always acceptable."
With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.
Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner
As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:
- Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
- Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
- Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
- Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
- Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
- Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
- Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,
Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.
It's interesting to note the authors found that:
"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."
You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.
Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:
- 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
- 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
- 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
- 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
- 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
- 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.
Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement
Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:
- Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
- Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
- Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
- Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
- We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
- If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.
Civic discourse in the divisive age
Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.
There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:
"In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.
Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."
We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.
This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.
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