Aaron Rodgers and the Public Health Credibility Crisis | Opinion

After several years of lauding athlete activists who speak up about controversial issues of the day, liberals are now sounding like conservative fans who wanted Colin Kaepernick to just "shut up and play." Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers' comments about COVID-19 are generating the kind of pushback from football talking heads, pop-culture figures and the Twitterverse that often leads to someone getting canceled.

Rodgers outraged many when, after contracting COVID in November, he revealed that his pre-season comments about being "immunized" referred to an unsanctioned treatment regimen rather than vaccination. Though he insists he is not a "flat-Earth anti-vaxxer," Rodgers has become a prime target for the anger whipped up by those who blame the unvaccinated for the nation's pandemic woes.

But Rodgers doubled down this past week. Appearing on his favorite platform, Pat McAfee's SiriusXM show, Rodgers threw down the gauntlet to his critics by pointing out that, "if science can't be questioned, it's not science anymore; it's propaganda." That remark unleashed yet another deluge of scorn.

In a country where one's attitudes toward vaccines and the pandemic are often treated as markers of personal decency and virtue, these sentiments could end the career of someone more vulnerable than a football superstar. Though Rodgers has complained about being the victim of woke mobs and cancel culture, he is in little danger of losing his job. That's because the future Hall of Famer is enjoying another MVP-caliber season as the Packers cruise toward the NFL playoffs.

But Rodgers is also right about the foundational principles of science.

The notion that it's okay to question "the science"—or what media pundits and political figures portray as a consensus of the scientific community—is a damning heresy in the view of the chattering classes. A key talking point for the Democratic Party is that Republicans are the "anti-science" party. Its partisans tend to see GOP resistance to vaccine and mask mandates not as a debate but as a struggle against ignoramuses who don't respect science.

Of course, Democrats only believe in science until they don't.

They're fanatically pro-science when it comes to Dr. Anthony Fauci. They treat everything he says as if it were carved in stone and carried down from Mt. Sinai by Charlton Heston. The same applies to computer models that point toward a future of global warming and the need to end fossil fuel consumption with no regard to the impact it will have on the economy.

But they aren't so keen on science when it comes to basic facts about biology that contradict the demands of transgender ideology. They also ignore science when it comes to the viability of unborn children and the question of when life begins, because those facts make their abortion-on-demand stance difficult to justify.

Anthony Fauci
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 27: Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the Chief Medical Advisor to the President, waits for U.S. President Joe Biden to arrive for a video call with the White House Covid-19 Response team and the National Governors Association in the South Court Auditorium at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on December 27, 2021 in Washington, DC. President Biden spoke to governors about their concerns over the Omicron variant and the need for more COVID-19 tests. Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Rodgers is right to point out that the scientific method requires questioning all theories and matching them against results. And—despite the elevation of Fauci to oracle status and demonization of anyone who suggests alternatives to his recommendations—the events of the last two years have reinforced the truth of that concept. Blind acceptance of whatever it is that Fauci, the Center for Disease Control or other administration experts recommend has brought no guarantee of logical consistency—or safety.

Vaccines have clearly lessened the risks of COVID. Getting a vaccine and the booster makes sense because the shots have been shown to make serious illness, hospitalization and death much less likely. But as breakthrough cases proliferate, it has become apparent that it's also possible for the vaccinated to catch the virus and spread it.

But the various public safety measures imposed on society have proven ineffective. Lockdowns, which were supposed to be sufficient to "flatten the curve" of infections and prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed after two weeks, dragged on for months and didn't halt the crisis.

Nor have the most stringent coronavirus regulations enacted in blue states and cities like New York—where indoor masking was mandatory and rules required anyone seeking to enter a public space to show both their vaccination cards and a photo ID—prevented the virus from spreading.

At the same time, and most galling for liberals, red states like Florida that eschewed such mandates did not show results that were much worse over time. Available data which showed that the effect of the virus on children didn't justify the slowness of many public schools to restart in-person teaching or the refusal to give up mask mandates.

All of which has caused a crisis of public confidence in the experts—rooted in the principles of science, not an aversion to them. Fauci's problems started at the very beginning of the pandemic. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) director first advised against masks and then for them, and pushed for the outlawing of all public gatherings but then declared BLM protests, the peaceful ones along with those that turned into riots, to be okay. His credibility also suffered a body blow when it turned out that, contrary to Fauci's denials, NIAID did fund "gain of function" research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology that gave the world the coronavirus pandemic.

It's true that federal science advisors were dealing with an entirely novel threat. But their unwillingness to admit when they were wrong didn't make it any easier to swallow the zigs and zags of their pronouncements on lockdowns, masks or whatever else it might take to end the public health emergency.

At this point, skepticism about the proclamations of a man who thinks himself—as Fauci does—the embodiment of "science" is warranted. Rodgers is no health expert, nor is he qualified to critique peer-reviewed medical findings. But the Green Bay quarterback and others who believe themselves to have been lied to by the experts throughout the last two years aren't wrong to say so.

Contrary to the Biden administration's proclamations, the public-health credibility crisis isn't the fault of misinformation, Fox News, podcast hosts or Aaron Rodgers. The blame belongs to experts who have proven that they won't allow themselves to be held accountable for their mistakes.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS.org, a senior contributor to The Federalist and a columnist for the New York Post. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.

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