Science-Backed Authoritarianism is Still Authoritarianism

By Eryn Slankster-Schmierer, PhD on April 14, 2021. An article inspired by me constantly finding myself cast aside as “the other” within groups I thought I identified with.

How “science” became a politically polarizing topic.

We are in an interesting social environment recently. We have loud minorities of people aggressively defending anti-science principles (anti-vax, anti-climate change, flat earthers). Feeling that their science is being challenged, mainstream media share these stories with the intent of showing how foolish they are, giving them a giant, golden pedestal to stand upon. Popular science social media pages like “IFLS,” regularly post articles saying things like this:

“What refutes science: Further scientific investigation and empirical evidence.

What doesn’t refute science: Feelings, religion, politics, a half-baked opinion after watching two YouTube videos.”

While realistically this statement is true, we are also creating an environment where, instead of responding to perceived chaos with scientific evidence, it is socially acceptable to gaslight anyone who disagrees with you, because you perceive their collection of experiences to be unworthy of scientifically supported argument. Which ultimately leads to confirmation bias of both parties, clinging harder to their collected experiences.

During the Trump administration, (likely due to his horrible way with words and ignorant stances, but I digress) certain people perceived Trump to be one of these anti-science advocates. He challenged the regulations Dr. Fauci recommended, causing harsh political division. Dr. Fauci became the epitome of science, the leading source of COVID-19 information, the anti-Trump. Society decided that if you support Trump, you are anti-science, or if you listen to Dr. Fauci, you’re a liberal mindless “sheep.”  

The hostility has become so intense, that the Venn Diagram might actually squeeze anyone who tries to venture in the middle right off the map. If you question either side, you’re aggressively branded “the other:” Irrational, uneducated, futile. You are no longer worthy of having a fact-based conversation with.

Party loyalty has misconstrued political intention, deepening the political divide. Society has decided you’re either a Democrat or anti-science, but that was never the core problem at all. The Republicans are attempting to say that you shouldn’t use science to justify human regulation, and that is a topic worthy of debate. But the “left” choose to hear “we hate science,” and their bias won’t let them listen any further.

This perceived attack on science has led to a desperate attempt of Democrats to advocate for science; but it’s unintentionally evolving into overbearing authoritarianism, demanding we relinquish freedom of choice, mis-citing science as the savior.

Citing opinion as actionable fact is an Appeal to Authority.

Because of polarization, we’ve created a large number of people who believe that whatever Dr. Fauci utters is golden truth, should never be questioned, and should be used as a basis of law and regulation.

Dr. Fauci is an expert in his field and knows more about immunology than the majority of us. For that reason, his opinions are valuable, he holds an abundance of factual knowledge, and I trust him to educate me with scientific fact.

But here’s the problem: what you do with these facts, your interpretation of this knowledge, is not fact. It is fact-based opinion. Which is valuable! But citing an opinion as fact*, even one made by Dr Fauci himself, is an Appeal to Authority Fallacy. And citing this opinion as a basis for rule or law is authoritarianism.

*(To be clear; masks decrease viral particle spread is a fact. Vaccination decreases likelihood of severe illness is a fact. Mask mandates and mandatory vaccinations are the best way to approach this pandemic is fact-based opinion.)

Using appeal to authority to drive Authoritarianism.

Politicians, healthcare workers, and plenty of scientists are using the Appeal to Authority fallacy as justification to enforce mask mandates, wide-sweeping economic shutdowns, and mandatory vaccinations: Dr. Fauci says wearing masks will slow the spread, Dr. Fauci says you should get a vaccine even if you’ve recovered from the virus, Dr. Fauci says keep wearing masks even once vaccinated.

We are using these fact-based opinions as rationale for mask mandates, and the majority of us oblige because its relatively harmless. But the implication of mandates requires punishable disobedience; not wearing a mask is ultimately punishable by jail-sentence, or the barrel of a police officer’s gun. (I would love to discuss how laws disproportionately apply to the financially disadvantaged, but that’s a different essay.)

There are millions of people who know more than I do about millions of topics. That does not give those people authority over my body.

This isn’t about whether or not the vaccine does or does not work (I’m sure it does), has side effects or doesn’t (I’m sure it does), is better or worse than getting the actual virus (I’m relatively sure it’s better). This is about society deciding that individuals aren’t intellectually competent and are incapable of their own research and decision making. This is about deciding that the existence of an authority revokes autonomy for one’s own body:

As long as we cite “science,” we no longer need you to consent; our rule is law, we are “The Authority.”

-Authoritarian Science

Use Education to promote your agenda, not mandates based in fear.

I perceive this to be an unpopular opinion among my fellow scientists, but it is not ethical to site Dr. Fauci’s educated opinion of effective ways to limit the spread of a virus as a reason to legally restrict freedom of choice. I am, however, a wildly enthusiastic advocate for education. I believe everyone has the right to gather their own knowledge, and to make the decision that is best for their body and their life.

I believe it is ethical, and even advisable, for Dr. Fauci to recommend you wear as many masks as he believes is effective. I believe it is ethical for Dr. Fauci to suggest we close our businesses to reduce the chance of viral spread. I believe it is ethical for him to advise us to get the vaccine, whether we’ve had COVID or not. These are an expert’s opinions and his own plan-of-action based on years of knowledge and experience. Dr. Fauci should remain a respected source of advice and information on how we choose to protect ourselves.

Just as I believe you do not have the right to regulate the outcomes of my sexuality, or take biological control of my uterus, or to regulate what I own, I do not believe in relinquishing my right to choose what is best for me to any authorities. And I do not believe you should be able to cite your own fear to revoke someone else’s body autonomy and freedoms.

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