President Trump pushes to reopen the country despite warnings from doctors about the consequences of moving too quickly during the coronavirus crisis.
He has been lashing out at scientists whose findings contradict him.
Public health experts warn Trump’s often unfounded scepticism is especially dangerous during a global pandemic.
The US president called one study “a Trump enemy statement”.
He called another “a political hit job”.
Twice this week, Trump has not only dismissed the findings of studies but suggested without evidence that their authors were motivated by politics and to undermine his efforts to roll back coronavirus restrictions.
First, it was a study funded in part by his own government’s National Institutes of Health that raised alarms about the use of hydroxychloroquine, finding higher overall mortality in coronavirus patients who took the drug while in Veterans Administration hospitals.
Trump and many of his allies had been trumpeting the drug as a miracle cure and Trump this week revealed that he has been taking it to try to ward off the virus despite an FDA warning last month that it should only be used in hospital settings or clinical trials because of the risk of serious side effects, including life-threatening heart problems.
“If you look at the one survey, the only bad survey, they were giving it to people that were in very bad shape. They were very old, almost dead,” Trump told reporters on Tuesday. “It was a Trump enemy statement.”
A different analysis, published in the Lancet on Friday, that examines coronavirus patients worldwide who took hydroxycloroquine or the closely related drug chloroquine, found similar results Those who received the drug had a significantly higher risk of death.
The president also offered pushback on Thursday to a new study from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.
It found that more than 61 percent of COVID-19 infections and 55 percent of reported deaths nearly 36,000 people could have been prevented had social distancing measures been put in place one week sooner. Trump has repeatedly defended his administration’s handling of the virus in the face of persistent criticism that he acted too slowly.
“Columbia’s an institution that’s very liberal,” Trump told reporters Thursday. “I think it’s just a political hit job, you want to know the truth.”
Trump has long been sceptical of mainstream science dismissing human-made climate change as a “hoax”, suggesting that noise from wind turbines causes cancer and claiming that exercise can deplete a body’s finite amount of energy. It is part of a larger scepticism of expertise and backlash against “elites” that has become increasingly popular among Trump’s conservative base.
But undermining Americans‘ trust in the integrity and objectivity of scientists is especially dangerous during a pandemic when the public is relying on its leaders to develop policies based on the best available information, said Larry Gostin, a Georgetown University law professor who is an expert in public health.
“If the president is politicising science, if he’s discounting health experts, then the public is going to be fearful and confused,” Gostin said, calling it “dismaying”.
The White House rejected that thinking, noting that Trump has followed his administration’s public health officials’ recommendations through much of the crisis.
“Any suggestion that the president does not value scientific data or the important work of scientists is patently false as evidenced by the many data-driven decisions he has made to address the COVID-19 pandemic, including cutting off travel early from highly-infected populations, expediting vaccine development, issuing the 15-day and later 30-day guidance to ‘slow the spread,’ and providing governors with a clear, safe road map to opening up America again,” said White House spokesman Judd Deere.
Yet Trump has made clear that, at least when it comes to hydroxychloroquine, he has prioritised anecdotal evidence, including a letter he told reporters he had received from a doctor in Westchester, New York, claiming success with the drug.