Although politics and science often overlap, a medical journal should normally not have a problem keeping partisanship off its pages. Since its founding during President James Madison’s first term, the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) has handily accomplished this for over two centuries. But these are not normal times. The NEJM just took unprecedented action that reflects the disturbing fact that the Trump administration’s flippant approach to science has reached a horrific tipping point.
The NEJM, widely considered the most respected peer-reviewed medical journal in the world, published a damning editorial today entitled “Dying in a Leadership Vacuum,” slamming the Trump administration for flouting expertise in favor of “uninformed ‘opinion leaders’ and charlatans who obscure the truth and facilitate the promulgation of outright lies.” As a result, the NEJM pointed out, the COVID-19 crisis created a leadership test that U.S. leaders have “failed.”
Despite the formidable challenges of the coronavirus pandemic, the NEJM explained that the single factor that has remained within our collective control is our behavior. However, the United States not only “consistently behaved poorly” in managing the pandemic but managed to turn the ominous health crisis “into a tragedy.” Not mincing words, the NEJM added that the “magnitude of this failure is astonishing.”
The NEJM further observed that the United States “came into this crisis with enormous advantages” in health, medicine, and technology. Noting that much of this expertise lies within the government, the NEJM explained that the Trump administration chose to ignore these valuable resources and made matters worse by going so far as to “even denigrate experts.”
The NEJM’s editorial arrives less than a month after another prestigious scientific publication, Scientific American, broke its 175-year tradition by endorsing Joe Biden for President of the United States. As the NEJM reminds us, “truth is neither liberal nor conservative.” The editors warn us that if we stay passive or paralyzed as Donald Trump and Mike Pence seek another four more years of chaos and destruction, we will only “abet them and enable the deaths of thousands more Americans.” Electing Biden-Harris has become a dire necessity not only for democracy but for humanity.