Anatomy of a Conspiracy Theory: Law, Science, and Politics in the COVID-19 Era

Texas A&M Law Review (Spring 2021 Forthcoming)

44 Pages Posted: 28 Aug 2020

See all articles by Brie D. Sherwin

Brie D. Sherwin

Texas Tech University School of Law; Department of Public Health

Date Written: July 1, 2020

Abstract

With COVID-19, we are facing the most serious public health threat of our lifetime. Now, more than ever, we need experts and sound scientific advice to guide critical decision-making during the pandemic. With conspiracy theories and other similar rhetorical weapons being used to discredit our scientific experts, we face a myriad of misinformation, mistruths, and all-out attacks on our experts, breeding distrust among the public and the policymakers leading the fight against the pandemic. Since President Trump took office, scientists have been routinely denigrated and isolated, while science denialism has permeated its way up to the highest levels of government, resulting in disastrous public policy decisions that have been detrimental to environmental and public health. Funding has been cut for much needed research on zoonotic-borne diseases, the U.S. government has pulled its support from the Paris Climate Agreement, and well-respected scientists have been removed from various advisory roles in agencies. Until the COVID-19 pandemic, many of these decisions have gone unnoticed by the general public. But, in courtrooms over the past 30 years, judges have recognized the danger of fake experts and acted as gatekeepers in ensuring that experts are credible and that science is reliable. The use of Daubert in the courtroom has provided judges with a tool for allowing expert testimony that has met certain indicia of reliability, so jurors can focus on making factual determinations instead of judging whether the sources of the expertise should be trusted. Without a similar gatekeeping function in society, citizens are charged with making those determinations on their own. Scientists and advocates of science should employ rhetorical methods of their own to restore the credibility and importance of science in protecting our environment and now, our health. Change can only truly come from the ground up. Citizens must actually believe that the climate is changing; they must believe that the health advice they are receiving from public health experts is accurate and trustworthy enough to follow. It’s time to put science first; we can only do that if we stop science denialism in its tracks and restore resources and trust in our scientific community.

Keywords: COVID-19, Corona Virus, Trump, Science, Politics

JEL Classification: K32

Suggested Citation

Sherwin, Brie DeBusk, Anatomy of a Conspiracy Theory: Law, Science, and Politics in the COVID-19 Era (July 1, 2020). Texas A&M Law Review (Spring 2021 Forthcoming), Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3681728 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3681728

Brie DeBusk Sherwin (Contact Author)

Texas Tech University School of Law ( email )

1802 Hartford
Lubbock, TX 79409
United States

Department of Public Health ( email )

Lubbock, TX
United States

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