On Jan. 20, as President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were sworn in at the Capitol, America marked a grim anniversary: It had been one year since the first confirmed COVID-19 case on our shores. As Biden and Harris spoke, our nation’s duly elected leaders looked out over the National Mall where nearly 200,000 American flags fluttered in the breeze — a tribute to more than 400,000 Americans lost to this pandemic already.
Historians will write many books about why America struggled to control this crisis, but for me, our greatest downfall has been our failure to respect and act on science. From the start of the pandemic until his final days in office, President Donald Trump lied about the danger and contradicted the science. His administration made mask-wearing a political issue, even as science told us widespread mask use would save millions of lives. Public health notices from the CDC, school and business reopening guidance, and other federal information were manipulated or censored to feed a political, not a public health, agenda. Trump openly speculated that bleach and bright light could save us.
In many ways, 2020 was a year cast in darkness. Yet less than three weeks since the peaceful transition of power and that painful COVID-19 anniversary, our nation, emboldened by new leadership and a renewed spirit of possibility, has already started building the foundation for a new birth of honest, accountable governance. And that rebirth promises to be driven and supported by some of the world’s best and most visionary life-saving science.
It’s not happening by accident.
Within a week of taking office, Biden signed executive actions that would restore scientific integrity standards, direct agencies to make decisions guided by the best available science and data, and elevate the role of science across our federal government. Federal and federally funded scientists are now protected from political interference, under a presidential memorandum, and can collaborate, research, and speak freely.