Does the scientific journal editor show remorse?

Hauled before Congress recently, Science Editor-in-Chief Holden Thorpe has shown signs of being open to views other than his own, which may be a first for him.

Thorpe testified last Tuesday during a hearing titled “Academic Misconduct: Examining the Relationship Between Scientific Journals, Government and Peer Review” and hosted by the US House of Representatives subcommittee on the coronavirus pandemic.

Thorpe, who is a professor at George Washington University and a former chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has previously suggested that opposing government intervention to combat climate change is an unacceptable point of view.

Opposing the political involvement of scientists “gives people permission to say things like ‘climate change may be real, but I don’t think we should have government regulation to deal with it,’ which is unacceptable,” he wrote in a since-deleted tweet.

This is a startling claim from a man who is the editor-in-chief of a family of seven academic journals. It allows for only one view of climate change: that it is happening, that it is alarming, and that it requires government intervention to stop.

But now the editor has at least admitted that other publications were wrong when they were quick to dismiss the COVID-19 lab leak theory, which suggested the coronavirus came from a lab in Wuhan, China. He also said that scientists in general need to be more open to other points of view.

In particular, Nature magazine, which quickly dismissed the lab leak theory in an article covertly influenced by former National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Dr. Anthony Fauci and former National Institutes of Health director Francis Collins, did not send a representative to the hearing.

“Scientists are a suspicious lot,” Thorpe testified. “We have opinions like everyone else. But we also know, and could have done a much better job of explaining this, that science is a work in progress.

He also admitted mistakes in the scientific community.

“So when we see new data, we change the way we think, and I’ve obviously done that many times during the pandemic, and so has everyone else,” he said. “Going forward, we need to do a much better job of telling people that … and we need to do a much better job of helping the public understand that.”

Thorpe also said: “I think the politicization of COVID … if we look back on it as something that we all probably wish we hadn’t experienced and contributed to it to the extent that we did.”

He added that scientists have played a role in this polarization.

“And I think the scientific community has contributed to that at times, and I think politicians have contributed to that as well,” Thorpe said. “And it would have been nice to have had a more relaxed path through the whole thing. But, fortunately, science works in a way that has led us to many things that have succeeded.

It’s good that Thorpe is showing some remorse, but among educated elites there continues to be a problem of shouting “science” as a trump card.

Policymakers and scientists would do well to remember that while the scientific process can help inform what and why something is happening, it cannot tell us what the best policy is. Rather, “science” is only one input into decision-making, which also includes moral, ethical, and economic considerations.


Common sense helps too. For years, the American Academy of Pediatrics has correctly said that babies should see faces to learn to speak Then they backtracked and said that putting masks on young children is actually safe and not harmful to development.

People will care about what “science” says when they feel that “science” cares about what they have to say. Thorpe’s comments are a good first step.

Matt Lamb is a contributor to Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog. He is an associate editor for The College Fix and previously worked for Students for Life of America and Turning Point USA.

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