As part of the commemoration of Los Alamos National Laboratory’s 75th anniversary in 2018, the current lab director and five of his predecessors were asked what they believe were the nation’s biggest security threats.
There was some talk about whether the nation’s nuclear arsenal can ever be considered totally reliable without actual, real-world weapons test explosions, now banned by international treaty.
But the lab directors talked more about the info wars of the 21st century.
“Participation in democracy and the values that we have require that you’re well-grounded in education,” said then-LANL director Terry Wallace. “So when you look at a website that tells us that there’s a conspiracy in a pizza parlor, that everyone goes there for pedophile activities, you should be able to apply scientific principles to that to understand that it’s not (true). So am I fearful? Yes, because nobody’s got a plan for that.”
Former lab director John Browne said, “Just think of how many times you look at social media today and someone thinks something is true because someone has put something out there. I think that threatens our way of life.”
In the two years since the lab directors made those comments, things seem to have only gotten worse. Here are some recent examples:
• The QAnon conspiracy, which promotes the insane idea that President Trump is fighting off a deep-state, Satan-worshiping pedophile ring, has taken off to the point that a soon-to-be elected Republican congressional candidate in Georgia is a self-avowed QAnon adherent.
• People who should know better, including mainstreamers, such as a member of the Taos County Republican Party’s executive committee, are promoting the idea the COVID-19 pandemic has been “overblown” because the number of “COVID-19-only” deaths is much lower than the reported total fatalities. That total is now over 200,000 Americans, most who had underlying conditions before they contracted and died from the virus.
What is true is 6% of the death certificates list only coronavirus as the cause. But regardless of other health conditions among the deceased, 92% of the death certificates show COVID-19 as the underlying cause. If your friend or relative who’s lived a normal life for decades with diabetes contracted COVID-19 and died, would you really stand up and say that person died of diabetes?
• Vaccines, like the ones we all hope will emerge soon to fight the coronavirus, face doubters from a bipartisan crowd. The concerns range from a debunked study published decades ago and doubts about Big Pharma ethics to more government intrusion into freedom of choice.
Regardless of any philosophical, political or metaphysical arguments, the truth is that vaccines work.
Many of us of a certain age had childhood friends who suffered from crippling polio before a vaccine almost totally eradicated it. Smallpox and measles also have been whacked by vaccines, at least until the anti-vaxxers starting letting down our defenses.
• And now the U.S. census count is also under suspicion as another bad thing promoted by a government out to control our lives. The Journal’s Joline Gutierrez Krueger reported recently on the troubles faced by census workers whose job is to get an accurate count of New Mexicans, something that serves to ensure our state gets its share of federal programs and dollars.
“I come home wondering, how on earth did Americans become so ignorant or stupid about our country?” one census worker said, echoing, albeit in more forceful language, the concerns among LANL directors.
“I was very disheartened that something that has been done since the 1700s has been politicized and that some have no idea what it is for,” the worker said.
Lots of things have happened in 2020 that are cause for alarm and depression. The hastening dissolution of standards for what’s considered true and accurate is, unfortunately, among the disasters of this unusual year.
There’s no need to repeat here that the country is divided. It would just be so much better if we could agree on some basic facts behind the issues we fight over.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.