Educator (Associate Professor) / Entrepreneur / Leader of angel communities /
Entrepreneur in residence at PorterShed and BioExcel
The Portershed folks have been kind enough to offer me a podium, and I plan to bring my own baton, as well as the perspective gained (and continue to gain from) the companies, angels, VCs, and friends in the States. I have no doubt that Irish readers will often find themselves offering me the advice Richard Harris gave Tom Berenger in The Field. Don’t worry, I’m used to it.
Yesterday, my brother called from lockdown in San Francisco, wondering if I’d prefer to be in the United States or Ireland during Covid-19. Without much hesitation I told him that the leadership and social cohesion in Ireland – the empathic response to crisis by the Taoseach, the health system, and everyone I know here – was a thing entirely new and heartening to me, and would dispose me to stay where I am. Especially in contrast to modern-day U ESS of A, where everything is politicized, there is a constant search by all those of every political stripe to demonize the others, and nothing can be taken at face value. My brother recounts how the rich have retreated to remote vacation enclaves or seaworthy yachts, while posting angry tweets about culling the herd and the cleansing effects of crises.
What will the anti-vaxxers do when a vaccine is developed? The bottom line: the populism of Steve Bannon (and much of the neocon right in Europe) is a flat rejection of experts and the conventional wisdom. Which can be a good thing – one only needs to think of the single-minded rebels in thought and action who have changed the world by standing against the tide. The rebels serve a purpose even when they are wrong by forcing us to constantly question what we think we know, to test our assumptions in the light of new data or new circumstances. But rebellion and defiance have their limits. The tragedy we’re witnessing in the States (and the UK) is the product of rebellious thinkers who decided to listen to their self-appointed rabbis (in this case, those from the Hoover Institute and others whose political views skewed what should have been objectivity) and not to men and women like Tony Fauci, who have spent careers studying pandemics and their impact.
In 2007 the US market collapsed. President Bush and his team put together a (relatively) small $200B rescue package. Ben Bernanke, the Fed Chairman, whose PhD thesis and most of career focused on analyzing the Great Depression, had the sobering facts at hand to convince the president and Paulson that the reaction had to be a massive over-reaction in order to calm the markets. We were lucky to have him and his steady hand.
Tony Fauci and others came to the White House with the sobering facts about pandemics. They had been ignored for two crucial months. Like it or not, a smallish, 79-year-old doctor who had worked tirelessly as head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease came to the podium and, in his gentle and deferential way, announced the end of the anti-expert era in the United States (and the UK).
Whatever happens over the next number of months, we all owe Tony a debt of gratitude. Even in Ireland.