Florida Heads Down a Dangerous COVID Road: Ideology First, Science Second

Arthur L. Caplan, PhD


December 28, 2022

Which scientist is responsible for killing more people than any other in history?

Some might nominate J. Robert Oppenheimer, inventor of the atomic bomb. Or perhaps Alfred Nobel, the Swedish chemist who left the fortune he built through the discovery of dynamite and then cannon manufacturing to fund the famous Nobel prizes.

But it can be argued that the greatest killer in the history of science was a Russian agricultural biologist, Trofim Denisovich Lysenko (1898-1976), quack biologist who served under Joseph Stalin.

At least 30 million people died in the Soviet Union and later, millions more in China due to starvation that resulted when Stalin and his henchmen in the Soviet government followed Lysenko's crackpot theories. The government put its faith in ideology and politics instead of sound science by promoting Lysenko's theories as to how environmental engineering could quickly increase crop production. The theories were wrong and massive deaths took place as a result.

Incredibly, the state of Florida is now also putting politics ahead of science when it comes to COVID. Governor Ron DeSantis has decided to push his White House ambitions by running on an anti-science platform. Along with his equally ideologically-minded Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo, Florida has launched a political war on COVID scientists.

DeSantis found a group of seven COVID skeptics, scientists and physicians, to "advise" him under the moniker the Public Health Integrity Committee.

According to a press release from the Governor, this tiny tribe of hand-picked scientists, many of whom are opposed to pandemic safety measures, will "be overseen by the Surgeon General to assess federal public health recommendations and guidance to ensure that Florida's public health policies are tailored for Florida's communities and priorities."

Oh, and DeSantis also just convinced a Florida court to convene a grand jury to investigate "wrongdoing" on the part of pharmaceutical companies and government officials who promoted COVID-19 vaccines. In other words, Florida is being told that the truths of biology and science need to be assessed not in laboratories but in courts; and truth must be properly tuned to reflect the local politics of Florida.

For Floridians and all Americans, letting politics override science in dealing with all things COVID and other infectious diseases could not be worse.

Why was charlatan Lysenko given the reins of Soviet agriculture given in the 1930s?

Lysenko promised that new strains of wheat and other crops with desirable traits could be quickly produced. He dismissed the science of genetics. Instead, he insisted that vernalization, exposing wheat seeds to humidity and low temperatures, could greatly increase crop yields. He claimed further that he could transform one species into another by growing plants closely together. None of this worked. Starvation was rampant.

Despite the crop failures in front of them for years politicians did not budge in their support for him. Why? Lysenko's views dismissive of genetics were in sympathy with prevailing dogma.

This was reinforced by the government's and the party's hatred of experts. Experts were viewed as ivory tower members of the bourgeoisie. Lysenko, a peasant farmer filled the ideological bill perfectly: a man of the people with dubious qualifications.

DeSantis is moving in a similar direction. Run for higher office on distrust of experts. Put an international expert like Anthony Fauci on trial as a gimmick to show that there never was and never will be a role for anti-COVID measures, especially vaccine mandates. Let politics and fringe beliefs — not peer-review and scientific consensus — drive public health policy in Florida. Deaths and hospitalizations be damned.

DeSantis is on a dangerous course. But when a powerful political leader dismisses science and scientific opinion in favor of expert bashing, know-nothingism and fringe views, he is a leader who has learned nothing from the misery and horror that others have caused by pioneering the idea that science is a popularity contest.


Comments on Medscape are moderated and should be professional in tone and on topic. You must declare any conflicts of interest related to your comments and responses. Please see our Commenting Guide for further information. We reserve the right to remove posts at our sole discretion.