Anthony Fauci, America’s top infectious disease expert, has responded strongly to growing right-wing criticism and conspiracy theories connected to the release of thousands of his emails under freedom of information laws, according to media reports.
“‘Fauci has blood in his hands’, are you kidding me?” US President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser said in an interview with The New York Times on Monday.
“Here’s a guy whose entire life has been devoted to saving lives, and now you’re telling me he’s like Hitler? You know, come on, folks. Get real.”
Fauci, who was also part of former President Donald Trump’s coronavirus task force, argued that those attacking him are “actually criticizing science”.
A report in the Guardian newspaper said since the release of his emails earlier this month, mostly anodyne correspondence, Fauci has faced a growing range of hardline right-wing and conspiracy-tinged criticism.
Some such critics have focused on his advice, early in the pandemic, against wearing masks.
Others have homed in on a series of partially redacted emails, from Facebook’s Chief Executive, Mark Zuckerberg, who contacted Fauci to thank him for his leadership and invite him to participate in an online Q&A session.
In his interview with the Times, Fauci pushed back.
“It is essential as a scientist that you evolve your opinion and your recommendations based on the data as it evolves,” he said.
“And that’s the reason why I say people who then criticize me about that are actually criticizing science.
“The people who are giving the ad hominems are saying, ‘Ah, Fauci misled us. First, he said no masks, then he said masks’. Well, let me give you a flash. That’s the way science works. You work with the data you have at the time,” he added.
He described the email exchange with Zuckerberg as “about as friendly and innocent of an email as you could possibly imagine”, and called criticism of the correspondence “total conspiracy theory and total flight of fantasy”.
Asked how he felt when he realized his emails were to be made public, Fauci said: “Once I knew that it got out there, and it was going to get very carefully scrutinized by very far-right, radical people who clearly are trying to discredit me, I said to myself, ‘It is likely, I know, that you can pull out sentences from emails or take emails out of context or take an email that is perfectly innocent, followed up by an explanation and only show one aspect of it’.”
Fauci has served seven Presidents since 1984 but the pandemic and the Trump administration’s chaotic response to it propelled him to newfound fame.
He also told the Times he put “very little weight in the adulation and very little weight in the craziness of condemning me”.
Fauci remains sceptical about claims that Covid-19 originated in a laboratory leak in Wuhan, as per the report.
I feel, as do the overwhelming majority of scientists who have knowledge of virology and knowledge of evolutionary biology, that the most likely explanation for this is a natural leap from an animal to a human,” he told the Times
He described the theory as a “very, very remote possibility”, but said “I do keep an open mind”.