- - Monday, May 31, 2021

In times of trouble, Americans have often sought a Man on a White Horse, the guy who’d save the day in Spaghetti Westerns. Today, in the Age of Science, we seek the Man in a White Coat, and Frontier Fauci has saddled up. But the way he flip-flops on things as basic as the origin of the pandemic has chilled the exact sort of questions science needs to advance.

In his landmark book, “1920: The Year of the Six Presidents,” David Pietrusza described President Woodrow Wilson’s ability to change his opinion and then denigrate anyone who continued to hold his old one. Mr. Pietrusza told me, “Progressives from Woodrow to his acolytes FDR and Nixon (yes, a proud Wilsonian) have long enjoyed the ability to switch positions on a dime. 

“But they hold nothing on a current public health establishment that issues such a torrent of rapid about-faces that they remind one more of Groucho Marx’s famed horse-pill dispensing charlatan Dr. Hugo Z. Hackenbush than of Dr. Jonas Salk — or even Dr. Pepper.”

Sticking to the original Fauci fatwa that a man-made origin was “extremely unlikely,” the Biden administration recently terminated an investigation into the laboratory-origin theory. The virus sprung from bat soup. That’s China’s story and the U.S. is sticking to it.

The deification of Dr. Anthony Fauci (“our lord and savior,” as WCBM radio host Derek Hunter mocks him) has worsened a troubling trend: Writing about Science with a capital S, as if it’s “The Old Man in The Cave” from “The Twilight Zone” episode of that name: An authority that none dare challenge. 

Dr. Fauci has embraced this role of oracle, soaking up press the way “SpongeBob SquarePants” soaks up water but squeezing out contradictions. He was certain we shouldn’t wear masks, until he wasn’t. He was certain “the NIH has not ever and does not now fund ‘gain of function’ research in the Wuhan Institute of Virology,” until just hours later when he admitted they did. And he was just as certain that although Wuhan is the only place in Communist China that plays with viruses — and that they’re notoriously careless, even selling lab animals for food — it was pure coincidence that the city was pandemic Ground Zero.

During a recent event titled United Facts of America, Dr. Fauci was asked if he remained convinced that COVID-19 developed naturally, and here came the Triple Lindy flip: “No, actually. I am not convinced about that. I think we should continue to investigate what went on in China until we continue to find out — to the best of our ability — what happened.” He then added more qualifiers for good measure.

“Certainly, the [communist officials who dare say nothing else] say it likely was the emergence from an animal reservoir that then infected individuals, but it could have been something else, and we need to find that out. So, you know, that’s the reason why I said I’m perfectly in favor of any investigation that looks into the origin of the virus.”

That word “certainly” is a Fauci favorite. It’s the equivalent of Barack Obama’s, “Let me be clear,” as if anyone had demanded opaqueness, or Donald Trump’s pleading, “Believe me.” Pity Dr. Fauci’s long-suffering wife. “So, Tony, would you like gabagool for dinner?” “Well, I certainly have a hankering for gabagool now. And there’s a strong, though not absolute likelihood that I’ll order it at the Early Bird Special. However, the human palate is arbitrary. So, yes, I’m in favor of looking into ordering gabagool, but there’s always the possibility that, no, I’ll prefer Aurora’s Chicken Pepperoni.” 

Taxpayers could get these same answers from a $15 Magic 8 Ball. Instead, we pay an unelected bureaucrat more for his schtick than any other federal employee, even the president: $418,000 in 2019 alone.

Science — the real kind that I studied for my degree at Rutgers — is never settled, or we’d still think bad air causes malaria. It requires critical thinking, questioning and a willingness to discard yesterday’s truth based on today’s facts, but not by pretending that yesterday never happened. In this basic duty, Dr. Fauci failed. He’s medicine’s answer to Chauncy Gardiner, the unlikely presidential advisor played by Peter Sellers in 1979’s “Being There”: He says things that sound profound but have all the substance of Homer Simpson’s Gummi Venus de Milo. 

Going forward, we would do well not to seek the Man in a White Coat to do our thinking for us — or, as David Pietrusza put it, “It is long past time to tear off the ‘Trust Science’ bumper stickers and dust off the old ones that urged us to ‘Question Authority.’”

• Dean Karayanis is content producer for “The Rush Limbaugh Show” and host of “History Author Show” on iHeartRadio.

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