Collars must be getting tight around the Pavilion Building’s fifth floor, where Gov. Phil Scott and his inner circle have their offices. I say this because yesterday, Scott’s chief of staff Jason Gibbs delivered a series of tweets in which he claimed to know more about Covid-19 than the actual experts. Most of his attention was focused on one particular expert, Anne Sosin of Dartmouth College. He took exception to her advocacy of a mask mandate, questioned her ethics and research, and challenged her to a Science-Off on Twitter — everyone’s chosen platform for scientific discourse.
At times it approached the level of bullying. It was an unusual and unseemly performance by Phil Scott’s top guy.
Oh wait — he’s come back for Round 2 today! I’m surprised; I thought he’d get a talking-to from his boss and return to his hidey hole. Hmm. Maybe the governor wants his chief of staff out there showing his ass to the world.
Can we conclude that this is of a piece with the administration’s blinkered approach to “the science and the data” that Scott claims to rely on? When asked about dissenting experts at a recent Covid briefing, Scott professed to trust the experts in the building. His underlings, that is.
What’s gotten under their skin? It’s not the failure of their Delta variant policy or the terrible Covid case counts or hospitalizations or ICU admissions or the overstressed health care system or the slow plague of long Covid we’re setting ourselves up for. Maybe it was the Vermont chapter of the American College of Physicians publicly calling for a mask mandate and other “evidence-based measures.” Maybe it was former health commissioner Dr. Harry Chen joining the chorus. There are so many experts on that side, and so many studies showing that mask mandates are effective, that Team Scott must be feeling a bit embattled.
But, for whatever reason, Gibbs’ primary target was Sosin.
In one tweet, Gibbs accused Sosin of making “false assumptions” and being “desperate to prove a false narrative.” In another, he said Sosin’s analysis “ignores a key” factor and “conceals the full truth.”
He referred to his own tweets as “critiques of Anne’s comparative analysis,” which (a) yes, sure, Twitter is the place to go for thorough, well-reasoned scientific colloquies, and (b) at least he could have called her “Ms. Sosin,” given her a little credit for being an adult.
And while Gibbs was painting Sosin as a traitor to her own profession, he described himself as simply providing “a neutral analysis of data.” Yeah, right.
This display prompted a lot of pushback. Not from Sosin, who behaved like an adult, but from the Usual Suspects in #vtpoliland AND some very prominent health experts. Dr. Gavin Yamey, Director of the Center for Policy Impact in Global Health at Duke University, tweeted to Gibbs:
This kind of anti-science aggression—an attack on a highly respected scientist & scientific colleague who has devoted her life to improving public health—is stomach turning. Please stop.
Gregg Gonsalves, associate professor of Epidemiology at Yale University, accused Gibbs of “bashing academics to divert from the real problem. To which Gibbs replied, “Yeah, alright buddy. Asking for accurate math is “bashing” and a diversion. Sure…”
“Buddy”? An epidemiologist at a top university is reduced to “Buddy”? Somebody’s knickers are in a twist, and it ain’t Professor Buddy.
Gonsalves responded: “Shooting the messenger isn’t sound public policy it’s abdication of public responsibility and trust.” Yep.
Dr. Julia Raifman of the Boston University School of Public Health, who is conducting research on how policy choices are affecting the course of the pandemic, responded to Gibbs’ tweet accusing Sosin of fomenting “a false narrative” with restrained civility:
So sorry to see the upward trend in ICU hospitalizations in Vermont and so glad you’re looking into data on mask policies. Mask policies start reducing the spread of COVID immediately and reduce cases more and more over time, as each case averted prevents spread to others
Raifman gave Gibbs far more credit than he gave anyone else.
After that pathetic performance, Gibbs remains unapologetic and unbowed. The worst thing about this isn’t his arrogance and name-calling. It’s what this says about administration decision-making. They are absolutely convinced that what they are doing is right — in the face of months of wrongness — and they’re more likely to smear their critics than engage with them.
If he’s so sure of his facts, he could have consulted with Sosin and Dr. Chen and maybe had Zoom meetings with the out-of-state experts. He could have had an open, respectful discussion. Maybe even learned something. Raifman sure sounds amenable. Sosin has made it clear she’s open to an exchange of views.
She’s too polite to say so, but I will. Shut the F up, “buddy.” You’re making a fool of yourself and your boss.