Focusing on the Scientists . . . Finally

A new documentary, as scientists and physicians are finding their footing

Focusing on the Scientists . . . Finally

After months of relative silence — with the Lancet being the lone loud voice among prominent journals until last week, when NEJM at long last came out with a stirring editorial — we are finally seeing some serious anger and backbone from leading lights in the scientific community. Even Dr. Fauci has become irritated.

A new documentary about the US Covid-19 response from the Oscar-winning director of Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room and The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley (about Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos) is being released today. Entitled, Totally Under Control, the film is about the failures of the US pandemic response. It features scientists and physicians who are speaking out about the costs of the ineptitude and politicization the US has experienced — politicization which has made Republican-leaning states the hotbeds for Covid since June. I haven’t watched the documentary yet — it was originally scheduled for release in early November, but is being released early (today) given President Trump’s positive coronavirus diagnosis — but it’s a rainy day here, so it might make it on the agenda.

I know we’ve all had enough about the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, but given the centrality of scientists and scientific (mis)information to the controversies that have allowed the illness to explode and endure throughout the US, this documentary looks especially relevant and interesting.

Ty Burr, reviewing the film in today’s Boston Globe, begins with:

It was the PPE task force staffed by unpaid interns in their 20s that finally had me yelling at the screen.

They show up about two-thirds of the way into Totally Under Control, a  documentary recap of the US coronavirus disaster to date. One of their number, Max Kennedy, tells the filmmakers how under Jared Kushner’s oversight, he and others were put in a windowless room with TVs playing Fox News and told to buy enough masks to make the entire country safe. They had to use their own laptops and Gmail addresses and, because they had no idea how government procurement works, started out by contacting  their college friends.

These kids weren’t working for the task force. They were the task force. “In the entire time I was a volunteer,” says Kennedy, “our team did not purchase a single mask.”

Totally Under Control is out today on demand, and will be available for streaming on Hulu October 20th.

Burr continues in his review:

The movie is enraging, necessary, and above all, useful. The year of our dark lord 2020 has brought so many daily outrages that it has become easy to lose sight of the big picture; exhausted by each new revelation of incompetence and denial, we fall off  the back of the truck and let the news roll on without us. By simply reconnecting the dots and reminding us of exactly where failure lies, a movie like this is valuable.

Making sense of things is critical, as is taking appropriate action in response to rampant mismanagement, as the NEJM editorial concludes:

Anyone else who recklessly squandered lives and money in this way would be suffering legal consequences. Our leaders have largely claimed immunity for their actions. But this election gives us the power to render judgment. Reasonable people will certainly disagree about the many political positions taken by candidates. But truth is neither liberal nor conservative. When it comes to the response to the largest public health crisis of our time, our current political leaders have  demonstrated that they are dangerously incompetent. We should not abet them and enable the deaths of thousands more Americans by allowing them to keep their jobs.

Stay safe, watch this movie if you wish, and please be sure to make your views known to your elected officials.

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