“If I knew then what I know now” is an often used aphorism in our culture. It refers to the continuing accumulation of knowledge that one experiences during life while simultaneously insinuating that if one had their present knowledge at an earlier time, one would have made better decisions that would improve one’s current circumstances.
Perhaps you passed up buying stock in Netflix when it was $5.00 per share. Maybe you have ignored your health and are now dealing with a debilitating illness. Maybe it’s something as simple as missing the opportunity to meet someone famous the one night you decide to stay at home. That job you didn’t take, that date you didn’t go on, or that class you didn’t take in college. Any of these decisions have caused all of us to think, “If I knew then what I know now.”
Science circa 1980
I want to take a moment to share a personal story. I attended elementary school in the early 1980s and there were two things that I found absolutely fascinating: dinosaurs and outer space. I know those two things sound completely different, but I was fascinated by science. That there used to be giant animals that roamed the Earth millions of years ago, and the only evidence of their existence was fossils, simply captivated my imagination. Also, when I first began learning about our solar system, I cannot tell you how interesting that subject was to me.
I remember learning that dinosaurs evolved into present day reptiles. That seemed very logical. Look at their size. Most of them have huge tails, they were the largest animals ever to have lived, and they laid eggs. Furthermore, we know that during the time in which they lived (Jurassic Period) the Earth was very hot. Given the large size of dinosaurs, it seemed logical that they were cold blooded. This further supported the belief that they were reptiles.
Then something happened that changed our perspective. According to Science Daily in the 1990s the fossil feathers of one specimen, Shuvuuia deserti, have even tested positive for beta keratin, the main protein in bird feathers, in immunological tests. Particularly well-preserved (and legitimate) fossils of feathered dinosaurs were discovered during the 1990s and 2000s.
This time period of discovery is important because it coincides with the period when the Human Genome Project began. This was the first time in history that humans had the technology to examine the genetic code of DNA. By 1998 the record had been confirmed and history was rewritten: dinosaurs evolved into birds. How could something that had been believed for hundreds of years have been so wrong? Did scientists lie to the world? Let’s come back to that in a minute.
My second love was outer space. I watched Star Trek, Lost In Space, Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers, and anything else that dealt with the subject. I also read everything published on the subject. There was not an Internet then, so I was relegated to reading the World Book Encyclopedias that I had access to in our home. When I was in elementary school, there were two basic truths about space. One, our solar system was the only known place in the universe with planets. Two, Earth was believed to be unique for being the only known place with liquid water.
That all changed in 1995 when the first exoplanet was discovered. As of 9 July 2020, just 25 years later, there are 4,183 confirmed exoplanets. Again, when I was in elementary school, Earth was believed to be the only planet with liquid water. In 2015 it was confirmed that liquid water flows on Mars today. In fact water is now known to be common in our solar system on planets, moons, comets, and asteroids. There is even water ice on our once believed barren moon. How could something that was believed for hundreds of years have been so wrong? Did scientists lie to the world?
In 2008 the Human Genome Project revealed human beings have between 20,000 and 25,000 genes. A mustard plant has 27,000 genes. How could something as sophisticated as the human being and a simple mustard plant have almost the same amount of genes in our DNA? How could science have been so wrong?
So did scientists lie to mankind about dinosaurs, outer space, and DNA? Was there some global conspiracy to withhold the truth from mankind? Of course not. As we developed more sophisticated ways of examining our microscopic world, we discovered that dinosaurs were not the reptiles we once believed them to be based on our visual inspection of the fossil record. We discovered that dinosaurs evolved into modern day birds. Once we had more sophisticated telescopes like the Hubble in orbit, we were able to confirm the existence of other planets in our galaxy.
If we knew then what we know now. It seems almost silly based on our body of scientific knowledge today to think that we ever believed that dinosaurs were reptiles, or that Earth is the only place with water, or that we are so much more sophisticated that the other life forms with which we share our planet. Science and scientists are only as good as the information and the tools that they have at their disposal.
Is It Science or Politics?
Which brings us to Covid-19. Now that the 2020 presidential election is in full swing, and in the United States we have a resurgence of cases in more than half of the country, someone has to be blamed. Dr. Anthony Fauci is being thrown under the bus by the Trump Administration. This isn’t unique because Trump throws everyone under the bus. Why would Dr. Fauci the preeminent and world’s leading physician and immunologist who has served as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984 be thrown under the bus?
According to the Trump Administration it is because Dr. Fauci has made a lot of mistakes and now the Trump Administration is trying to undermine his reputation. Trump told Sean Hannity of FoxNews “They’ve been wrong about a lot things, including face masks,” Trump added. “Maybe they’re wrong, maybe not, but a lot of them said don’t wear a mask, don’t wear a mask. Now they are saying wear a mask. So a lot of mistakes were made — a lot of mistakes.”
I am not trying to have a debate here about who has more culpability for the circumstances we find ourselves in right now, but let’s put this into perspective. We taught for hundreds of years that dinosaurs evolved into reptiles. We believed that our solar system was the only one with planets and that Earth was the only place with liquid water for thousands of years. We only recently discovered that humans and mustard plants have a similar amount of genes in their DNA in 2008.
Covid-19 stands for Coronavirus Disease – 2019. The number 19 means that this strand of Coronavirus was discovered in 2019. Is it reasonable to believe that we would not know everything there is to know about this novel virus in a year? Is it reasonable to assume that we know more today than we did a year ago? Is it also reasonable to believe that Dr. Anthony Fauci is just doing his job, as he has done since becoming the director of the NIH, for the betterment of mankind?
If given a choice of whom to believe, should you choose a formally trained immunologist of 35+ years or your “friend” with no medical experience who posted something on social media? Should you trust Dr. Fauci or a real estate developer turned politician who has, according to The Washington Post as of June 1, 2020, made 19,127 false or misleading claims in 1,226 days as president? Does the inconvenience of wearing a mask outweigh the possibility of contracting a deadly disease or passing it on to someone about whom you care? Donald Trump is trying to win re-election this November and Dr. Fauci is trying to find a cure to Covid-19. Ask yourself a simple question. Which of these men would benefit the most from manipulating the masses about the truth of what is going on with Covid-19?