June 10, 2023

Public Health Experts’ Double Standard: Black Lives Matter & Anti-Lockdown Protests

People take part in a protest following the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd in Boston, Mass., June 3, 2020. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

Too often these days, “expert advice” is really just politics pretending to be objective truth.

Here’s a perfect example. Public-health experts have had conniptions about public protests against economic lock downs, while enthusiastically supporting large demonstrations in support of Black Lives Matter. Some, have charged the sector with “hypocrisy” for that clear dichotomy of perspectives.

“Oh, no it’s not!” write bioethicists/physicians from the Ethics Committee of the Society of Internal Medicine in the Hastings Center blog. One cause supports more important public-health goals than the other, i.e., eliminating racism. And that makes all the difference! From their “Ethical Analysis”:

Black people die at the hands of law enforcement more than others and are disproportionately policed and incarcerated. The resulting mass incarcerations have significant health consequences for inmates and their families. The pandemic has also disproportionately affected Blacks, who are more likely to be essential workers and live in crowded conditions and thus are at increased risk of contracting and dying from the virus. Black people also experience discrimination in the health care system, contributing to worse medical outcomes. Historically, civil rights movements have led to progress with a positive impact on public health.

Therefore, the Black Lives Matter protests against police killings and mass incarceration and for equal treatment are aligned with public health recommendations, with the exception that they are taking place during a pandemic.

That’s one hell of an exception!

Why are the anti-lockdown protests bad but BLM’s good? The former hooligans are rebelling against the experts!

While individual readers will weigh these arguments with their own values, there are legitimate reasons for viewing the anti-lockdown and Black Lives Matter protests differently both from a medical and a societal perspective. The most straightforward argument is that the purpose of the anti-lockdown protests is diametrically opposite to medical recommendations while the Black Lives Matter demands are consistent with public health imperatives [of overcoming racism].

Did you see the sleight of hand? The lockdown protests are judged from a “medical” perspective, which is objective, while the BLM protests are justified from a “public health imperative,” which really means subjective politics.

Medical perspectives are scientific and require unique knowledge most don’t have. Such advice should be objective. Over simplified, it is either safe or unsafe to engage in mass marches or vigils during the pandemic. The perceived righteousness of the cause is irrelevant.

Moreover, one could actually present evidence that the ubiquitous BLM marches are much more perilous medically than the relatively few anti-lockdown protests, since the former are exponentially larger, far more ubiquitous, and occur with much greater frequency — an issue these “experts” somehow overlooked.

In contrast, judging whether the respective protests are right or wrong “from a societal perspective” is not something that requires medical or bioethical expertise. It is a subjective determination that takes into consideration the objective medical perspective, but which also depends on the values, morals, and politics of the one opining. We don’t need experts to tell us what our opinions should be. Yours are as valid as theirs.

Crucially, the authors don’t grapple with the profound corrosion of trust caused generally when “experts” express and/or validate their own subjective opinions as if they were objective scientific pronouncements of great weight. People smell the politics and turn away.

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