Maria Gutzeit | It’s Important More than Ever: Listen to Science


Aesop’s ant and the grasshopper fable is on my mind as we enter week three of coronavirus shutdown. 

Why weren’t we as a country more prepared? Why didn’t we have a vaccine when disease experts already knew of the risk of this type of virus before the current outbreak? Why are we short on supplies for testing and for health care and emergency response? 

In the fable, the ant works continuously to make sure it’s prepared when the tough times come. The grasshopper enjoys a fabulous summer only to face starvation when winter arrives. I hope we remember this moment and say “yes” the next time we need to fund emergency plans, stockpiles and research. 

Nevertheless, we have no other choice than to deal with the hand we’ve been dealt right now. Teachers, health care workers, businesses, government representatives and individuals are all rising to the occasion.

I pin a lot of hope on science. It’s a noble profession. Generally unmotivated by profit (though few can work for free) or popularity, scientists live for one thing, and that’s finding solutions. 

Everything from satellites to seismology, education to economics, health care, food, disease control, structures, transportation and utilities…. indeed almost anything we depend on in a modern world is because of the people who work in the sciences. 

In times of crisis, strong leadership is important. It can be disconcerting that most science folks are never 100% sure. They give answers in ranges, or probabilities. This is because they know the world is ever changing, and they know what they don’t know. 

Susan Greenfield, neurochemist and disease researcher, once said, “In life, people want a simple answer . . . and it’s always wrong.” 

We need to give the scientists the space to zero in on solutions, because it beats guessing wildly every single time.

I trust the scientific process. No doubt thousands of folks are working on vaccines, tests and treatments. 

Thousands more are studying transmission methods and making and refining computer models. Engineers of all stripes are already figuring out not only how to mass produce tests and drugs, but also how to retrofit existing manufacturing facilities and obtain raw materials to make new equipment and supplies we need on very short notice. 

People on the government side need to allow flexibility in permitting. In my working world, environmental review, new power connections, building permits, air permit approvals, hazardous material disclosures and public hearings currently take years for a routine operation, and many projects are never approved. We need a safe alternative in this emergency. 

Even more risky, we need to fast-track, as much as is prudent based on science, drug and vaccine testing. 

However, projections say a solid, widely available vaccine is 18 months or more away, at the very best. So, we work and school from home, thankful for those who gave us the internet and computers and Zoom and Google. 

We’re thankful for the logistics planners, the core businesses and the delivery drivers and people shifting from one job to another right now. We turn to the disease experts, the modelers and health care professionals and listen to their advice about how to protect ourselves in the meantime. 

We need public policy experts and the economists to think long and hard about what to do short-term and long-term to minimize the already devastating impact this is already having. 

The answers are there. 

Right now, people are pointing out that our parents lived through war. Some families and some parts of the world still deal with that today. Most American lives have been fairly easy in comparison. Besides war, as humans, we have had other things to surmount. Polio. Ebola. Lack of refrigeration, heat, plumbing or electricity. Food- and waterborne disease. Starvation from crop failures. Natural disasters. 

In the beginning of the 19th century, worldwide life expectancy was 40 years. In the 1950s, U.S. life expectancy was 68, today it is 79. It is horrible that we have gotten ourselves into this current spot. Like all the times before, smart people working together will find a solution. I hope we have the political will to let them find those answers, and to listen to their advice. 

“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.” 

– Marie Curie, Nobel Prize-winning chemist

Maria Gutzeit is a chemical engineer, business owner, elected official, and mom living in Santa Clarita. 

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