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CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Hello, everyone, and welcome to “Amanpour and Company.” Here’s what’s coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: We’re gearing up on the assumption that we’ll have in the near future, relatively near future, a vaccine.
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AMANPOUR: A real promise or raising unrealistic hopes? Top health reporter, Ed Yong, of “The Atlantic” brings his expertise to connect all
the coronavirus dot.
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TOM NICHOLS, AUTHOR, “THE DEATH OF EXPERTISE: What we found is that our tribalism became more important than facts.
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AMANPOUR: “The Death of Expertise,” Harvard professor, Tom Nichols, tells us our Hari Sreenivasan about the war on knowledge.
Plus, Germany gets the virus under control and gets Europe’s first soccer matches back into empty stadiums. Legendary England striker, Gary Lineker,
tells me what’s at stake for sports.
Welcome to the program, everyone. I’m Christiane Amanpour working from home in London.
A coronavirus vaccine by the end of the year, maybe before, that is President Trump’s take as he promises a vaccine at warp speed. He said it
from the White House Rose Garden. Take a listen.
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TRUMP: Nobody’s seen anything like we’re doing now within our country since the Second World War. Incredible. Its objective is to finish
developing and then to manufacture and distribute a proven coronavirus vaccine as fast as possible. Again, we’d love to see if we could do it
prior to the end of the year. We think we’re going to have some very good results coming out very quickly.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Everybody would like to see that happen. But let’s be clear because expert after expert says this kind of speed is not likely even in
the best of circumstances.
Only yesterday, Rick Bright, who had led the U.S. vaccine effort, testified to Congress that optimistic timeframe is 12 to 18 months and it could take
longer, that is even as labs across the world are currently holding trials and working tirelessly towards a vaccine.
Joining us now is the “The Atlantic” science writer, Ed Yong. In 2018, he wrote an article warning the next plague was coming and the world was
underprepared. He was supposed to be on book leave right now but raced back to work to chronicle the defining story of his beat. And he’s joining me
now from Washington.
Ed Yong, welcome to the program.
So, just let me start by asking you the news of the day and the latest promise of the day from the White House that they are at warp speed going
to aim to have something ready by the end of the year. And in fact, the new head of this, former GlaxoSmithKline CEO, did say that he believed from
what he saw, there could be several millions of doses available by the end of this year. Give us your take.
ED YONG, STAFF WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: I think that this particular administration has a track record of making exaggerated claims about how
well the pandemic is being controlled and what the possibilities are for the future. So, I’m not sure we should take that at face value.
I do — I agree that we would all love to see a vaccine sooner rather than later, but optimism isn’t going to delivery one, research will, and
research takes a lot of time. The experts that I have spoken to, much like Rick Bright, have said to this time frame of 12 to 18 months and that was a
couple of months ago. So, we’re a bit further along, but it does take time, not only to make a vaccine but to ensure that it is safe and effective. And
it is very difficult to shortcut that process as much as we all want to to get on with our regular lives.
AMANPOUR: Ed, let me just play for you but also for the viewers just to show them exactly what the experts are saying. So, we start with a sort of
a mash-up but Dr. Fauci starts this little mash-up.
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DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, U.S. NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASE: The answer to containing is public health measures. We
can’t rely on a vaccine over the next several months to a year.
RICK BRIGHT, FORMER DIRECTOR, U.S. BIOMEDICAL ADVANCED RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY: I still think 12 to 18 months is an aggressive
schedule. And I think it’s going to take longer than that to do so.
DENNIS CARROLL, FORMER DIRECTOR, USAID’S PANDEMIC, INFLUENZA AND EMERGING THREATS UNIT: Let me also offer a cautionary note, we have never developed
a vaccine against this family of viruses before.
JEREMY FARRAR, DIRECTOR, WELLCOME TRUST: Yes, it will take weeks and months. It may not happen until into 2021.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, that is a much longer time frame that all the experts are talking about. And on the evidence, there is nothing to suggest that it can
be shortcut. But again, tell me what we should know about the science of rushing a vaccine out and is any of the red tape and the regulations that
have been cut right now going to help make that happen?
YONG: So, the starting point of making a vaccine, actually identifying a candidate, a molecule that might work, that can progress quite quickly and
it has but all the tests needed to show that it will work, that it will be safe to work out what doses are required, all of that takes a lot of
clinical work, a large clinical trials that need to be done rigorously and efficiently.
And while there can be certain efficiencies, while you can shorten the process a little bit, you can’t really just crush it down into a matter of
months, which is why experts are talking about this process taking up until 2021, which is why everyone I have spoken to has repeatedly said that this
is not going to be a crisis that abates in a matter of months, that we’re not going to go back into a normal summer or at least that we shouldn’t do.
We need to steel ourselves medically and psychologically for what is going to be a very long and protracted fight with several rounds and that will
last until the next year most likely.
AMANPOUR: So, let me ask you about that because the obvious question is, then is how does one combat it? And you have about three options. One of
them, I think the most readily available under current circumstances is what you call whack-a-mole. So, describe what this means in terms of
fighting this virus and also describe why we’re seeing in the United States kind of a plateau and different spikes in different places?
YONG: Yes. So, the options for completely containing the virus and stamping it out are incredibly likely right now and the other option of
just letting it run amuck is going to be far too costly in terms of lives leaving, which leaves us with this unenviable middle ground where we’re
going to have to play this whack-a-mole game with the virus. It is going to spring up in different parts of the country, in areas that it has not
previously hit and it’s going to reemerge in areas that once had it under control. It will continue to do that over the rest of the year.
So, we are stuck in this weird patchwork where in some parts of America the virus is taking off and in others it is declining. And if you average that
out, you end up with a plateau which is what we are seeing.
So. this mental model of something like a hurricane, a natural disaster that hits and then goes away is completely wrong. This pandemic is going to
linger and it is going to shift in this very weird and unsettling patchwork way. And even this idea that we’ll get a peak now, a lull in the summer and
a resurgence in the fall doesn’t quite capture the dynamic situation we’re facing where things are going to change very quickly across the country and
across the calendar.
AMANPOUR: So, let us just play some of these images that we’ve been seeing, essentially people going to bars and into close quarters in
restaurants and waiting for all sorts of other areas of activity to open up. Given the fact that this is happening in various towns and cities
across the United States, and to be fair also around the world, clearly in Europe and certain countries, in Asia, they have got a much better grip on
But one of the things you said is that the testing fiasco is the original sin. You call the original sin — you call it the original sin of the
American pandemic failure. Can you explain, not just sort of in hindsight but what it means for the process of trying to exit this and slowly
carefully open up?
YONG: Yes. So, none of the experts I have spoken to, even those who had worried about a pandemic for a long time, imagined that the U.S. would so
thoroughly fail to rollout a widespread testing capacity to identify cases of the virus, and that is in fact what has happened. That meant that
hospitals didn’t have enough time to enact to their own preparedness measures. It meant that the country was still oblivious to spread of the
virus in the early months. And the continued failure to roll out testing to a sufficient degree means that we still don’t fully understand where the
virus is and to what extent it has hit the country.
Our numbers are way, way too low. And without having testing ramped up to the necessary degree we can’t really be confident about reopening the
country. You’ve shown images of people going out into bars and public places, and I think it is very easy to pin the blame on individuals doing
actions we think are reckless but we have created the conditions for that recklessness by not having a federally coordinated plan and by leaving
states to do their own thing.
Some of them have reopened early and allowing — and allowed people to reenter the world and restart these transmission chains. And while the U.S.
government has released a federal plan, it is so bereft of detail that it’s essentially leaving things up to the states. It basically says, there
should be testing but doesn’t provide any guidance of how to actually do that and doesn’t take the lead in ensuring that that is actually going to
AMANPOUR: So, on top of that, where we started was the president saying one thing with all sorts of optimism about a speedy vaccine and these
experts that we have quoted and that you have talked to saying, hang on a second, it is not that quick and not that fast.
What is the consequence for people of that kind of mixed messaging?
YONG: I think it is really bad. I think in a crisis like this which is already bringing with it so much fear and uncertainty and anxiety you need
calm communication, you need trusted information from the federal government, from our leaders. And in a situation where there is constant
miscommunication, where there is a lack of respect for expertise, lack of value for expertise, then people are left in a very unenviable situation
where they don’t know who to turn to for information. And that’s just making all of this so much worse than it needs to be.
A pandemic was always going to be a communications challenge. But when the president is saying things like, everyone can get a test who wants a test
and everyone cannot, what that means is that hospitals get overwhelmed by the worried well. When the president is touting unproven medications, it
leads to people giving — getting a false sense of security. And in situations where they can reenter the world, they probably will.
This failure of communication is amplifying all the dynamics that are already very difficult in a pandemic and it’s no wonder that people are
AMANPOUR: So, they also are confused and maybe a lot of us are about whether this virus has changed. Is there stuff that you know given that you
have been writing about it, you know, since it first started raising its head, compared to right now? Has it mutated? Is it different? What is the
biology of this virus now? What should we know?
YONG: So, the virus, like all viruses, has mutated. Viruses just do that as they spread. What is — what really matters is whether those mutations
make any kind of a difference to the virus, and that’s the difference between just between talking about different strains and just lineages.
So, a strain is the form of the virus that differs in a meaningful way, maybe in its transmissibility or in its ability to cause diseases. And as
far as the virologists I’ve spoken to know, there is still just one strain of SARS CoV-2, one strain that we need to deal with. And that’s different
to what I’m sure a lot of the viewers have heard on the news about two, three, even eight strains.
But the experts do feel that there is just one and that there is not enough evidence that the virus has changed in meaningful ways and that there won’t
be any evidence like that for several months or so. That is in some ways a small mercy. We are actually still dealing with one enemy. That should make
it easier to deal with. But it’s now on us, on the government’s ability to marshal that actual defense.
AMANPOUR: Do you think it’s too late to marshal that defense? And before you answer that, I want to ask you because people in the United States are
saying, well, look, the first lot came from China to the West Coast of the U.S. and then the second lot came from Europe to New York and the East
Coast. Is there a difference and did it come — I mean, it all started in Asia, right, and it just traveled by one route or the other?
YONG: Yes. So, no. The — while a lot has been said about different strains hitting places like New York from different directions, as far as
the virologists I have spoken to are concerned, that’s not the case. There is just one strain of virus. Different linages may have arrived at
different parts of the country at different times, that’s to be expected but it’s not as if those viruses have radically different properties that
make combatting it harder. We are still dealing with one virus, one disease.
And I do think there is still time to make a difference. The U.S. can ramp up testing, it can build the public health infrastructure needed to trace
the contacts of people infected. And it can enact social policies that will make a difference right now before a vaccine arrives, something like fair
sick pay, like fair child care policies, universal health care. All of these things can make a huge difference to people’s capacity to contract
and then to suffer from the virus and they can reduce a lot of the health disparities that we are already seeing.
All of this can be done right now. It is a matter of political will. And that will is being exercised at the state level. A lot of governors are
doing a fantastic job. But it is not being exercised at the federal level and that is to the detriment of the country. It means that the responses
from the states are less than the sum of their parts when they should be more.
AMANPOUR: So, let me ask you, because clearly, the United States has the military logistics core which is very good at logistics, it prepares the
U.S. military for all sorts of interventions overseas. It could have done a lot of the supply chain stuff and a lot of moving. But also, CDC, right?
CDC is the global, you know, respected leader of all of this kind of stuff and yet, it seems to have been, A, politized and B, sidelined.
I just want to read what Dr. Birx has said about it. She said in a recent meeting, now, this is according to reports, there’s nothing from the CDC
that I can trust. So, it’s a bit of a shocking inditement of this gold standard agency. Can you tell me the effect of the CDC being sidelined or
in this case, you know, less than trustworthy if that’s true?
YONG: Yes. It’s been hugely demoralizing for people who work in public health. Other people we least need to be demoralized right now. The CDC has
long been held up by people in this country as being a shining example of public health, not just in America but around the entire world. And to have
that resource which is so crucial be sidelined and be silenced is the exact opposite of what should happen.
Now, I’m pretty sure that what the CDC is still doing stuff behind the scenes that we are not aware of, but they are not on the front lines and
that is very difficult to past epidemics. They are not doing press conferences. They are not spearheading that national response in a very
obvious way. And that means that other public health people having to deal with quite granular questions from mayors and governors, they are being
reached out — these leaders are reaching out to these experts for advice when they would normally reach out to the CDC, and I think that speaks to
this devaluation of what should have been this shining exemplar of public health in the country.
AMANPOUR: So, we talked in terms of looking ahead about the whack-a-mole strategy because you say there’s no way it’s going to be eradicated. The
herd immunity is not a possibility right now. And so, it’s whack-a-mole. What’s the new normal going to look like?
YONG: Yes. So, I think that the country needs to heavily invest in testing and tracing. These are just normal public health pillars that have brought
a lot of epidemics to heel and may well work here.
If they don’t work because of this patchwork effect, because the virus could potentially move from one place who doesn’t have it under control to
one place that does, the country should steel itself for the prospect of further rounds of social distancing, for further restrictions to come. It
is very unlikely that places will be able to return to normal and stay that way for long periods of time until a vaccine is ready.
We should be prepared to have to restrain our activities once again, and I think that is going to be a difficult toll on a lot of people. It is the
result of a lot of this lack of coordination but it seems that that is going to be part of our future.
And I think we need to start thinking very hard about how we build the systems that will help us in that time, how to look after the most
vulnerable populations among us, people in nursing homes, people in prisons, in meat packing plants, places that have been hotspots of this
outbreak since the very start. We need to be able to control that in order to keep the entire country safe. And I think that principle that none of us
are safe unless all of us is safe is something all of us need to internalize.
AMANPOUR: Right. And the whole world is included in that, obviously, because it travels all over the place. But I’m very interested because, you
know, you have also kind of considered a bit of the psychology. People are quite shocked that in the United States it’s the epicenter by far, the
worst statistics. Here in Britain, the worst in Europe. I mean, just by far. The two countries that are the most powerful and that yet took way too
long to get serious about it. Describe the sort of national characteristics that you have talked about.
YONG: Yes. So, America is famed for its sense of exceptionalism, that it is the greatest country in the world. Britain has a very different tact,
it’s got this blithe spirit, this idea that it is stoic, it has stiff upper lip and all of that. I think both of these characteristics left the
countries vulnerable to a threat that started in a place as distant and foreign as China.
I think there was a sense that what happened in China would not hit other parts of the world or that if it did, those countries would be ready. And I
think we have underestimated how vulnerable the world is because of the globalization, because of a weakening of public health, because of a
devaluation in expertise. All of those things have meant that these countries that should have been much more prepared than they actually were
have really fumbled in their response to this pandemic.
And I think in America, we are seeing this very strange dynamic where — think about 9/11. 9/11 was an attack on the American ideal and it gave the
country something to rally around. But a virus doesn’t really do that to the same extent. In some ways, the response to the virus, telling people to
stay at home, diminishing their freedoms, feels more like an attack on what America is, and I think that’s contributing to some of the protests you’ve
seen, some of the rush to go back into the world. That sense of not living in fear is not the right attitude when you’re dealing with a virus which
doesn’t care about how scared you are.
AMANPOUR: Yes. It is a really good point, it’s a fascinating observation. Ed Yong, thank you so much indeed. And we’re going to dig deeper into the
idea of devaluing expertise later in the show.
But first, amidst all this grim news there is a little bit of light. Soccer fans worldwide are probably rejoicing as the German Bundesliga heads back
to the pitch this weekend. But the stadiums will still be empty as teams play behind closed doors and the U.K.’s Premier League could also return as
early as next month.
So, how has coronavirus impacted the sport, the players and billions of followers around the world? Joining me now is soccer legend, Gary Lineker.
He has scored the most World Cup final goals of any English player and he racked up record ever since he started at Leicester City and on through to
Barcelona and Tottenham Hotspur.
Since 1999, he’s been the host of the top BBC sports show “Match of the Day.” And he’s joining me from his home in London.
Gary Lineker, welcome to the program.
Let me just start by asking you, are you excited that the German top leagues are going to start playing again?
GARY LINEKER, FORMER ENGLISH FOOTBALL PLAYER: Nervously excited, I think. I think we’re all looking at the German league as — well, they’re setting
the tone for everybody else, aren’t they? Because I think every league in Europe that wants to try and finish the season that was obviously
interrupted is looking to Germany to see how it goes.
Obviously, the Germans have been, you know, pretty much very clever during this thing. Their testing has been brilliant and they’re ahead of everybody
else in Europe really. So, it would be interesting to see how it pans out. But what happens if three or four players test positive and then everybody
else in the squad has to isolate? Then you’ve got a problem. So, yes, excited but at the same time a little bit apprehensive.
AMANPOUR: So, we understand that they’re in effect quarantined, they basically go from the stadium to their hotel, I think, and back and forth
and there will be testing. But there will also, as we said, playing behind closed doors. How does that strike you? I mean, we still don’t know whether
it’s going to be a health issue. But is football football or soccer soccer if there are no fans? What’s the psychological impact of that?
LINEKER: Well, it’s not quite the same. I have played in one game behind closed doors in my entire career because we had some fan problems in the
crowd and it was a very strange experience. I imagine after a few games they’ll get used to it. But even watching football on television, soccer,
obviously you American viewers, is very much different if you’ve not got the crowd. In fact, that’s the same for pretty much every sport. Because
the crowd adds to it, it adds to the atmosphere and it becomes more exciting to watch on the television.
So, players — it will be a little bit like training in many ways but more important than training. But I imagine they’ll get accustomed to it. It’s
whether the television audience is accustomed to it because it’s very different.
I think in Germany they have got things like cardboard cutouts, lots of thousands of fans that will be noise put through the P.A. systems, et
cetera, to try and generate some kind of atmosphere. So, I think Europe is watching very closely to see how it pans out. And, you know, fingers
crossed it’s acceptable because I think it’s better if the European leagues were interrupted with about — generally about 10 matches to go.
So, I think in terms of fairness, et cetera, it would be good to finish out the season. Now, there seems to be a little bit of a rush to do it because
they want to start next season on time. But I don’t see that rush because the likelihood is as — you know, I listen to your — the former guest that
was speaking, Ed, and he was speaking a lot of commonsense that, you know, it’s going to go on for some time. So, the chances of next season being
interrupted are pretty high I would imagine.
So, take our time. Let’s see how this season pans out. Let’s finish it eventually. Then, at least, after that, we can look at the next season from
a leveled playing field.
AMANPOUR: So, then, is that basically what you’re saying about the premier league, as well? Because they’ll make a decision as to whether to come out.
There’s like, I think, 92 or so games to play in the season So, you also think it should go slow and maybe not rush back?
LINEKER: Yes. 92 games left. But don’t forget, that’s not — that’s all the games. So, that’s probably around nine or 10 games or the best for each
team. But I don’t see why there’s a rush. I understand why there’s a rush because they want to get it finished before next season starts, which is
normally in August. Obviously, that’s when we start again.
So, they want do get it finished. So, let — and they want to start in June to get it finished and then have a little break and then start the next
season. But realistically, is next season going to be interrupted? Probably yes.
So, I — my suggestion is to take your time with this one. Yes, finish it, because I think that’s the fairest thing to do and then let’s just adjust
from there on. But, yes, the premier league is — I think they’re probably hoping to start about middle of June. June 19, I think, is the hopeful
starting date. But obviously, with the coronavirus, with COVID-19, it’s very fluid. We don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow let alone in four
weeks’ time. So, let’s be patient. Let’s see. But we’re all keeping our fingers — And I think it’s OK to suggest that you’ve missed football.
AMANPOUR: Frank Lampard, the Chelsea manager, a former England player, he’s come out and basically said that, you know, we should be careful.
There are more important people in this world than soccer players to be tested. With its lack of testing surely, he said, NHS and others should be
tested first and then let’s figure out the soccer world afterwards.
But in terms of playing, you some, some people want to, some don’t. And one player — I’m going to play you, Danny Rose’s quote because he says, he’s
not thrilled at the idea and he says, you know, the government and the owners may want us to but — let’s just play what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DANNY ROSE, ENGLISH FOOTBALL PLAYER: The government is saying now, bring football back because it’s going to boost the nation’s morale. I don’t give
a — about the nation’s morale, bro. People’s lives at risk. So, just — do you know what I mean? Like football shouldn’t even be spoke about coming
back until the numbers dropped like massively.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, that’s an interesting take, Gary. I wonder what you make on that. And sort of a parallel question, obviously, a lot of players are
frustrated. There’s training interrupted, all their sort of, you know, scores and positions and leagues and that this and that, but some are
saying perhaps this is a time to train, to refresh, to take a step back off that incredibly difficult spotlight and, you know, daily rigorous routine.
LINEKER: Yes. It is a very difficult one, Christiane. I think I understand players. The important thing, of course, is the safety of the players. I
don’t think most players will be worried necessarily about getting the virus because, you know, they’re generally young, they’re fit, they’ll
probably deal with it. But they don’t want to — you know, they have families.
Yes, they might be quarantined away from them for a while but, you know, they are human beings. They will have worries. Some players will be
desperate to get back to play. Other players won’t. They’ll be nervous about getting back to play.
It comes back to my point of taking your time. Safety is absolutely imperative. You can’t social distance playing soccer. You just can’t. You
know, I saw something the other day, there was a report that, well, what about, you know, they could tackle but when they tackle, they could look
away to move their mouth away. Absurd suggestions like that. Then you’ve got free kicks where you got a wall that stands together. And so, you
cannot play football and social distance.
So, it’s one of those. Yes, I understand why the government wants it back, I understand why football wants it back, I understand why supporters wants
it back. I want it back. But it’s got to be under the right circumstances at the right time when it’s safe to do so. And that’s the most important
AMANPOUR: Yes. And I think all these conversations are being had in the U.S., whether it’s about baseball or football or whatever it might be,
basketball, and all over the world, they’re having these discussions.
I just want to take a moment to talk a little bit about your legendary career. Take me back to the amazing World Cup, you know, against Argentina.
I know you were at the other end and there was this whole controversy over the goal and the Hand of God that Diego Maradona claim.
AMANPOUR: But just what was it like to be such a successful player? You scored the most, you know, World Cup goals in finals of an England player.
What was it like?
LINEKER: It was all right. No, I had a fabulous career. I had a fabulous career. I was very fortunate and I know I’m the guy that scored the other
goal in that game that no one ever remembers or ever will. But, yes lots of different experiences.
I just feel massively fortuitous to have had the career, not just in soccer but subsequently in the media. And it’s — I’ve been very fortunate, lots
of times, I think how lucky I’ve been. But yes, magical memories, no question about that. Playing against Diego Maradona and the Hand of God
game and then he scored, obviously, probably the best goal that’s ever been witnessed in — certainly in the World Cup, if not in football’s history.
So, yes, lovely, lovely, lovely memories.
AMANPOUR: And, of course, I mean, it means a lot to you. Sports means a lot to so many people around the world.
But I also want to ask you about issues that have come up. Obviously, there’s all sorts of racism and stuff in the sport. And it’s not just
soccer. It’s others as well.
And you were known as kind of Mr. Squeaky Clean. I don’t know how you never got booked, you never got sent off.
AMANPOUR: What do you make of some of the, I mean, very unpleasant and unacceptable behavior sometimes on — on the pitch these days?
LINEKER: Well, I think, by and large, the players — and I think this is all sport, as well as certainly team sport.
I think that the players set a great example. I think, if you look at the dressing rooms of, certainly, soccer players in this country and many other
countries, then they come from all different kinds of backgrounds. They’re different colors and different ethnicities, et cetera.
And, actually, you sit in a dressing room — I have done it myself — and you sit around, you don’t — you don’t look around a dressing room and you
go, well, he’s black, he’s white, he’s yellow, he’s a Muslim, he’s a Christian, he’s a Catholic. You don’t think like that.
You go, well, he’s a good player. He can cross the ball. He can tackle. He can — so, it — I think, in many ways, football sets a good example.
Now, you’re always going to get the odd exception to that. Obviously, the problem that we have is — is more around the sport, in the sense of fans,
of supporters, where you’re going to get some racists. And particularly in my day, it was very prevalent.
I used to see fans throw bananas on the pitch at black players and stuff like that. That’s — it’s not quite as bad as it was, but it is has kind of
come back a little bit in recent times. And we need to stamp on that.
And I think people speak out more now. I think we have social media, where people speak out more. And, hopefully, that will help.
But footballers themselves — and I’m sure this applies to other sports as well — actually, they do a lot of good, and they set good precedents.
AMANPOUR: Everybody is waiting for the beautiful game to be back, well and truly.
Gary Lineker, thank you so much, indeed, for joining us.
LINEKER: My pleasure.
AMANPOUR: And, of course, let’s not forget that all minorities are on the front lines of this crisis, and, every night, they’re being clapped for
their heroic work that we do — that they do.
And, as we discussed tonight, a tussle between science and politics is defining the pandemic and the response of the Trump administration, and
also here by the British government. Both are examples of the battle between facts and ideology.
We’re seeing it play out in some parts of the world right now.
So, how did this rejection of expertise start?
Our next guest, Professor Tom Nichols, wrote a prescient book on the subject in 2017. It was called “The Death of Expertise: The Campaign
Against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters.”
Here he is speaking to our Hari Sreenivasan.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Thanks, Christiane.
Tom Nichols, thanks for joining us.
First, let’s get our audience up to speed on the premise of your book, just so we have that in this conversation.
TOM NICHOLS, AUTHOR, “THE DEATH OF EXPERTISE”: I wrote the book about the collapse of faith in experts, not just the mere distrust of experts, but
people actually thinking they were smarter than experts.
I wrote the book, because people were actually starting to lecture to experts back about their own field of expertise, which is something we’re
seeing a lot now. That’s different than people merely distrusting experts or wanting a second opinion.
We have become a very narcissistic society, where we think nothing of it to march into our doctor’s office and explain cancer or broken bones or
viruses or any other complicated issue. And that’s been happening across a lot of fields.
And the book was about why we’re doing that, and why that’s a really bad thing for an advanced society like ours.
SREENIVASAN: This didn’t just start with this crisis or this president. Take us back to this original essay that you had penned several years ago,
which ended up turning into a book.
NICHOLS: The essay began when a young person who didn’t like something I was saying about Russia challenged my view.
Now, I’m a Russia expert. I’m a Russian-speaking Russia expert of 30- something years experience. And this younger person said to me, Tom, I don’t think you understand Russia. Let me explain Russia to you.
And I stepped away, and I sat down later in front of the computer and said, how did that happen? How did we become that kind of a society? And that’s
what originally brought me to write the article.
And what shocked me was how many people in so many different fields, doctors, lawyers, engineers, you name it, started writing to me and saying,
I have the same experience all the time.
And that’s what made me realize that something very wrong was afoot in society. And, again, that’s very different than people not trusting
experts. That’s normal. That goes back through recorded history, where, when you feel like you don’t understand something, you’re scared, you want
That’s a very different phenomenon than feeling that you’re much smarter on every subject than the expert who’s trying to help you.
SREENIVASAN: Now, this was a couple of years ago, and you were, well, sort of optimistic at the end of the book.
You figured, if we have a huge disaster, a war, or a depression or a pandemic, this death of expertise, this trend line would sort itself out
Here we are. You were wrong?
NICHOLS: What I didn’t count on was that there would be an entire political infrastructure, including major media outlets, that would have a
vested interest in not helping us snap out of it.
I assumed that, during a pandemic or a war or depression, we would all pull in the same direction, and we would be helped in that by government
officials and by media. And what we found is that our tribalism became more important than facts.
SREENIVASAN: The protesters in Michigan and other places, they make this out to be a scenario where this is an attack on their freedoms.
What’s wrong with that?
NICHOLS: I think the protesters are confusing freedom with nihilism.
Freedom in a democracy, in the kind of republic in which we live in the United States, comes with responsibilities. This is not freedom in the
sense that adults understand freedom. This is freedom in the way children understand freedom. I’m going to do things, even if they’re bad for me,
merely because I can, as an expression of my own autonomy.
This is not how mature citizens in a democracy help to make a democracy function. This is basically a very childlike understanding of democracy and
freedom that basically means, I can do anything I want, and you can’t tell me what to do.
It’s basically an understanding the freedom that says, you’re not the boss of me.
SREENIVASAN: But there seems to also be a notion of patriotism wrapped into this somehow, that it is quintessentially American to challenge this
expertise or to challenge this encroachment on your personal freedom.
NICHOLS: I think that’s the argument some of these protesters are making, but I think it’s a deeply ahistorical argument.
You didn’t — during World War II, we had rationing. During World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, we had the draft, and that didn’t really
become an issue until the war in Vietnam was lost.
So, this notion that somehow it’s completely American to just sort of say, I’m not going to do whatever you tell me, I think, is wrong. I think it’s a
very American thing to say, look, you need to explain to me, as a voter, why we’re doing these things.
And the voters need to have some faith that the people they have put in office, whether it’s in their state or county or the federal government,
have their best interests at heart that. That’s the part that’s broken down.
And I think that is very un-American, this incredible suspicion of one another, as though doctors don’t have an interest in you getting better
And so I reject that argument. I think that this is partly the result of social media ramping up a message among a very small group of people who I
think have a really outsized impact on the public mind at this point.
SREENIVASAN: One of the attacks on science has really been almost a structural flaw of the scientific method, which is that the scientific
method says, we’re going to replicate, and we’re going to keep learning, and we’re going to keep trying, and when we have an amount of data, we will
say this, and, if we have new data, we will say something else, right?
So how many times have you read that, well, 16 studies that say butter is not good for me, and then eventually over the next 10 years, somehow,
butter does become good for you, right?
So people have this suspicion that this expertise, well, it could just be sort of a set of shifting sands, that what’s good today might be bad
tomorrow and the other way around.
NICHOLS: Yes, that’s a game of gotcha that laypeople play with experts. And it’s tiresome, because eggs is the example when it comes to nutrition,
Doctors told us for a long time to avoid eggs. And it turns out — I questioned my own doctor about this. I said, I love the eggs. And we kind
of got that one wrong.
But that has actually led to people saying, this proves that doctors don’t know anything about heart disease. No, doctors know a lot about heart
disease, and they certainly know more about it than you do.
And this game of gotcha, where every time something goes wrong, the public says, that proves that experts don’t know anything. By that reasoning, I
have often challenged people to think about what would happen if Apollo 13 took place today.
You would have millions of people saying, see, NASA doesn’t know anything about going to the moon because they got this one wrong, because there was
And I think it’s a very childlike approach to expertise that says, if you ever get anything wrong, nothing you ever say is going to be right, and
that’s my permission slip to stop listening to you.
And I think it’s — again, it’s dangerous and it’s childish.
SREENIVASAN: You mentioned social media and the Internet. And I wonder how much of this is, well, in part the — that information ecosystem is being
polluted by state actors or people with political agendas that are fueling conspiracy theories and doubt, some of that doubt reaching all the way to
the White House?
NICHOLS: Social media plays a huge role in this, because, in the past, every town in America had one person who didn’t think we landed on the
And, of course, that person had to live among 100 other people who said, of course we landed on the vote. And there was a certain amount of social — a
social environment that said the one person among us who doesn’t believe in science is not a serious person.
This — social media and the Internet have allowed that one person in every town to find the one person in 100,000 other towns to reach out to each
other and say, we’re no longer the local skeptic or crank, we’re a movement, and to reinforce each other and to keep sending each other the
same messages back and forth.
And whenever you have that many people believing the same thing, they become a resource for political power. And that gets the attention of
people who are in politics. And that’s — those people then become a target for manipulation and for harvesting of their votes.
And that’s what we’re seeing now. So it’s an unvirtuous circle and a very, as you put it, polluting cycle that social media helps to make possible.
SREENIVASAN: There also seems to be a — like, a tribal epistemology. I mean, what’s good for my team is, well, ultimately good, regardless of
whether it’s true or not.
I mean, how did we get to that place?
NICHOLS: Again, I think that the root of this is narcissism, which is the real epidemic that we have been faced with for 40 years.
There’s been a pandemic of narcissism. And part of that is that, once people pick a team, they cannot ever admit they were wrong. They cannot
ever readjust their prior beliefs. They — confirmation bias is a hell of a drug. And people will take everything they know and hammer those facts into
their preexisting beliefs.
And we’re seeing that now with science. We see it with everything from climate science to epidemiology, that, if believing in something
potentially harms the political prospects of your team or would force you to somehow readjust your loyalty to that team, it has to be dismissed as a
matter of first principles.
And that’s a very powerful thing, because it means people are imbuing basic facts with issues that are important to their own sense of themselves,
their own identity. And once people do that, it becomes very hard to talk them out of their beliefs. They become cats that are at the very top of a
tree that they cannot then climb down out of ever, unfortunately.
SREENIVASAN: There seems to be a politicization of knowledge in a pretty bad way right now.
I mean, just this week, you had the president attacking expertise. Dr. Fauci testified what he thought was true. And you saw Senator Rand Paul be
very pointed at Dr. Fauci. And then we had Rick Bright, who was testifying as a whistle-blower on Capitol Hill, and you had the president tweeting,
trying to undermine his credibility.
What are we to make of this?
NICHOLS: Well, I think the president is in a class by himself.
The president — the president merely reacts. He does not think five seconds before and he doesn’t think five seconds ahead. Whatever he’s faced
with, that’s the immediate political threat that he will solve. And he will just say whatever comes to his mind.
I think the scarier phenomenon is that there are a lot of people in elected politics who know better, and they are pandering to people who want to be
told that the science is wrong because it is not congruent with their — with what they want to hear, with their values, with their lives, with how
they want to live.
And so, rather than being elected leaders in a republic, which is how the United States is supposed to be governed, these leaders have basically
become a kind of populist expression of direct democracy, simply repeating whatever their voters say to them, in a desperate attempt to stay in
office, even though these are educated men and women who have some of the best information in the world available to them, as elected representatives
of the United States.
And they choose to pretend that they don’t know what they actually know. This is the most dangerous thing of all. It’s not — the president various
problems with science are part of the president’s many problems with everything.
But for elected leaders elsewhere to pretend that they don’t understand science, when they understand it quite well, but they need to pretend they
don’t to pander to the public, there’s no end to that. And at some point, the very production of knowledge and the ability to administer a large,
complicated republic like ours starts to just fall apart.
SREENIVASAN: If you’re Dr. Fauci, how do you handle this? Do you fight back? Do you do anything that he’s not doing right now?
NICHOLS: I think Dr. Fauci has handled this about as well as any expert can handle the mine field that he’s in.
He is dealing with elected officials, as a government servant, who keep wanting him to say things that are not true or not correct. And he is just
very carefully trying to keep putting out the facts, without getting drawn into a partisan political struggle.
And I think that’s especially complicated by the fact that there are people around him who really want to draw him into a partisan political struggle,
both in the government and out in society, of people who want Dr. Fauci to be their counterpart, their warrior as a political matter.
And Fauci, I think, is just trying to stay out of both of those camps and be what he is, which is a scientist and an expert who speaks the truth.
SREENIVASAN: Best-case scenario, we come up with a vaccine. Do you think that it will be influenced by the rise of the anti-vax movement on how many
people take it in the United States?
NICHOLS: I think one thing that has been a bright spot in all this is that the one place I think my optimism was justified when I wrote the book is
that an epidemic really has kind of put the lie to the anti-vaccine movement.
Rejecting vaccines is the kind of thing an affluent, healthy society can afford to do. And so I think that the anti-vaccine movement really is going
to be knocked back on its heels by this. They’re trying very hard to make the development of a vaccine seem like some kind of big plot run by
billionaires and globalists.
But I think, when a vaccine is available, people are going to want it and they’re going to stampede to it. And it’s going to be very hard to argue
that you shouldn’t take the thing that will help your life get back to normal.
SREENIVASAN: So, then what do we do? Here we are in the middle of a pandemic. We have several parts of leadership and a government that have a
phobia of expertise or find it politically inconvenient.
And we’re trying to guide a citizenry through a health crisis.
NICHOLS: Experts have to get out there and plant the flag.
This is sometimes a problem among experts, because they don’t like to engage with the public. This is a flaw in the expert community. They don’t
like to have to talk to people who don’t understand their own jargon or may not understand the subject in which they’re an expert.
They don’t like to play the gotcha game, where the first question they get is, why should I listen to you because you were wrong once about this other
But I think the most important job of an expert — I say this in the book, and I have been saying it ever since — is to speak truth to power, whether
that power is the president or it’s 1,000 of your fellow citizens, that the expert’s client is society, in the end, whether you’re a doctor, a lawyer,
a professor, a scholar. It doesn’t matter.
Your client is society, and you need to get out there and speak the truth, even if it’s unpleasant, and not be shaken by that. And I think that’s a
tall order. But these are dangerous times. And I think it’s something that’s incumbent upon all of us who have specialized knowledge and to claim
the title of experts, that we have to get out there and do that.
SREENIVASAN: Tom Nichols, thanks so much for joining us.
NICHOLS: Thanks for having me.
AMANPOUR: Famously, in the run-up to Brexit here in the U.K., the big Brexit leaders said, the British people have had enough of experts.
Well, this clearly will make them rue the day they said that.
And, finally, the perils of border towns and villages on a continent with different lockdown rules and exit plans. A quirky town split for centuries
between Belgium and the Netherlands sees quarantine orders varying from door to door, literally.
Here’s correspondent Nic Robertson.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR (voice-over): Once seamless borders now controlled. Europe’s unity facing new strains and
nowhere starker than the border enclave town of Baarle.
(on camera): This is Belgium over here and The Netherlands over here — B and L. and the border crisscrosses this town right through the middle of
the road, creating a dizzying array of divisions the coronavirus lockdown is driving to previously unseen proportions.
(voice-over): Belgium’s lockdown tougher than the Dutch.
(on camera): And here, the border runs right into the store. I’m going in.
(voice-over): Artist Sylvia Reijbroek loves her special border status but not the uneven lockdowns. Her shop, despite the obvious division, is
SYLVIA REIJBROEK, STORE OWNER: Now it’s a big problem because the law said you can’t open, only for the Belgian people.
ROBERTSON (on camera): So you can only sell to Belgian people …
ROBERTSON: … because you’re in Belgium?
REIJBROEK: It’s a really strange rule to ask people where are you from. So I have to boycott my customers? Who’s paying my bills?
ROBERTSON (voice-over): In the weekly market on the Dutch side, the cheese seller is hurting, too.
(on camera): Normally, you have a lot of people from Belgium coming here to this market to buy your cheese.
GERTJAN VAN DER HEIJDEN, CHEESE SELLER: Yes, at least 20 to 30 percent and now we don’t see Belgians.
ROBERTSON: Why not?
VAN DER HEIJDEN: The border line is closed, so…
MAYOR MARJON DE HOON-VEELENTURG, BAARLE-NASSAU, NETHERLANDS: We’re the most peculiar municipality in Belgium and The Netherlands.
ROBERTSON: (voice-over): Caught in the middle, the towns twin mayors.
MAYOR FRANS DE BONT, BAARLE-HERTOG, BELGIUM: People are shocked now, yes – – personal but also the countries. I think they are shocked together.
ROBERTSON: Both in lockstep about who is suffering most…
BONT: In Belgium, it was stronger. The shops were closed. The playground for the children, they were closed. They closed the border over there.
ROBERTSON: And both in agreement it’s not right.
HOON-VEELENTURG: We’re trying to make them listen to us.
ROBERTSON: She explains they’ve pleaded with their own national governments and the E.U. to fix the imbalance now and make sure it can’t
happen again. For some here, the fix can’t come soon enough.
JULIEN LEEMANS, HOUSE BISECTED BY BORDER: Ninety percent of the house is Dutch. Ten percent, only the toilet.
ROBERTSON (on camera): It’s Belgium.
LEEMANS: Yes, it’s Belgium.
ROBERTSON: So, on coronavirus lockdown, are you doing Dutch or are you doing Belgian?
LEEMANS: Official, Belgium.
ROBERTSON (voice-over): Because his front door is in Belgium.
AMANPOUR: Quite the conundrum.
Correspondent Nic Robertson on the Dutch-Belgian border.
And that is it for our program. Remember, you can follow me and the show on Twitter. Thanks for watching “Amanpour and Company” on PBS. Join us again next time.