MINOT, N.D. — "North Dakota's doctors are fed up," reports my colleagues Jeremy Turley and Adam Willis.
Their story is about doctors ripping Gov. Doug Burgum for not instituting a mask mandate and not deferring to doctors when making policy during the ongoing pandemic.
I've written before about the deference issue, and the simple answer is that North Dakotans elected Doug Burgum, and not the doctors, to lead the state.
Public policy, even as it relates to a public health emergency, must consider factors far beyond medical consideration, including things like the economy and legal ramifications.
Doctors see only a health problem. Governors must see more.
North Dakota's doctors are fed up. They say politicians have largely ignored their pleadings to promote/mandate mask use, and residents continue to die and suffer because of it. @adampwillis and I report: https://t.co/LMJu6q8WVt— Jeremy Turley (@jeremyjturley) October 15, 2020
You might not like how Gov. Burgum has handled the pandemic, but his opponent, Shelley Lenz, is basically campaigning to appoint other people to make the hard policy choices for her, and that's not good either.
Burgum has done about as well as anyone could be expected, given the political realities he's operating under.
Besides, I think we're having the wrong debate.
The question at hand isn't, "why won't Burgum do what the doctors tell him."
The question is, "why don't people trust what the doctors are saying?"
We cannot pretend as though the public is unaware of the medical community's argument for masking. Aside from some opposition to masking early on from medical experts at the national level, the consensus has been consistent and widely reported.
North Dakotans have heard the argument for masks, and many of them are rejecting it.
Why is that?
Some of it may be tied up in how political "science" has become. Dissent from certain left-wing political orthodoxies on issues like climate change, and you will be accused of being "anti-science."
"Science" (usually a sensationalized or deeply misleading iteration of it) has become a political cudgel. A side effect is "science" losing its potency when invoked in policy debates, particularly in parts of the world, like North Dakota, which are politically conservative.
Which is too bad. The efficacy of masking is clear. It's no silver bullet, but it helps, and since we don't have a lot of tools that can help fight this pandemic right now, we should use the tools we have.
People need to be persuaded of this fact.
Indignant doctors jabbing us with jeremiads and demands for punishment for mask dissenters will not persuade. It's going to inspire people to dig in.
Again, the problem isn't, "why won't Doug Burgum (or any other political figure) listen to the doctors."
The problem is, "why won't the public listen to the doctors."
A lot of the latter is tied up in how the doctors have been comporting themselves.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at email@example.com.