University of Chicago freshman Irene Qi penned an article in The Chicago Maroon on February 3 entitled “It’s Not the Middle Ages, Professor Fulton Brown, Let’s Trust the Science.” Qi’s core contention is that Fulton Brown is an “embarrass[ment]” to the university, as she is “undermin[ing] scientific consensus,” and “legitimiz[ing] and fuel[ing] conspiracy.” Yet, the “scientific consensus” Qi bases her argument on is more delusion than reality.
Rachel Fulton Brown, an associate professor of History at the University of Chicago and a celebrated medievalist, has been a voice of reason among faculty members over the course of the pandemic. She has condemned the university’s incoherent COVID edicts and begged UChicago to reclaim its brand as an institution that asks questions instead of unethically enslaving our community to the whimsical guidance of health bureaucrats. To Qi, Fulton Brown’s critiques strike too close to home for “progressive” sensibilities.
Qi claims that Prof. Fulton Brown “cherry-picks” scientists and doctors when she cites the Great Barrington Declaration (GBD) in her recent open letter, which calls on UChicago leadership to end the university’s immoral COVID policies. Despite acknowledging that the GBD was drafted by doctors from Stanford, Oxford, and Harvard, Qi somehow abrogates to herself sufficient expertise to cast their opinions aside. She does this not on the basis of truth, reputation, or achievement, but on the basis that the World Health Organization (WHO) and 13 other “public health organizations” disagree. Would she have us believe the WHO and these American public health organizations have the greater expertise? The WHO has repeatedly contradicted the U.S. government’s advice on COVID. Whom do we trust, and when, with all of this consensus?
Regardless, Qi completely ignores the fact that her notion of scientific “consensus” cannot co-exist with the Great Barrington Declaration.
Qi goes on to claim that “the majority of scientists and doctors have debunked” the GBD. Is this true? I must have missed the last session of the “World Congress of Experts” where they put that to a vote. Qi’s arguments rest on the sophomoric idea that science is some popularity contest or subject to a democratic vote. Once this idea is rightfully rejected, all of her pontifications about “the Experts” are revealed as blatantly false.
Qi goes on to say that UChicago’s reputation of being “‘quirky,’ outside-the-box thinkers” should be relegated to admissions essays and classroom discussions, as if it is just a performance we should put on for our own egos. However, pointing out the failures of others is not merely a classroom exercise or social climbing technique; in order for any free society to thrive, we must rigorously pursue the truth and ask tough questions outside the classroom too.
If Qi wants to make a convincing point, I suggest she start with the proper amounts of Logic and Experience to produce a sound argument instead of outsourcing her opinions to people who think “la science c’est moi” is the statement of a benevolent and impartial official.
At one point, Qi says that Prof. Fulton Brown “erodes at the expertise of, well, experts.” I believe Qi’s point is that Fulton Brown somehow undermines the reputation of “experts” by promulgating purported fallacies, falsehoods, and flights of fancy. Qi levels this accusation because she cannot possibly entertain the idea that Fulton Brown might be winning on the merits of her arguments.
Yet, in critiquing the government and its “experts,” Fulton Brown has entered her field of expertise and the “scientists” have left theirs. Historians study the failures and follies of Man. Fulton Brown knows better than most that “the Science” has failed us countless times and the predictions of “the Experts” have come to naught. To a good historian, rule by “the Experts” is rule by astrologers, and rule by “the Science” is rule by fad and fashion.
Qi’s historical ignorance is most obvious by the very title of her piece: “It’s Not the Middle Ages.” What’s so bad about the Middle Ages, anyway? Look around: academic gothic architecture; the Core (a survey of the Liberal Arts); faculties, deans and chairs; quadrangles; two large wall paintings in Ida Noyes and Bartlett; faculties of medicine, law, and philosophy that would make Bologna and Paris jealous! Chapels galore (one as grand as a cathedral), theological seminaries, and we’re surrounded by religious houses! A coat of arms (with a mythic phoenix, a symbol of Christ); a Latin motto; hidden monograms (a few dozen for Christ alone, thanks to Saieh); and roses and lilies on every building and fence (also symbols of Christ). And people clearly love that UChicago is so Medieval: these are all the elements that Admissions puts on its advertising!
What’s more, Qi, like most in the postmodern age, seems to carry herself with an arrogant air, thinking that she has “progressed” beyond the errors of the past. Time has passed, true, but Man remains the same. It would be quite nice for us to be innately different from those who participated in the Medieval anti-Judaic pogroms, witch hunts, and dancing manias, but we are all still woefullyhuman. Fulton Brown seeks to remind us that we are more than capable of making horrible mistakes that leave generations scarred, mistakes like the past two years of “15 days to slow the spread.”
Science can only function through experimentation, in an open discourse, over time. An “expert” who desires to silence critique admits only that he cannot survive it. If Fulton Brown’s opinions were as incorrect as Qi and others claim, she could be waved away like an annoying gnat and they would go about their day. Fulton Brown, however, has elicited such wailing and gnashing of teeth because she demands that scientists look at what they want so strongly to forget: that Man cannot remain virtuous while imposing his will upon others. Yet, according to Irene Qi, Fulton Brown’s thinking is “Medieval” and both too “dangerous” and “embarrassing” for a university as progressive and scientific as the University of Chicago.
*The views expressed in this article solely represent the views of the author, not the views of the Chicago Thinker.
Matthew Heck is the Chicago Thinker's Chief Newsletter Author and Senior Editor. As a senior at the University of Chicago, he is majoring in History and Public Policy. He loves law, languages, space travel, and ancient history. His deep interest in politics dates back to when he first saw the Star Wars Prequels when he was little.