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April 15, 2024

A Representative for Science and Data: Our Conversation with Dr. Anthony Fauci

By Arnav Raman (SFS’25)

On March 26, 2024, Dr. Anthony Fauci shared his experiences and thoughts on a variety of topics including public health, careers, and government policies during our Conversations in Health: Global to Local course.

The usual brief overview of the guest speaker’s life in their own words seemed pretty straightforward—childhood and school in New York, college, and then medical school—a normal trajectory for a doctor in the United States. And yet, Dr. Fauci’s life has been as far from normal as possible. In fact, his most important takeaway from life was that things are never linear and that one should always expect the unexpected.

Shortly after he started his practice in New York, he was offered an opportunity in the field of research—something that led to his appointment as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in 1984 as the youngest person ever to lead a National Institute of Health. Dr. Fauci shared that he saw research as a way to impact the lives of hundreds of people at once, something he couldn’t do no matter how many patients he saw per day. Yet, he couldn’t let go of the personal satisfaction of seeing people one at a time—and so, he continued seeing patients alongside research for nine years.

Although his work on AIDS and the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief are some of his biggest achievements, it was the more personal thoughts and influential advice that really captured my attention. Working in high-pressure and high-stakes jobs such as advising the president of the United States comes with its fair share of problems. Fauci’s way of working through it was to remind himself that he is a representative for science and data; he must present them just as they are, instead of saying things that the other person wants to hear. “If it’s inconvenient, it’s inconvenient,” is how he puts it.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought along a unique challenge globally, and even more so for someone whose job it was to advise many who didn’t want to believe what they were hearing, and in a way that it was still well-received. In response to how he managed to do that, Dr. Fauci pulled another quote out of the metaphorical hat—“precision of thought and economy of decision”—and laid out his three golden rules for scientific communication:

  1. Know your audience.​
  2. Don’t deliver five messages at the same time—pick one or two.
  3. The purpose isn’t to impress people with your intellect; it is to ensure their comprehension.

In a response to misinformation, he emphasized that a “false equivalency”—the idea that two
perspectives of a situation are equally accurate—was dangerous, as is the case with AIDS
denialism and rampant misinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Of course, there’s only so much knowledge and information one can glean from a true
reservoir of it in a matter of 90 minutes. Still, hearing about a remarkably lived life from the
source is a delight unto itself, and one I hope everyone can share through the recording of our conversation.

Arnav Raman (SFS’25) is an undergraduate student at Georgetown University in Qatar majoring in international economics. He is a student in the Conversations in Health: Global to Local class.