Sophal Ear, Occidental College, USA (email@example.com)
Japhet Quitzon, University of California, San Diego, USA
Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) has upended our modern lives in unimaginable ways, questioning the very basis of our political economy. In this special virtual issue of Politics and the Life Sciences (PLS), we highlight articles providing insight on what we might learn going forward by looking at past research appearing in the pages of PLS.
Corning’s “Fair Shares: Beyond Capitalism and Socialism, or the biological basis of social justice” can help us understand how states can best address the needs of people who cannot go outside and work/consume as they normally do. Even as the Trump administration has demonstrated ideological flexibility from fiscal austerity prior to COVID-19, where now there is the semblance of universal basic income, it is worth examining how best to run a more just and equitable society that would be better equipped to tackle the long-term challenges of COVID-19: mass unemployment, decimated economy, etc.
Currently, there is disinformation circulating – some sinister, such as the notion that COVID-19 is a manmade virus engineered in Wuhan, and some more ridiculous, like the idea that Corona beer is the chief vector for the virus. Through Geissler’s and Sprinkle’s “Disinformation Squared: Was the HIV-from-Fort-Detrick myth a Stasi success?”, we can understand the Stasi’s attempt to frame the spread of AIDS with disinformation, allowing us to better understand scattered attempts in contemporary Western politics to pin the blame for the spread of COVID-19 on China/Chinese culture and vice-versa that COVID-19 was created by the United States to undermine China.
In a similar vein, as we try to understand the origins of COVID-19 in terms more specific than “a wet market in Wuhan,” it is important to understand past attempts to identify natural reservoirs and vectors. The biases of politicians, scientists, analysts, and the mass media could help us get a better view of the disinformation surrounding COVID-19; Martin (2001) helps us understand the “dimensions of the politics of science … including the power of scientific editors, the use of the mass media, decisions regarding selection of speakers and organization of the meeting, and epistemological assumptions made by participants."
D’Angelo, Pollock, Kiernicki, and Shaw’s “Framing of AIDS in Africa” could go a long way in understanding the effects of COVID-19 press coverage. There have been many comparisons made between the responses of “Contained Democratic” systems like Italy and South Korea and the “Repressive Autocratic” system of China. This is particularly important because many analysts place blame on Chinese Communist Party censorship of whistleblowing doctors for the failure to contain COVID-19 early on, as well as destruction of the first viral isolates on 1 January 2020. Many have argued that the faith in institutions and freedom of the press present in “Contained Democratic” systems like South Korea allowed the country to create a more comprehensive and effective response.
The COVID-19 crisis has created an unprecedented disruption in the American electoral process, causing many states to delay their primaries or attempt to run their primaries virtually. In the cases where the primaries were not suspended (Illinois, Florida, and Arizona), voters still came out to the polls, albeit in smaller numbers. Söderlund and Rapeli’s “In Sickness and In Health” hints that the more COVID-19 ravages the American people and economy, the more politically engaged people will become.
Youde’s “Cattle Scourge No More: The Eradication of Rinderpest and Its Lessons for Global Health Campaigns” demonstrates the effectiveness of international institutions in handling infectious diseases (in cattle). In the face of countries squabbling with each other for vaccines and treatment, notably President Trump’s alleged attempt to buy out a German biotech firm researching a vaccine for COVID-19, we need international cooperation now more than ever.
Last but not least, three articles by one of the editors of this virtual issue (Ear) offer lessons from Mexico’s handling of A/H1N1 (Swine Flu), Cambodia’s handling of H5N1 (Avian Flu), and a comparative analysis of Cambodia, Indonesia, and Mexico’s infectious disease surveillance. COVID-19 will undoubtedly have a deeper, more lasting impact on societies globally compared to any of these previous outbreaks; still, by understanding how Mexico was transparent with its outbreak and cooperated well with the United States and Canada, and how Cambodia and Indonesia contrasted with that experience, we can learn what works, what does not, and why, when it comes to how countries handle outbreaks.