Democracy in Crisis? Science and Political Decision-making during the Covid-19 Pandemic

Sep 05, 2024  | 5:30pm ET

Panel Discussion at the GHI Washington | Speakers: John Barry (Tulane University), Peter Hotez (Baylor College of Medicine) and Joanna Spear (George Washington University) | In cooperation with German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina

While the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic continues to reverberate through societies around the globe, the public focus has shifted to other pressing issues. This panel discussion jointly organized by the GHI Washington and the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina provides an opportunity to explore emerging narratives and historical assessments of a health crisis unprecedented in scope and global impact. Given the continued globalization of expertise before the pandemic, how did medical and public health professionals and politicians navigate cross-border assessments, on the one hand, and local political circumstances and pressures, on the other? How does the role of expertise and of political responses to (and the use of) that expertise fit into the larger story of science-based policy advice? How does the Covid-19 pandemic relate to other crises of the early twenty-first century, such as economic crises or of challenges to liberal democracies?

The panel will bring together practitioners and historians to provide insights from different fields of investigation and from different world regions. Confirmed participants include John Barry (Tulane University), Peter Hotez (Baylor College of Medicine), and Joanna Spear (George Washington University).

Doors open at 5:30 pm, panel discussion starts at 6:00 pm.


John M. Barry is an award-winning author whose books have also involved him in policy making. He is the only non-scientist ever to give the National Academies of Sciences Abel Wolman Distinguished Lecture, and was the only non-scientist on a federal government Infectious Disease Board of Experts. An advisor to the Bush and Obama White Houses on pandemic preparedness and response, he served on the original team which recommended public health measures to mitigate a pandemic. He is a Distinguished Scholar at the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.

Peter Hotez MD PhD DSc (hon) FASTMH FAAP is Professor of Pediatrics and Molecular Virology and Microbiology at Baylor College of Medicine where he is also the Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine and Texas Children's Hospital Endowed Chair in Tropical Pediatrics.  Prof. Hotez has devoted his life to the development of new vaccines for neglected diseases of poverty.  During the pandemic he co-led the development of a low-cost and patent free Covid vaccine technology that led to the production and delivery of 100 million doses Corbevax and IndoVac in India and Indonesia, respectively. This provided proof-of-concept that it's possible to develop and deliver low-cost vaccines at scale bypassing multinational pharma companies, and he was co-nominated along with his science partner, Dr. Maria Elena Bottazzi, for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2022.  In addition, Prof. Hotez leads efforts to combat rising antivaccine activism in his role as both vaccine scientist and parent of an adult daughter with autism and is recognized as an ardent defender of biomedical science in America.  He is the author of five single authored books including Vaccines Did Not Cause Rachel's Autism and The Deadly of Anti-Science (Johns Hopkins University Press).  He is also the author of 700 scientific publications indexed on PubMed, and an elected member of the National Academy of Medicine and American Academy of Arts and Sciences.  During the pandemic he appeared regularly on CNN, MSNBC, BBC, NPR, PBS NewsHour and other networks communicating to the nation.

Joanna Spear is a Research Professor of International Affairs and Director of the FAO Regional Skill Sustainment Initiative. She was previously Director of the Elliott School’s Security Policy Studies Program and the Founding Director of the National Security Studies Program at the George Washington University. Prior to joining GW, she was a Senior Lecturer in the Department of War Studies, King’s College London. Dr. Spear has published on a variety of subjects in international security, including arms control, U.S. foreign policy making, post-conflict peace building and arms exports. Her work can be found in Arms Control Today, Contemporary Security Policy, Security Studies, Strategic Analysis, Review of International Studies and World Politics Review. During 2023-24 she was a Woodrow Wilson Fellow at the Wilson Center in Washington, DC, working on the foreign policies of firms making vaccines against Covid-19.