If I were a more profligate hugger and if I thought Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher were the sort of person who liked being hugged and if we were not in the middle of a deadly pandemic, I would hug Judge Thomas Moukawsher.
Moukawsher is presiding over a lawsuit that seeks relief from the state Department of Education’s guidance requiring schools to enact face-mask requirements.
The plaintiffs are represented by two Republican lawmakers, Doug Dubitsky and Craig Fishbein, the latter of whom is putting together a banner year. Fishbein was censured and criticized in June for retweeting a racist meme and subsequently claimed he didn’t know “the extent of what is going on.” That condition appears to be chronic.
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The plaintiffs had hoped to call two expert witnesses — an ophthalmologist and a psychiatrist. Moukawsher disqualified both of them, saying neither one met the standards.
Thank you! Thank you! We are in the middle of an epistemic crisis as well as a medical one. We live in a world where the president has claimed that ballots were found in a river or a riverbed or a creek or creeks, only to have his spokesperson downgrade those to a ditch.
Lost in the topography is what happened: three trays of mail were found in a ditch in Wisconsin. The mail included some ballots.
The whole notion of a commonly accepted body of facts is extinct. If you wanted proof, all you had to do was check your social media feeds on Friday morning, when news of President Donald Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis was immediately followed by speculation that it might be a scam to prop up his sagging campaign
OK, back to the trial.
It’s worth taking a moment to consider those once and future experts.
Andrew Kaufman is a Syracuse-based psychiatrist with a medical license. A report on Kaufman by the McGill University Office for Science and Society found that he had repeatedly denied the existence of harmful viruses and specifically denied the existence of the viruses causing the common cold, polio, chicken pox, measles, HIV-AIDS and, now, COVID-19.
Kaufman repeated a lot of those things — including the idea that COVID-19 is a “manufactured crisis” created to increase reliance on the government — in front of Moukawsher during cross-examination.
Moukawsher ruled that Kaufman was too cuckoo to be an expert witness. Those were not his exact words. He pointed out that this is a “matter of life and death” and that a person who so firmly denies solid scientific consensus may extend his irrationality to the matters before the court.
In his ruling, Moukawsher wrote that disqualifying Kaufman was relatively easy. Fly away home, Dr. Cuckoo-bird.
Sidebar. Kaufman has cited, as a source of inspiration, another psychiatrist named Kelly Brogan, who holds similar views and has close ties to Gwyneth Paltrow and to Goop, Paltrow’s fountain of knowledge and products, including jade eggs that women were urged to place in their vaginas. (Gynecologists argued that this practice could harm women.)
Paltrow will someday have a lot to answer for, including the fact that the character she played in “Contagion” was a walking disease vector who brought the disease into the United States and helped it spread by cheating on her husband (Matt Damon) with a guy in another city.
Meanwhile, psychiatrists, heal thyselves.
OK, expert two was James Meehan Jr., an Oklahoma ophthalmologist who has written in his blog that mask requirements are nothing more than symbolism and a fear-based strategy to increase government control. He also wrote that taking certain supplements would be more effective than mask-wearing, and it came out in cross-examination that he gets to wet his beak if people order those supplements using a code from his blog.
Moukawsher reacted by holding up an eye chart.
“Can you read the third line?” he asked.
“G.O. A.W.A.Y. Y.O.U. N.U.T.” the witness read.
Actually, that did not happen, but it would have been really cool if it did.
Moukawsher pointed out that there are thousands and thousands of doctors with more relevant credentials than Meehan’s. Of course there are. The problem is that none of them traffic in the requisite crackpot views.
It’s a small victory, but it felt big when I read about it Wednesday. It was the day after the Debate from Hell. I was feeling a little shaky. So much of what Trump said about the pandemic from the podium was neither true nor immediately fact-checked, but it was hard to concentrate on matters of fact when so much attention was justifiably focused on the comportment of the fuming rage monster as opposed to what he was claiming.
I woke up thinking, we can’t have nice things anymore. Debates aren’t even nice things, and we can’t have those either.
And then this man, this occasionally controversial jurist, stood up for the idea that stupid, dangerous fallacies marketed by unqualified people don’t deserve an equal footing with science and truth.
That shouldn’t be an especially radical or even noteworthy stance, but in this desperate hour, it is.