How Grant Wahl’s Widow Fights COVID Disinformation (with Dr. Céline Gounder)
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When soccer journalist Grant Wahl died suddenly of an aortic aneurysm during the World Cup, his wife Dr. Céline Gounder was bombarded by messages from online trolls saying that she killed her husband with the COVID vaccine. She decided to fight those trolls. Andy speaks with Céline about the five most common moves in the vaccine disinformation playbook, how artificial intelligence could make things worse, and the emotional toll of protecting her husband’s legacy.
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Follow Céline Gounder on Twitter @celinegounder.
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Check out these resources from today’s episode:
- Read Céline’s NYT essay, “Grant Wahl Was a Loving Husband. I Will Always Protect His Legacy”: https://www.nytimes.com/2023/01/08/opinion/grant-wahl-celine-gounder-vaccine.html
- Listen to Céline’s podcast, American Diagnosis: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/american-diagnosis-with-dr-c%C3%A9line-gounder/id1282044849
- Find vaccines, masks, testing, treatments, and other resources in your community: https://www.covid.gov/
- Order Andy’s book, “Preventable: The Inside Story of How Leadership Failures, Politics, and Selfishness Doomed the U.S. Coronavirus Response”: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250770165
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Andy Slavitt, Celine Gounder
Andy Slavitt 00:18
This is in the bubble with Andy Slavitt. Email me at email@example.com. Dr. Celine Gounder is on the show today. There are two ways you may know of Celine. If you’ve been following the news on the pandemic. You know, saline is one of the preeminent epidemiologists and public health leaders and communicators in the country. She’s an assistant professor at NYU, renowned aids researcher, who’s part of the Biden transition team. She has two great podcasts. The other way you might know her is through her spouse, Grant Wall, who is a reporter, the soccer reporter have died suddenly at the World Cup. If you didn’t follow that story, it drew a lot of attention for a variety of reasons, primarily because Grant was a brilliant and beloved soccer reporter to scholem, Justice Accra reporter would be not to do justice to found who Grant was. He was a warrior for justice and social causes. He was renowned to be a very kind person in a world where not everybody was kind. He’s a young man. He took ill a couple days into the World Cup. And he died suddenly from an aortic aneurysm on December 10, surrounded by his fellow reporters in the kind of big reporting room. And it was immediately after grant died, rumors about how he died, circulated and turn nastier and nastier and became more and more untethered from reality. And Celine, who, like many of us has, in addition to a public life has a personal and private life away from what needs to be seen in the public got drawn into this. And even her personal life and her profession became a source of attack from people in the anti Vax community. And it grew into something that was quite ugly. In the real sign of our times, I think, the impersonal, anonymous and social media driven times we live in, where people are forgotten about the people who are at the other end of whatever screed or position people want to put forward. And they’re caught up in and she truly received incredibly nasty notes, texts, emails, tweets, threatening all people essentially saying that Grant, her husband died from the vaccine, which is a common refrain nowadays in the anti-vaccine community when a young person dies, or has any sort of condition. And the rumors turned very ugly. And at a time when Celine should have been mourning, she found herself accused in many respects of being complicit in his death. And she felt the need to take a stand and respond not just on behalf of her husband, but on behalf of what she does for a living and what she did next. And she went to some pretty extraordinary lengths, is part of what we’re going to talk about here with Celine and I think you’re gonna find this moving and a riveting conversation.
Andy Slavitt 04:01
Dr. Celine Gounder Welcome back to In the bubble.
Celine Gounder 04:04
Hi, Andy, how’s it going?
Andy Slavitt 04:05
It’s nice to see you. First of all, I do personally want to tell you and I’d be half of our team here. Just giving our deepest sympathies and condolences for your loss. I have to say like you and Grant, as a family were like two parts of our life connected. We’re crazy sports fans here. And both my sons and I were deep admirers of Grant, although I had no idea that you were married. And of course, in my professional life, you’re a hero and a colleague and someone who I admire a great deal. So the fact that you guys together were sort of a heroic couple for us. Grant, in addition to being so admired first journalism was also as I’ve been, I’ve taken a lot of pleasure in reading about what people writing about him about his generosity towards others personally, the way he pioneered the focus on legal coverage for women’s sports, LGBTQ plus rights, social justice in general, really unusual for someone in sports to take such a really active social justice stance, and what would you want us to know about Grant?
Celine Gounder 05:22
Well, Grant and I met in college, and even then it was pretty clear that he was a feminist and that these kinds of issues really mattered to him. I think some of this goes back to his mom, Helen Wall, who was really early for her time in terms of her own advocacy and the way she taught her sons, both her sons to be feminists and later in college. Grant took a couple what are well known writing seminars in the field one with David Remnick one with Gloria Emerson, David Remnick is now the editor in chief at The New Yorker, Gloria Emerson was one of the very few women to be a war correspondent in Vietnam. And this was one tough lady, I got to know her as well over time. And Grant would go over and take her cartons of Marlboro cigarettes and jelly doughnuts. And we would split that over coffee, not the cigarettes for me and Grant. You know, and she was a really important role model to grant in terms of also teaching him to be a feminist, but also more broadly, highlighting the stories of people who had been marginalized. In the case of Gloria, these were the stories of Vietnam veterans who were forgotten after the war, the stories of the Palestinians in the Middle East and so on, and that legacy lived on and in grants work later on. Whether that was, as you mentioned, women in sports, particularly in basketball and soccer, LGBTQ rights, and very recently focusing on the rights of migrant workers in Qatar.
Andy Slavitt 07:05
Yes, you know, it, it just occurred to me that we don’t often associate having a heart and bravery around social justice with coverage of athletics. You know, it’s like athletics is this sort of macho thing with scorekeeping and contracts. And it’s all great fun. But, you know, we sort of avoid those issues. And what I think is really special about granted what I deeply admired is how he showed you can bring that to no matter what your work is. And if that’s your lens, you can see it everywhere and make the world better.
Celine Gounder 07:42
Yeah, I think I think that’s right. You know, there’s some people who will say, and said this to grant stick to sports. But I think, you know, Grant, even going back to college, his senior thesis was on the soccer clubs in Argentina, and how those were places where understanding of civic involvement in organizations organizing was really being cultivated by these Argentine soccer clubs. And it is very relevant, actually, to the work of political scientists like Robert Putnam, who himself had studied organizing within the context of Italian soccer clubs. And I think from Grants perspective, sports, politics, culture, you can’t really disentangle them, they are all very much connected.
Andy Slavitt 08:31
You know, I think of the influence that he had as an original. And I think there are going to be people throughout the course of your life, who you will see just the great influence that he had. And I think that’s an incredibly special legacy to have. And, you know, of course, after he died, so suddenly have an aneurysm, covering the World Cup, I talked about this in the introduction, everyone thought I got a lot of attention. And you were confronted with a reality in today’s society that, you know, to me, it’s sort of reminiscent of this, what started with after school shootings and people blaming parents and people, which is that in addition to the tremendous amount of support that I’m sure you received, and all the wonderful things said about Grant, there was a small tranche of what I would consider to be anti-science anti-vaccine terrorists, who really said about attacking the situation, first of all, spreading falsehoods about how grant died and then and then worse, can you can you tell us a little bit about that what you experienced?
Celine Gounder 09:47
Well, I would say overwhelming, overwhelmingly positive I would say about 90% of the messages I got the outreach I received was very positive, supportive. So many messages about people. had been touched by Grant over the course of their careers and what it meant to them. But there was this 10% or so of messages that were threatening. That said, I killed my husband with COVID vaccines. There were rape and death threats, which I’ve actually gotten for years now. But to have that link to my husband just felt horrible. Some of these I reported to the FBI. And I also knew, unfortunately, when my husband passed that there would be anti-vaccine disinformation purveyors, who would try to take advantage of his death as they have deaths of others, to advance their own narrative of the situation. And so very quickly, essentially, right after I informed family of what had happened, I reached out to folks at the White House in the State Department and told them, I see what’s coming, I need to deal with this. And step one to doing that is getting Grant’s remains repatriated as quickly as possible. So we can get an autopsy done here in the United States, that will be credible. And we got that done very quickly. I learned on a Friday, have Grant’s passing and with the help of so many people to whom I am so incredibly thankful, we were able to get him back here in New York by Tuesday. And the autopsy results by the end of the day that at least the key autopsy results. And honestly, that gave me a little bit of a sense of solace to know, there really wasn’t much that could have been done after he collapsed, no amount of CPR, or shocks would have made a difference at that point. And I had hoped that releasing that information and being really transparent about all of this would squash these rumors, these lies. And initially, that was successful in the first couple of weeks after his death.
Andy Slavitt 11:58
What this says about you, Celine, is incredible, because I think a lot of people in this situation would say, hey, you know what, I’ve got to worry about myself. I’m going to tune this out, I’m going to ask for privacy. And I’m going to let you know, whatever happens, because I’ve got enough to deal with it. Certainly that would have been very understandable. And quite honestly, most of us would have taken a course you did something different. And I think very much in character for you in the time that I’ve known you, as he said, this is beyond me. And you decided to take it on publicly and we’re taking on trolls publicly is a really double edged sword. Right, because you don’t want to give them more attention. But at the same time, you don’t want to let their voice be the last word. And of course, by definition, if you are refuting what they’re saying, you are, of course at a defensive position, but you don’t belong in a defensive position when they’re putting you in a defensive position. So it’s awful to be there. What motivated you to say, I got to do this.
Celine Gounder 13:04
Well, initially, I just was looking to be transparent to put to rest all of these questions about how Grant had died. And initially that did work to settle down those conspiracy theories. But then, Dr. Hanlon had an endgame cardiac arrest. And that really stirred things up all over again, because over the last two months or so there have been some widely publicized deaths or almost deaths among young, what seemed to be healthy people. And people were asking questions, you know, why are these people suddenly dying or almost dying? And that did stir things up with respect to disinformation about Grant’s death as well. And when that happened, that’s when I felt like well, I’m going to have to take this on a little bit more directly. And not just be transparent and provide information but really lay out what is the disinformation playbook so people can see understand the tactics that are used by these people for their own profit to be clear. And so that’s why I wrote an op ed in the New York Times to get that out there.
Andy Slavitt 14:17
Okay, let’s take a quick break. And then I want to come back and talk about the playbook that you outlined in the picture of the New York Times this playbook that’s used by these anti vax misinformation terrorists. Let’s talk about that playbook, because if you read the piece, there’s a link to it in our show notes. This is very sophisticated subtle stuff techniques that are used to play with people’s mind and the way that people fake in the way that they work to tap into small uncertainties to create fact patterns. Talk a little bit about this playbook and then talk a little bit about the motivation as well, you’ve talked about how this is done for profit. And I actually think, profit in many senses of the word, not just financial profit, but social profit and fame and influence, profit and all kinds of strange motivations that I’m not quite sure I completely understand.
Celine Gounder 15:37
Yeah, so going through the playbook, there’s an acronym here, FLICC, so F stands for fake experts. And there was an anti-vaccine propaganda film that came out in the fall. That’s actually a case study, and almost all of these tactics, if not all of them, but fake experts is one of them. In this film, they used funeral directors. Funeral Directors are really important when a family is grieving I, you know, really was very grateful to the funeral home that helps with grants arrangements, but these are not people who are experts in vaccines. So using fake experts, L stands for logical fallacies, also known as cognitive biases. And this is essentially describing these mental shortcuts that we use when we’re bombarded with lots of difficult information to process. And the most common, one of these logical fallacies or cognitive biases is to assume that just because A happened before B, A caused B, now, over 80% of the American population has received at least one dose of COVID vaccine. But that does not mean that every death that occurs among that 80% of the population can be attributed to COVID vaccines, a lot of these people are going to die no matter what from other causes. And what we have seen in large scale studies now is that not only do COVID vaccines reduce the risk of death from COVID, there is no increased risk of death from non-COVID causes from the COVID vaccine. So they are quite safe. So that’s a logical fallacies next is impossible expectations as the I, a great example of this is what was said around the FDA approvals for vaccines. So a lot of people said, you know, I want to wait until the FDA fully approves the vaccines. I don’t want to get them while they’re still under emergency use authorization. And then the FDA fully approves them and the goalposts move, and then people say oh, no actually want even more data. So that’s I then you have the two C’s, which stands for cherry picking. So when scientists do research, some studies are designed better than others, you might get different findings depending on the geography, the population. And so you really need to look at all the studies and contexts understand the methodologies and understand what in total, they mean. Cherry Picking is when you pick a study that gives you the answer that you want, even if it’s methodologically flawed, maybe it doesn’t apply to the particular problem. And maybe it’s complete non sequitur, completely unrelated to the question at hand. And then finally, C stands for conspiracy theories, which I would say are basically lies. And a great example of that is this idea that there are microchips and vaccines that are being used to track people will get which again, is a lie. What are the motivations here? I think it’s profit seeking. And it’s, as you said, profit in different ways. It could be money, it could be substack subscribers, which also translates into money. It could be social media followers, which also if you’re an influencer can translate into money. It can be other forms of social status. We’ve seen this in Facebook groups where people try to one up each other in their antivax disinformation. And that’s a form of social status. So I think it’s really important to understand that that is the business model. Some of these folks will also try to sell fake cures, saying vaccines don’t work, but hey, what I am selling works. And that’s another way of making money off of this.
Andy Slavitt 19:19
Yeah, I’ve had my own fun with some of these folks. And you probably have seen all five of these things. And the thing is, you then get people who are well meaning and just confused, who say, hey, I heard about the study with four people that the four kids had, you know, couldn’t play sports, you know, and so and so’s doctor told them, Well, that’s their chiropractor, but, you know, nevermind that. And so it spreads. And of course, social media makes it spread faster. And the other thing, I’m wondering if he came in and Celine, it’s like they’re so sophisticated, that because of the way you present yourself on say Facebook, if you present yourself as someone who is of fertile age group, or you present yourself with someone who is scared of needles, my wife is terrified of needles, asks questions and Google about you know, is a big needle, etcetera, she’s gonna get a message that says, oh, my God, this shot, you know, hurts and etcetera, etcetera. Whereas, you know, my niece, who’s in her 20s is gonna get the message about how someone lost a baby or something like that.
Celine Gounder 20:28
Well, I think you ain’t seen nothing yet. I think we’ve already seen the impact of social media on the spread of disinformation and how that’s been targeted, we have yet to see the real impact of AI, Artificial Intelligence. And I think that’s going to be a whole other, on a whole other scale that I think we need to be preparing for now.
Andy Slavitt 20:49
That’s yeah, that’s fascinating, every bit of technology that can be used for good or evil, but these doctoring of photographs, and then as you say, it spreads from there. I wonder about like, as we self-reflect, as a group of public health experts around, you know, things that make the public susceptible to misinformation. Do you think that like, over promising in people’s minds what, for example, a vaccine will do that maybe it falls into the category of impossible expectations, right? But also, as variants have evolved, the effective dose of vaccine ebbs and flows, and of course, vaccines don’t last forever. So it’s very hard to tell someone the thing they want to hear, which is get this shot, and you’ll never get COVID. How do you square talking about these things in a way that’s both that simple enough for people to understand, but doesn’t leave themselves open to people saying, see, they lie to you?
Celine Gounder 21:53
Yeah, I think this is a really challenging one. Because I think, too often people have this black and white thinking it works, or it doesn’t work, as opposed to saying, Well, this works 80%, this works 50%. And that’s why in fact, we layer different interventions, like masks, plus testing plus vaccination, because each reduces the risk by a certain percentage, and depending on how much you’re hoping to reduce the risk you layer different components. And I think we’ve seen that, for example, in the debate around the effectiveness of masks, if they don’t prevent all infection, oh, well, then they must be useless, which is ludicrous. Or in terms of vaccines, they don’t prevent most infections, they might reduce the risk of infection by say, 20% or so. But that’s still not insignificant, particularly when you’re talking about high risk populations. So for example, if you are vaccinating people in a nursing home, where you have very high risk people who are in close quarters, and you can reduce infections by 20% transmission by 20%. That’s, that’s huge. So I think, you know, having a little bit more sophistication about understanding grays, not black and white, and how do we you communicate that with the public? Because that is a more nuanced message. It’s not as simple. I think it’s something that we need to do a better job of figuring out how to do
Andy Slavitt 23:17
Yeah, yeah. No, like, I think there was a point in time in 2020, when we were the promise of the vaccine. And when they first came out in early 2001, where it didn’t feel like it was not one of the pieces of Swiss cheese, as we talked about the Swiss cheese bottle, but like a big brick of cheese, that could be a stopper. And I think, I don’t know if we ever recovered from that, in people’s minds who felt that this was going to be the answer. And now it’s sort of like, well, you need a booster and then you need a booster. And then you need a booster, then you need a booster and two people who feel like wait a minute, it doesn’t fully protect me and I need to keep doing it. There. There are a lot of people I know that the vast majority of people I wouldn’t put in the category of anti-vaccine, there’s plenty of people who are skeptical or hesitant or have good questions out there. But there are also people who are just like, I haven’t gotten this last. I people I know. Some in their 70s who were like, No, I haven’t gotten this most recent booster, because it sort of faded out of their consciousness in some respects as something that wasn’t super important to do.
Celine Gounder 24:19
Well, just this week, there have been studies that came out in the New England Journal of Medicine, one from David hos lab, one from Dan Burke’s lab, and a commentary by Paul Offit getting into least some of this debate around boosters and what’s the value of boosters? Should we be updating them for the latest variant? And I think there’s a lot of controversy here a lot of disagreement, frankly, among scientists on this, one of my other colleagues Jeremy Faust, who publishes a newsletter on COVID and other public health issues, described it as sort of funny tongue in cheek but team off it for Paul Offit and team Topol. And, you know, these are both very.
Andy Slavitt 25:03
We’ve had the both on the show, and they’re both very respected people, but they have different points of view.
Celine Gounder 25:08
Very different points of view. And so I think some of this remains to be seen. But I do think the grips in which there is no question, I don’t think anybody on either side would disagree that the elderly, immunocompromised people, pregnant women should absolutely be keeping up with their boosters, as frequent as those might be. Those groups simply don’t respond as well to the vaccines up front, and just don’t have a strong and lasting of an immune response. And so those groups, there’s no question I think everybody’s in agreement on those groups getting boosted.
Andy Slavitt 25:44
And we let Paul speak for himself. But summarize team often position, it’s basically, if you’re young and healthy, you don’t need to get boosted. Is that, am I summarizing it reasonably accurately?
Celine Gounder 25:55
I think that’s reasonable. Once you’ve gotten your primary series, the if you’re young and healthy, you’re well protected, and that the real purpose of vaccines is to reduce your risk of severe disease, hospitalization and death. And that with that primary series, young and healthy people have achieved that.
Andy Slavitt 26:11
Got it. Yeah, I mean, to me, the less told part of the story, in my view is, for a lot of people who have to show up to work to get paid, the risk of getting COVID is different than it is for someone who gets a salary, and can get that salary, whether they show up for work or not. So you see an awful lot of waitstaff and other people in the service business industry who wear masks, and are vaccinated, because if they miss a week of work, they can’t pay the bills. And that’s a different type of risk than the risk of being hospitalized and dying. But at some large scale, you know, being out of commission for a week or two weeks, is still real. And so if something does bring down the odds by 20%, versus not having done it, and it’s free, it feels like those are people who would have some benefit. Again, I’m of the mind that let’s present people with all of the accurate information. And they’ll make the choice that’s right for them. I’m not of the mind that says, you know, there is a right answer for a healthy 30 year old. But I’m have the right mind that get rid of the lies, get rid of the flick and let people decide.
Celine Gounder 27:30
Yeah, I think that I would say what is more cost effective? Is it boosting that healthy 30 year old? Or is it paid sick and family medical leave? And remember that a lot of people who work in the service industry may not have insurance may not live in a state where there’s Medicaid expansion, and so it may not be free for them in the in the near future to get right. So you know, I think, again, it’s a cost effectiveness question of how are you going to achieve that goal for the for the lowest cost? And it’s not clear to me that boosters are necessarily the way to do that?
Andy Slavitt 28:03
Yeah, we should probably separate. What’s the right policy for what’s the right individual decision. And sometimes it gets muddled. But you’re making I think, a larger point, which is a tougher point these days, given the Congress we have, which is how should we be investing our resources? We’ve got a Congress that doesn’t want to invest any resources. But I think the larger point you make is, to the extent that we are going to be focusing here on how we should be managing the pandemic going forward. Are we better off saying, hey, let’s invest in a nasal vaccine, which might do a better job preventing spread? Let’s invest in a universal vaccine that doesn’t require it to be amended all the time. And by the way, it does tire people out to feel like they’ve got to get boosted, boosted, boosted, boosted, it just does have, I think it’s got to have some wear and tear on people’s sets of belief that that they’re really managing this, particularly if they’re still may get sick.
Celine Gounder 29:04
Well, I think that’s the other risk of this approach of repeatedly boosting is that people are going to lose faith in the vaccines. And I don’t think that’s based in science. The vaccines are in fact doing what they’re intended to do, which is to prevent severe disease, hospitalization and death. But when you try to use them to reduce risk of infection, because you’re going to have to give them so frequently, people do start to ask questions, they already are experiencing COVID fatigue. So that is another secondary risk that I do worry about, particularly given what we’re seeing in terms of loss of support for vaccination and vaccination requirements in schools since the pandemic started.
Andy Slavitt 29:47
Okay, let’s take one final break. Then I’m gonna come back and talk about this battle between the kinds of people that are attacking you, and Grant’s memory and have the ability to try to fight against it and tell the real story. We’ll be right back. Want to just cover a couple more things with you. I really appreciate this conversation. It’s getting a lot of stuff up by mind as you can tell us well, you know, these attacks on public health professionals, these threats to beginning with Dr. Fauci. And to you and your colleagues, Peter Hotez, and others. I feel like, as I witnessed you pushing back against the misinformation specialists who were attacking, and lying about Grant, it’s something clicked for me, which is, we need to be pushing back a lot harder and more aggressively. And more publicly against this. I think. People I hear public health professionals sort of very stoically talk about oh, yeah, I’ve got threats. Oh, yeah, I got people, you know, asked her home and others, people threatening to shut down their funding people threatening them physically, people threatening their family. But I’ve heard about some of the things that people have said to you, which is just beyond the pale. And this ain’t acceptable. It is horrible. It’s disgusting. And we should tolerate if it happened to anybody. But if this were happening to a racial, ethnic minority group, we would call this hate, we call it a hate crime, we would call it discrimination. And it feels like it needs to be answered. And I feel like you started, you may have just started the process of calling it out.
Celine Gounder 31:56
Well, and you mentioned, hate crimes and race, it’s actually even worse if you’re a woman, and if you’re a woman of color, so that all gets sort of jumbled in the MCs. But you know, how am I approaching it? I did not name any of these disinformation purveyors, I did not take them on personally, I did not attack them personally. And I didn’t try to rebut every single one of their points. I think the key here is to say this is happening. Here’s the playbook so people can learn to recognize it on their own as it’s happening, and to show kindness as you do that to show empathy. Because there are people who have very good reason to be skeptical about vaccines, particularly marginalized communities, people who’ve experienced medical racism in our health care system, so they have very legitimate reasons. And I don’t think we should stigmatize them for asking questions.
Andy Slavitt 32:51
I’m not talking even at all about vaccine skeptics. I’m not talking about people who aren’t vaccinated. I’m not even talking about people who some might consider to be anti-vaccine. In spreading misinformation. I’m talking about people who are attacking public health professionals, threatening them, physically assaulting them verbally. To me, this is their sublines that like nobody would question that. You just can’t cross I mean, having a public debate and disagreement over vaccine, even if someone is shading the truth is troubling. But it’s not in the same category as some of what I know public health professionals around this country. And as you say, particularly women, particularly people of color, they’ve experienced it to me, this is a matter for law enforcement, and it’s a matter for aggressively calling it out.
Celine Gounder 33:41
Well, and this is why I reported some of those calls to the FBI, I think when there is a crime being committed. We are a I would hope largely law abiding country where people do respect the law. But when there is a crime committed when the law is broken, people should be held accountable for their actions.
Andy Slavitt 34:00
Now, the defense of the misinformation list goes something like this. People like you and I are attacking their first Amendment rights. We are silencing dissent, which is yet another thing that taps into a vein of sentiment that connects to how people may be feeling about other topics, but extends it into, I believe, a completely false description of what the First Amendment actually is.
Celine Gounder 34:33
Well, look, I’m not a constitutional lawyer, but at least me as a physician and a public health expert. I take my role very seriously. And if I tell a patient, go take some ivermectin don’t get vaccinated and that patient has a bad outcome, I can be sued. And I think we should be held accountable when we are speaking publicly like that and are having an impact on people’s lives, their health, their safety. And I think that’s especially the case, if you are somebody who is a licensed health professional.
Andy Slavitt 35:09
So one of the things that I really admire about you is, you’ve had to set up a demonologist. You’re not just practicing infectious diseases HIV specialist in New York, but you’ve taken this into a creative space, you’ve taken talking about this into a space where you kind of honor the storytelling elements, the communication elements, the connection to people, and you highlight them in ways that focus on issues that matter, like health disparities, and unequal treatment. You’ve got a couple of different podcasts, I think I’ve been on epidemic with you and Ron Klain a long time ago, American diagnosis, it feels like, I don’t know the path. I don’t know what the solution is, to some of these questions we’re talking about. But it feels like honoring this sort of intersection of how we communicate how we create dialogue, how we tell stories, how we relate people’s experiences, with the science, with the like, hard, cold facts of a study, is what we’ve got to get better at.
Celine Gounder 36:19
I think that’s right. You know, that’s a pivot I made just over a decade ago, now, I left the New York City Department of Health, very frustrated about what I could do. In that setting. We were also dealing with massive budget cuts at the time, but I felt like I wasn’t able to make use of the science, and a lot of it had to do with public understanding of public health and what priorities should be or are, and that one of the most useful tools of public health is in fact, communication. But it can’t just be here’s this New England Journal of Medicine study, that’s not going to resonate with people. It’s really trying to figure out what is important to people, what are their values, what are their experiences, and then trying to connect that to the science.
Andy Slavitt 37:06
So what maybe once we finished, just circle back a little bit and say, it occurs to me that we talked a little bit about Grant’s legacy, as sort of a humanist writing about sports, and how he connected things together in ways that others hadn’t. And that he really leaves a legacy for people, quite honestly, whatever their job is, to know that you don’t have to leave that behind. But certainly in journalism and sports journalism, most directly, if it hurts them, you also add it to hit that legacy by breaking this platform around combating these sort of very aggressive and violent falsehoods. Again, not that day to day disagreement. Not reasonable questions, but the sort of the things that you characterize in this FLSICC. And I think that you’ve very much made that part of his enduring legacy, I think that you’ve added to as his wife.
Celine Gounder 38:07
Yeah, I know, it’s funny, when grant and I first got together, people didn’t really understand it, because I am not a sports fan at all. I’ve absorbed some by osmosis over the years, but was never a sports fan, up until the end. And yet, we really did share the same values. And that’s what we connected on were those values and this interdisciplinary approach to things and I hope he’s proud of me for what I’m doing now.
Andy Slavitt 38:35
Well, as you go through the months and weeks and everything ahead, and whatever challenges that you’re gonna face I, I really hope you know, not only all the people in your life that love you and support you, which I’m sure you do, but all the people that just greatly admire you.
Celine Gounder 38:51
I think I know that. And I really appreciate all the support all the love I’ve gotten over the last few weeks, and I’m sure I will continue to get in the months ahead. Y
Andy Slavitt 39:04
Thank you for being back in the bubble. It was a delight to talk to you again and we thinking about you.
Andy Slavitt 39:23
I’m so appreciative of Celine for being on the show today. And I hope, nothing but the best for her. On Friday. We’re doing an episode on the violent nature of football. And kind of what we need to know some of the latest research around the threats. It’s not just the threats that we saw on Monday Night Football a couple of weeks ago, but there are of course, real concussion concerns. There are real health concerns around diabetes. There’s real concerns around musculoskeletal so interesting to take a look at that. As I know, it’s a big part of a lot of people’s lives. And even if it isn’t a big part of yours, we’re all affected by this in some way or another, and not just football, but other sports. Next week, we’re going to take a look at AI and the new chat GPT. And what it could mean for you, both positively and negatively. And Mike Osterholm has threatened to come on the show. Now we’re going to see whether or not Mike can actually pull his computer together to do that. But if you don’t hear from him next week, you’ll hear from him soon after, because we always like having mike on the show. If someone could help him operate his machinery. Okay, we will talk to you on Friday. Thank you for that.
Thanks for listening to IN THE BUBBLE. We’re a production of Lemonada Media. Kathryn Barnes, Jackie Harris and Kyle Shiely produced our show, and they’re great. Our mix is by Noah Smith and James Barber, and they’re great, too. Steve Nelson is the vice president of the weekly content, and he’s okay, too. And of course, the ultimate bosses, Jessica Cordova Kramer and Stephanie Wittels Wachs, they executive produced the show, we love them dearly. Our theme was composed by Dan Molad and Oliver Hill, with additional music by Ivan Kuraev. You can find out more about our show on social media at @LemonadaMedia where you’ll also get the transcript of the show. And you can find me at @ASlavitt on Twitter. If you like what you heard today, why don’t you tell your friends to listen as well, and get them to write a review. Thanks so much, talk to you next time.