CDC microbiologist discusses Zika and West Nile in keynote address

Dr. Robert Lanciotti of the CDC delivered his keynote address to Benedictine College students, faculty and friends on Discovery Day, April 5.  Photo by Ellen Petersen.

By Ellen Petersen, The Circuit.

Dr. Robert Lanciotti shared with Benedictine some of the many viruses he has worked on April 5 in the O’Malley-McAllister Auditorium.

Lanciotti, is a microbiologist for the Center of Disease Control and Prevention and chief of the Diagnostics and Reference Laboratory in Fort Collins, Colorado.  He was featured as this year’s Discovery Day keynote speaker.

Lanciotti first touched on West Nile Virus, his greatest achievement to date, which he helped discover in 1999 after a number of animals in the New York City Zoo began dying suddenly.

Shortly after working with West Nile in the States, Lanciotti moved on to help rediscover the Zika virus.  Lanciotti was one of only five other researchers in the world who had a deep knowledge of Zika and helped develop tests and treatments when Zika began moving westward.

The topic of Zika influenced Lanciotti’s life significantly and served as a slight shift in focus during his keynote. Lanciotti explained to the audience the idea of “social agendas,” or what he calls a “modern myth.”

“These [modern myths] are presented to us as fact but haven’t actually undergone serious scrutiny or scientific inquiry and we are therefore just supposed to accept these ideas at face value,” Lanciotti said.

He provided the audience with examples of some social agendas such as gender reassignment surgeries as a form of supporting or curing gender dysphoria.

Lanciotti explained there have been several studies concerning gender reassignment surgeries and their adverse affects, often making depression and anxiety worse than beforehand.

“This [gender dysphoria] is being promoted without enough study going into it,” he said. “Clearly, this surgery doesn’t help but they will continue to offer it because this modern myth, this social agenda, is very powerful and we are excepted to accept it without proper scrutiny.”

Lanciotti explained that it has been a trend that after scientists have conducted studies disproving some of these social agendas, they were either disowned, chastised, or labeled “strict Catholics” in certain cases.

“This is how science should work: you collect the data, you analyze it and you make a data-driven conclusion,” Lanciotti said.

Lanciotti finally went into his own “battle with the myth” when, after the CDC began capitalizing on the Zika virus to push the social agenda of birth control and abortion in Brazil. After Lanciotti, one of the only scientists truly knowledgeable about Zika, continually disagreed with the CDC’s decisions, they finally released him from his job as Chief of his Laboratory in May 2016.

“I was paid to stay out it so they could continue forward with their social agenda,” Lanciotti said.  “The way people want things to be, what way they deem things to be ‘politically correct,’ they bypass this logical analysis of whether it is true or not true. It is very disheartening.”

Only a few months later, the U.S. Office of Special Council restored Lanciotti to his position.

Lanciotti ended his talk saying, “There are social agendas and political correctness contaminating science, the pursuance of truth. We have to be servants of the truth. The truth is objective and we are living in times when people are creating their own truths.”

Lanciotti left the audience with a passage from 2 Timothy 4:3-5, which reads: “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.”

Senior Rachel Hernandez attended the talk after conducting her own Discovery Day Project.

As a Biology and Biochemistry major, she identified with a lot of what Lanciotti presented on and talked about her own experiences with these social agendas.

“Back home, we have Memorial Health Services, a Catholic based network,” Hernandez said.  “Once Obamacare pushed institutions to implement birth control and abortions, the original facility had to build a whole separate facility to accommodate those services to not be penalized by taxes.”

After graduating from Benedictine, Hernandez is moving on to medical school where she hopes to become a family physician with a fellowship in sports medicine where she anticipates being exposed to situations contrary to truth.

“I really liked how the remaining part of his talk was about science myths,” she said. “There is so much lacking in reading a review at face value. For me that was very identifiable because I ask those questions.  It gives me hope that we will be able to pursue science from a well-rounded aspect.”