Meet Anthony Fauci, the epidemic expert trying to shape the White House’s coronavirus response
“Tony, do you want to come up?” When President Donald Trump called Anthony Fauci to the microphone yesterday while declaring a national emergency because of a viral pandemic, it may have been the first time many in the United States had met the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). But the veteran HIV/AIDS researcher, who has been involved with every epidemic over the past 40 years—and has even treated Ebola patients—is a familiar face to scientists, health officials, and politicians, having led NIAID for decades and advised presidents all the way back to Ronald Reagan. Articulate, candid, and Brooklyn to his core, he has become a rational voice of science and a public figure—see his appearance on Comedy Central with Stephen Colbert in 2011.
Now, as the COVID-19 pandemic takes hold, Fauci has gained new prominence amid questions about whether the current White House has listened enough to scientists, and Fauci in particular, as it has struggled to respond. Reports that he had been stifled by the administration and had to clear all his comments with superiors helped spark widespread condemnation of the muzzling of scientists. Yet Fauci has become increasingly visible as the U.S. outbreak progresses, recently telling Congress that the country’s efforts to test people for coronavirus have been “failing.”
Fauci’s colleagues tell Science he is trying to walk a fine line, being honest to the public and policymakers but not so openly critical that he loses influence by being ignored or forced to resign. Science has covered Fauci’s career extensively, from the two times he turned down presidential requests to lead the National Institutes of Health (in 1989 and 2001, by both presidents Bush) to a profile in which a reporter tracked the scientist for a day.
In that 2012 profile, which has been made freely available, Science reporter Jon Cohen notes that Fauci “swears like a scientist, and his rapid-fire patter mixes the demanding and caustic with a dollop of charm.” Here’s the story’s summary of his career:
Fauci, 71, enjoys a good debate, and this past year alone has found him at the center of hot topics such as mutant forms of the H5N1 bird flu virus that scientists engineered to transmit in mammals and a mouse retrovirus erroneously linked to chronic fatigue syndrome. He is just as comfortable doing rounds with patients as he is testifying to Congress. He’s a go-to source for journalists, and photos that clutter one office wall show Fauci hobnobbing with the likes of presidents Bill Clinton, George H. W. Bush, and George W. Bush, and Mother Teresa, Elizabeth Taylor, and rock star Bono. Fauci’s critics say he is an obsessive-compulsive autocrat with a serious limelight addiction. But in his 28 years occupying the NIAID director’s office on the seventh floor of NIH’s Building 31 in Bethesda, Maryland, no serious charge against him has stuck—and no one has challenged his commitment.
In trying to help contain the coronavirus pandemic, Fauci may be facing his toughest test yet.