Bill Gates has not been having a good week. His old Microsoft buddy Steve Balmer made a weepy hyperactive exit in a Seattle amphitheater, a tacit acknowledgment that Microsoft has pretty much lost its way and is in need of a strategic reboot.
Then some minority shareholders started agitating for Gates himself to be replaced as chairman. I have to say I forgot he was still chairman, given all the focus in recent years on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and its massive worldwide health programs.
The implication seems to be that Gates has forgotten it, too. The Daily Beast captured the sentiment in its overline to the story about investors wanting Gates removed: "Go build a well."
If only he would. The foundation, as people familiar with the autism-vaccine battle will know, is on a massive technological mission to reduce infant mortality by a huge percentage, wipe out polio completely, and contain any number of endemic illnesses, particularly malaria. The weapon: Vaccines.
Gates points to the fact that infant deaths have declined from 12 million to 6 million a year, and the goal is to get that to one million. With vaccines. And he says polio is now endemic to only three nations -- Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria -- and can be ended like smallpox in the next few years. With vaccines. After that -- measles. With vaccines.
As Gates said in a recent interview at Harvard, what this is about is "mostly vaccines" -- billions of dollars to distribute, inject and develop billions of vaccines. The problem, in my view, is that Gates has made a huge mistake by dismissing the vaccine safety debate that centers around autism in the United States but really involves the whole rise of chronic disorders in children worldwide.
So while Gates spearheads a campaign that mostly means vaccines, vaccines, and more vaccines, kids keep getting sicker and sicker. But don't try telling Gates that. Dissonant voices are baby killers, as he framed the issue in commenting on Andy Wakefield's work.
How Gates got it so wrong is a fascinating question. He's obviously brilliant, but listening to the Harvard interview, it's also obvious that his particular kind of intelligence is not well suited to his current mission. In a sentence, Gates information-gathering style could be described as, "I love learning important things from established experts."
He waxes enthusiastic that The Great Courses is "finally" streaming their material, and talks about the meteorological offering with the enthusiasm of a Harvard freshman. He loves engaging with the brilliant minds who help decide health programs for the foundation -- why, he was in Boston to meet with some of them at the time of the September 24 interview. Life is one big Coursera series. But no, he says, his excess IQ capacity doesn't totally translate outside his own computer/math field. There's no way to catch up to the knowledge base of the experts, he says.
So, basically, he listens, and he trusts them. Why am I thinking of Steve Jobs and his "Think Different" campaign? Gates references Jobs several times in the interview and talks about how Jobs went on to develop so many other products. He sounds wistful, actually. Both men were born in 1955. Gates sounds like his own contributions, while certainly valuable in both a practical and business sense, are not that big a deal to him -- if he hadn't done it, someone else would have come along with the brains and vision to create the PC software revolution.
So he needs a second act, one in which the fortune he built is now harnessed to save the world. Maybe somebody else could have pioneered software, but THIS a legacy no one else could achieve! It's a kind of double immortality, an immunization against not living up to his own Platonic idea (see Gatsby, Jay).
Jobs had a second act after the revolution, and it made him the Edison of the Information Age. Gates' second act is his effort to save the world, but in relying too much on traditional thinking and the experts who teach him about it, he's making a hash of things. Jobs is known for saying he wanted to put "a dent in the universe." The universe is putting a dent in Bill Gates.
Adding to the pathos is that Gates' other mission, along with global health, is K-12 education in the United States. Lord knows it needs help, with American kids falling behind other countries in almost every category.
The problem -- again, from our perspective here at Age of Autism -- is that the "matter" with kids today is not just curriculum or teacher competence or federal or state spending or too much TV. It's that kids are damaged, with one in six suffering from a developmental disorder, and more than half dealing with chronic illnesses. How does this not become the central issue in preparing kids for a healthy, fulfilling, competitive life?
Most of that damage is due to the bloated CDC vaccination schedule and other wild and crazy medical interventions of our pharma-phocused, statist health care system. We're messing these kids up to the point they can't learn: Something like two in five who actually get to college can't do the work without remedial help, and SAT scores are flat for the fifth year, we learned this week. Where are the results, Bill?
Global health and American educational competitiveness are both suffering from the same root ailment, and Bill Gates is not helping at all. In fact, he's hurting his causes. That's the stuff of tragedy.
Dan Olmsted is Editor of Age of Autism.