Quaker Conversations 5: Speaking Truth to Power during a Pandemic: A Quaker Scientists’ Reflections

Saturday, 7th November 2020

In partnership with FWCC Section of the Americas, we will be exploring ‘Speaking Truth to Power during a Pandemic: A Quaker Scientist’s Reflections’ for the fifth session of Quaker Conversations.

We will hear from Gray Handley, a Quaker scientist in the US, who has worked around the world in infectious diseases and meet with Friends from across the FWCC sections in zoom break-out rooms.

More about the session

Gray Handley asks, “What is our truth and how do we share it for the good of all?” As a Quaker, as a scientist working in international health during a global pandemic, as an observer of the power structures in the world, Gray raises this as vital query for our times. Gray’s overall professional goal is to foster peaceful relations between countries while helping to advance biomedical science that will improve public health in communities around the world. In some ways Gray has found his professional life’s work culminating in the current challenges posed by the pandemic.

Gray serves as Associate Director for International Research Affairs at the U.S. National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). NIAID is the institution in the United States that has led the research response to COVID-19. Gray coordinates and facilitates the institute’s international activities, ensuring that NIAID has a well-integrated, scientifically productive program of international research cooperation. Gray often travels outside the U.S. and interacts with public and private scientific and health sector leadership. He also works closely with counterparts in other U.S. Agencies, the Congress, and private sector organizations. Gray serves as part of the NIAID leadership team that supports the institute’s director, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who continues to be a key U.S. and global expert on the COVID-19 pandemic. The issues associated with “speaking truth to power” have never been more relevant than now, as the world grapples with the challenges posed by COVID-19.

A central objective of scientific inquiry is to determine what is “true and factual” based on empirical evidence derived from validated scientific analysis of observed outcomes. As scientific inquiry leads to new discoveries or deeper understanding that “truth” may evolve. Certainly, that has been the case as we have rapidly learned more about SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and its impact on humans. It has also been the case that scientific understanding based on empirical evidence has faced unprecedented assaults during the current pandemic. These assaults have led to slow or confused public responses that cost lives and livelihoods.


During the pandemic Gray finds himself relying on both his spiritual faith as a Quaker and his faith in science. Holding close to both these manifestations of Spirit he has found they reinforce each other almost in a continuum that provides personal direction and, occasionally, even comfort. For Gray, this seems a critical time for faith leaders and scientists to work together to help relieve suffering and save lives. Speaking truth and forming broad alliances to advance that truth seem essential at this unprecedented time in history. Gray looks forward to engaging with other Quakers in discerning how faith and science can be mutually empowering and how we can share both these “truths” to
benefit others.

Register for Quaker Conversations 5, Saturday 7th November 2020.

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