It’s time to stop pretending science provides an infallible solution to the coronavirus.
Over the weekend, the World Health Organization reversed its position on using lockdowns. We “do not advocate lockdowns as the primary means of control of this virus,” said Dr. David Nabarro, a WHO official. He warned that lockdowns may double world poverty and child malnutrition.
He practically sounds like President Donald Trump. Republican governors used similar arguments to reopen their states before the “experts” approved. For their troubles, Democrats and the national mainstream media viciously attacked them for not following the “science.”
“Just imagine where we would be right now if we had a president who listened to the scientists,” Joe Biden tweeted in August.
“I’m listening to the scientists. They will decide, along with the virus and behavior of our citizens, when it’s time to reopen in a phased-in approach,” King Steve Sisolak told CNN in April.
“Georgia’s experiment in human sacrifice” was how The Atlantic dubbed the state’s reopening in late April. Contrast that with how the media lavished praise on New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Georgia’s coronavirus death rate, however, is less than half of New York’s tally.
Turns out Trump and Republicans were ahead of the scientists. As the WHO’s about-face on lockdowns shows, “follow the science” wasn’t a strategy. It was more akin to a mantra repeated ad nauseam in a vain attempt to ward off the coronavirus.
Science is the study of the natural world. Medicine is applying scientific knowledge to treat diseases and improve health.
Those are incredibly valuable. But they aren’t all encompassing. Science can tell you when life begins, but not why murder is wrong. It can tell you about how the brain works, but not why life has meaning. Science can tell you about the physical world, but by definition, detailing the supernatural is beyond its purview.
More practically, science can help the public understand the risks of the coronavirus, but it can’t determine the best path forward. This would be true even if scientists fully understood COVID-19, which they don’t. That’s because people value things differently.
A parent may decide that the lifelong benefits of in-person instruction outweigh the negligible health risk the virus poises to their 7-year-old. A 25-year-old might decide that joining a Black Lives Matter rally outweighs his risk of infection. A 50-year-old might decide it’s worth the risk to see a dying parent.
Science can help you determine your risk, but it can’t make value judgments.
Politicians frequently appeal to “science” because it shields them from accountability. Sure, the governor’s lockdown orders exacerbated Nevada’s economic woes. But don’t blame him. He was following the science.
King Sisolak should have used science to inform Nevadans and his decision-making. But it was an error to hide behind “science” like a 3-year-old concealing himself behind his mother’s skirt.