“Because science” is possibly the most facile rejoinder I’ve heard repeated throughout this pandemic. The people who utter this phrase are under the false impression that there is an indisputable scientific consensus on coronavirus, and anyone who questions a policy choice is denying science.
It’s absurd as the only thing we know about coronavirus is how little we know. The virus hasn’t been around long enough for the full scientific process to take place (hypothesis, research, adequate samples, double blind studies, peer reviews).
We do know that the scientific advice has changed. First it was no masks; now it’s all about masks. First it was droplets, then the possibility of aerosols; now we’re back to only droplets. First it was surface transmission; now that’s out. First it was 12-18 months minimum for a vaccine; now it’s by the end of the year.
None of this should make one distrust scientific advice per se. As knowledge is acquired, advice changes. It should, however, stop us from elevating scientific advice to religious dogma.
If only the inconsistencies were based solely on new scientific information.
For months we’ve been following social distancing requirements. Businesses have shut down. Millions have lost jobs. Many have struggled to pay rent and feed their families. The sacrifice has been enormous — but we were following the scientific advice.
But where are all the “because science” people when it comes to the millions protesting, sometimes rioting — totally disregarding social distancing — night after night?
Are we supposed to collectively forget the scientific advice that has been hammered into us?
Apparently so, because it’s about protesting white supremacy. This is actually an argument made in an open letter by “1,288 public health professionals, infectious diseases professionals, and community stakeholders.”
The signators condemn the protests at the Michigan statehouse in part because the protesters there cast doubt on scientific expertise, but state that “Infectious disease and public health narratives adjacent to demonstrations against racism must be consciously anti-racist.”
Wait a minute, I thought “because science.” The scientific process, at least as I learned it, isn’t supposed to have a narrative. It is supposed to be based on the collection, observation and analysis of data.
If “narrative” from scientists is not Orwellian I don’t know what is.
“Because science” — until the scientific process doesn’t suit.
Is this about public health or politics? How can scientific experts demand fealty when they don’t hold themselves to the same scientific standard?
Shana Goldberg may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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