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Corona Diaries – following the science

March 9, 2020

Matt Hancock, Britain’s Minister of Health, tells us today that the government will “be guided by the science” in determining next steps in dealing with the coronavirus outbreak. Sorry Mr Hancock, but that is an abdication of responsibility.

If the science tells us that by not imposing lockdowns on seriously affected areas, banning public gatherings, closing schools and doing all the other stuff that Italy is doing right now, the result will be X, and by taking draconian measures now, the result will be Y, the government clearly has a choice: if X equals rapid spread and an early peak in infections – you could call that a “get the virus done” approach – and Y slows down the rate of infection but prolongs the outbreak – with consequent risk to the economy – that is not a choice dictated by science. It’s a political and a moral choice.

X will most likely result in the Health Service being overwhelmed and unable to deal with a vast number of serious cases becoming critical at once. I imagine that the advice of economists would be just as influential in making that decision as that of the scientists. Either way, it will be scant consolation to the weak and elderly who might die, but might be saved if the government opted for Y.

I went on at some length about the implications of large numbers of deaths in my last post, so I won’t repeat myself here. But I do wish that Mr Hancock and his colleagues would explain to us that there are a number of factors at play other than just the science. Aside from the political, moral and economic dimensions, there’s the danger of a breakdown in law and order sparked by panic buying, disrupted supply chains and quite conceivably by an ugly public reaction to what people might see as the needless deaths of their elderly relatives.

I would understand if he explained that more extreme measures might be unwise unless or until we have areas of mass infection that can clearly be identified as candidates for lockdown. It’s difficult to lock down a whole country. Not even Italy has done that. Instead it waited for a regional trend of infections to become clear.

But I really object to his insulting our intelligence by pretending to bow down to the God of Science. Science is neutral. It can tell us when we’ve been infected by a virus. But it can no more offer a clear way forward than the Delphic Oracle, because it points towards choices, not certainties.

Science might tell us about the consequences of letting the epidemic rip. Economists will calculate their best guess as to the damage to the economy. Doctors can estimate how many will die. Politicians will worry the effect on morale of food rationing and social isolation. And moralists will ponder what it does to a society if hundreds of thousands of elderly die needlessly.

It’s not just the science that should guide us, Mr Hancock, and you know it. Informing us about difficult choices is not the same as spinning bullshit to win elections. You would think that we’ve been a democracy long enough to be treated as intelligent adults rather than gullible dupes ready to believe any old nonsense.

The government must listen – especially to health workers on the front line – educate and admit that it doesn’t have all the answers, and nor does science. If it doesn’t do these things, many of us will start believing any old nonsense, not least all the crap being circulated on the internet.

We are adults, Mr Hancock.

From → Politics, Social, UK

  1. deborah moggio permalink

    suggest you take a look at this.

    Your’s and his could travel together, perhaps?

    • Couldn’t access it I’m afraid Debbie. S

      • debby moggio permalink

        Try googling Dr. Abdu Sharkawy, Corvid 19

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