The Coronavirus and the Right’s Scientific Counterrevolution

Long and fascinating article on the pandemic and the Right. Two sections stood out to me. First, communication and expertise:

The problem is not mainly that the experts were wrong—that is to be expected. It is, rather, that our lead institutions and public information outlets continually treated the assurances of experts as neutral interpretations of settled science when they plainly were not. And these expert recommendations were translated into the dominant political discourse not mainly as a difficult judgment about how to act against a novel, poorly understood threat—but as a pretext to police the boundaries of polite opinion, to sneer at its dissenters.

This is what has made social media so toxic this year and has added to the political asininity. No recognition of the limits of experts, the difficult choices involved but virtue signaling and demonization all around.

Related, is our approach to science writ large and a refusal to acknowledge the role of judgement and prudence when science and public policy intersect:

In these corrosive, shallow, interminable debates about science, what is most sorely missing is any talk of judgment. It is impossible to understand how experts arrive at their advice, or how leaders use it wisely, apart from the exercise of judgment. Though we might think this point is obvious, it is belied by the common image of science as a neutral, even godlike encounter with eternal, capital-T Truth. With the benefit of a true understanding of the role of judgment in expertise, we would not need the deferential language of “following the science,” the condescension of being told our disagreement with the experts is because of cognitive bias, or the feeling of earth-moving scandal when experts get things wrong … Our politics is beset by the tempting myth that science is an oracle, a referee for the deepest questions about what we owe to our fellows, our families, future generations, and the natural world. This myth has offered us only two explicit options for how to relate to expertise: deference or debunking. In turn, it has left us unable to hear in others’ invocations of science anything other than smug attempts to gain power over us, or brutish refusal to accept the obvious truth.

Would that more people could see what this approach to science, and the myths we create around it, do to our public life and politics. We need a better way.

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