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Time To Stop Pretending Politicians ‘Follow The Science’

Time To Stop Pretending Politicians ‘Follow The Science’

It is instructive that across Canada the pandemic measures were suspended, or disregarded, or superseded in order to facilitate mass protests against racism.

Instructive and welcome, independent of any judgment on the value of the pandemic protocols or the protests, but because it illustrates the problems with the refrain, ubiquitously heard these last years, to “follow the science,” or pursue “evidence-based” policy.

Perhaps the pandemic, which has amply demonstrated how false that admonition is, will lead to its retirement. […]

So when the prime minister took a knee in a jam-packed demonstration on Parliament Hill, he was not following the science.

After all, the science of public health told us that it was so dangerous for a person to take two knees in an empty cathedral that all the churches were closed. […]

“Following the science” is an emission from the climate-change debate. But a scientific finding does not mandate a course of action. That’s a matter for policy, for weighing competing interests against a scale of values.

Climate science is no different in Europe than it is in Asia, but climate policy is much different in Brussels than in Beijing.

Does the Chinese regime not “follow the science,” or does it come to different conclusions based on its values?

The massive economic pain caused by the pandemic has been marvelous in terms of lower carbon emissions.

That’s the science, but no one is advocating the economy be kept closed in the light of that evidence. Other factors, trade-offs, and values come into play.

As they always do. The science will tell us — indisputably! — that the safest anti-virus mode of transport is the single-use car.

Science tells us — indisputably! — that it is safer to use disposable coffee cups rather than germ-ridden reusable ones, to use single-use plastic grocery bags than to bring our own from home, safer to wrap as many things in as much plastic as possible.

So should the nation’s entire carbon and plastic policy be consigned to the landfill because it no longer follows the evidence?

That won’t happen, because anti-virus safety is not the only concern and not the only scientific issue. And the pandemic has taught us that even when the issue is narrow, there are a variety of policy responses.

Indeed, Canada went from a national policy of “flattening the curve” in order to enable the health-care system to cope with the spreading virus to a quite different, and more costly, policy of “stopping the spread.”

The science didn’t change but the policy did. Science can only inform policy. It does not dictate it.

The pandemic has also shattered the myth of a class of neutral sages — the scientists — who bestow upon a grateful population “the science.”

The World Health Organization (WHO), a repository of leading members of this new clerisy, turned out to have made judgments according to their own political values, namely appeasing the regime in Beijing, which, entirely coincidentally, just dropped $2 billion into WHO coffers.

I was trained as an economist, not a scientist, so perhaps it is an occupational hazard that I suspect that sometimes scientists follow the money rather than science. That’s not being unkind to scientists. It is simply to consider them human, as well.

We need science and scientists, but we do not live by science alone. We never have. For demonstrating that, the prime minister ought to take a bow, after taking a knee.

Read full post at National Post