2020: Our year of bowing down to ‘The Science’ – Obey ‘the science’ has come to mean ‘Believe what we tell you and do as you are told’


By: - Climate DepotDecember 23, 2020 10:18 PM

https://financialpost.com/opinion/2020-hindsight-bruce-pardy-our-year-of-bowing-down-to-the-science

2020 Hindsight – Bruce Pardy: Our year of bowing down to ‘The Science’

‘Obey the science’ has come to mean ‘Believe what we tell you and do as you are told’

Author of the article:

Bruce Pardy, A sign in a bus stop announces health measures during the COVID-19 pandemic. PHOTO BY IAN KUCERAK/POSTMEDIA

2020 Hindsight: We asked several regular contributors to write about 2020. Not to review our annus horribilis — most of us hope to forget it as quickly as possible — but to tell us what particularly struck them about it, whether in policy, politics, arts, culture or life as they and we all lived it. Today: Bruce Pardy.

In 2020, lockdown diktats from our chief medical officers reminded me of an old joke. A woman has died and is waiting in a long lineup at the Pearly Gates. When an old, bearded gentleman wearing a lab coat and stethoscope skips the line and gets ushered right in, the woman marches up to Saint Peter and demands an explanation. “Oh, that was God,” Peter tells her, “Sometimes he likes to play doctor.”

During this panic-demic, medical authority has become God-like. “Obey the science” has come to mean “Believe what we tell you and do as you are told.” Pronouncements from medical officials deserve skepticism, not because they are bad doctors or scientists, but because they have lost sight of the limits of their own expertise. They insist that because of COVID-19, you must not visit your family for Christmas and small businesses and restaurants must close. Yet these are not medical or scientific questions. Instead, they involve trade-offs: social, economic, psychological and political. Trade-offs reflect values, and values are not scientific. Scientific evidence may be relevant but never determinative.

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Pronouncements from medical officials deserve skepticism, not because they are bad doctors or scientists, but because they have lost sight of the limits of their own expertise

Science is supposed to be in the business of neutral observation. In 1840, William Whewell described the scientific revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries as “the transition from an implicit trust in the internal powers of man’s mind to a professed dependence upon external observation.” Scientific discovery challenged established belief. The sun does not, in fact, go around the Earth, and the world is not, in fact, flat. Skepticism and dissent, not consensus and authority, fuel scientific progress.

Yet the scientific establishment has come to stand on consensus and authority. It, not the Church, is now the despot. “Obey the science” is an anti-scientific sentiment wielded to achieve public compliance with political agendas. As C.S. Lewis wrote, “In every age the men who want us under their thumb, if they have any sense, will put forward the particular pretension which the hopes and fears of that age render most potent. … It has been magic, it has been Christianity. Now it will certainly be science … Let us not be deceived by phrases about ‘Man taking charge of his own destiny.’ All that can really happen is that some men will take charge of the destiny of others.”

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Scientific groupthink is now in vogue. Doctors who question the wisdom of pandemic lockdowns run the risk of being censored and cancelled. Thankfully, some are made of sterner stuff, such as Matt Strauss, a critical care physician and assistant professor of medicine at Queen’s University, and an early signatory of the Great Barrington Declaration. The declaration is a statement now endorsed by over 12,000 medical and public health scientists and over 38,000 medical practitioners expressing concerns about the science of prevailing COVID-19 policies. It asserts that lockdowns are producing devastating effects on short- and long-term public health that are disproportionate to the threat from the virus. As Strauss wrote in The Spectator in October, “mandatory government lockdowns amount to a medical recommendation of no proven benefit, of extraordinary potential harm, that do not take personal values and individual consent into account.”

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Science makes an excellent servant and an imperious master. It is a method of enquiry, not an approved set of conclusions. As a process for investigating facts and theories, its practical benefits are unmatched. Yet scientific truth is never settled, and the history of science is a history of error. That is not a flaw but a feature. When data shows theories to be faulty, those theories can be challenged, improved, or replaced. The search for truth leads to error that is (often) less erroneous than the previous theory. This process calls for humility, not conceit. Just wait a while and the scientific facts may change. The most dangerous scientists carry an unshakeable commitment to the validity of certain conclusions and a determination to enforce what they regard as the moral implications that follow.

Free people may disagree with scientific orthodoxy no matter the claims of consensus, which is no test of truth. For the layman, “confidence in science” is apt to amount to little more than blind faith in the authority of people who claim to have expertise. But in 2020 blind faith is something we have seemed eager to grant. In this watershed year, even more remarkable than the arrogance of our medical authorities is our collective acquiescence. How easily — no, how enthusiastically — we have embraced direction from above in this moment when, as Prof. Jordan Goldstein of Wilfrid Laurier University has observed, fear has become a virtue and courage a vice. They say the meek shall inherit the Earth. If so, then we are in terrific shape.

Bruce Pardy is professor of law at Queen’s University.