But what does it mean to follow science or scientists? There are several problems with this mantra. Jonathan Pageau outlines a few of them below, and his retort is helpful for us to consider when evaluating our public officials’ support for various public health policies.
1. The assumption is that if you disagree with a public policy, you are not “following the science” – and in our modern era, technology – the concrete manifestation of materialist science – is the last idol (using idol in the Nietzchean sense of the word). It has the effect of shaming your ideological opponents rather than engaging in actual scientific debate with them. This brings him to the second point – it is IMPOSSIBLE to follow the science.
2. Science is an accurate and reliable observation of phenomena worldwide based on clear measures consistently applied across contexts. You can only follow the science when you identify what you want to track or follow. And science cannot provide for you the object for you to measure. Science cannot tell you what to measure; it cannot tell you what is important. It can only provide tools to you once you determine what phenomena you want to measure. Herein lies the problem.
3. What were the goals of Covid policy? First, they were to reduce the possibility of hospitals being overwhelmed. Then it moved to stop people from dying at all costs. Then the goalposts moved to reduce the virus from spreading from person to person. But morally or scientifically, each of these is a different goal and are they realistic and can they be achieved? Can you challenge those morally posited positions? If you do not share those positions, others argue that you are not following the science. But one is not - not following the science – one is challenging the moral presuppositions.
4. Society has always had to find ways to manage the tension between safety and risk. We should be able to have this discussion without being reprimanded. If our goal is to save lives, we would not, he argues, go rafting, travel on highways, skydive or engage in a myriad of risks that could risk our lives. Intuitively, we know that of course, we will engage in risky behaviour that has the possibility of danger. All actions are exchanges of values and what is important. Should we reduce highway speeds to 50km/hr because it will save lives? Automobile accidents, he argues, are the leading cause of death for those 1 – 54 years of age. That public policy would save lives.
5. Of course, we want to protect the vulnerable but do we do that in other areas. Much of the death and ill health is correlated to poverty and marginalization, so why don’t we share wealth more? Why don’t we change the conditions of those in poverty? Or why not isolate those who are at risk and provide meaningful provisions for them?
This leads to the Great Barrington Declaration. There are other ways to address these problems that do not involve massive dislocation of society, restriction of fundamental freedoms, and people's ability to move freely.
But to argue that is to be called a “yahoo” (as Doug Ford called those protesting lockdowns). They had good arguments. And the reporter framed those protesters as not taking it seriously. That is not true. And it is not selfish.
That said, maybe lockdown policies are the way to address the current problem (although the WHO stated that they should be used sparingly and only as a last resort to regroup resources). The questioning certainly does not make one a heretic that should be burned at the stake (metaphorically speaking, meaning losing your professional position for public policy, political positions).