Thursday, March 4, 2021

Follow the Science

 One prominent catch phrase of the day is “Follow the Science.” The entreaty appears to be a positive exhortation to embrace the most beneficial solutions for modern society’s problems, numerous and varied as they are. Who, then, could object to “following the science” as we strive to overcome the devastating personal health and economic toll on the entire world as a result of the tragic Covid-19 pandemic of late 2019 which persists to the present day? Is “following the science” a magic bullet to solve the complex problems presented by the Covid-19 coronavirus? The popular exhortation is an optimistic commentary on our modern search for answers to complex medical challenges. It possesses a positive ‘ring tone’ for solving specific problems, especially with respect to the national effort to control the effects of the coronavirus.

We live in the scientific age. The root meaning of science is “knowledge.” Our health and welfare are powerfully enriched by advances in science and applied science. The expression “Follow the Science” speaks not only to challenges posed by the pandemic, but also to many elements of modern existence. Scientific claims are often acknowledged to have something extra going for them. Science is perceived to be a knowledge discipline with certainty one of its prominent strengths. But it is possible to have an unwarranted overconfidence in science, notwithstanding the benefits it has provided human society.  

Science is a tool for knowledge discovery instead of a prescription for policy, but scientific decisions are sometimes fraught with subjectivity. When we “follow the science,” we may believe we always follow an explicit recipe for adhering to a proven, unquestionably correct action. Science does not operate this way. Prudent scientific policy solutions to human problems are located along a spectrum.The scientific method is a tested pattern of action—a procedural method of knowledge discovery as we search for better answers to life’s challenges, but the scientific method is an evolving process. Some traditional principles of the scientific method appear to be increasingly outdated. Modeling, simulations, increased reliance on statistics, virtual testing, and virtual evaluation have diluted the confidence of some citizens who were content to “follow the science” in a more traditional manner. In this way many scientific conclusions are increasingly subjective and decreasingly objective. Therefore, some scientific consensus may be open to question.

Apart from the half million US lives lost to Covid-19, another heart-rending phenomenon has been the disruption of our system of education. Many students were locked out of their classrooms, removed from physical contact with their teachers. Was this a scientific decision? To what degree were young school children vectors for the virus? How effective was the virtual classroom and virtual instruction? Did masks prevent significant viral spread among our youngest school clients? Recently cases of Covid-19 and deaths have diminished considerably, but many school districts have yet to return students to normal physical classrooms. Even when students return full time, they will have suffered substantial loss of valuable instructional time. Our nation has suffered in many other ways from the pandemic. National government leadership, politics, leisure activities, sports, interpersonal relationships, and general physical, emotional, and social health have been impacted profoundly.  

Throughout this pandemic we have heard many entreaties to “follow the science.” In many respects we have been exposed to similar counsel for many years. Another well-known catch phrase has been “Get on board with science.” One of our past posts may impart additional insight to the concerns expressed above:

The gift of science has the potential to be misused, distorted, or even abused. Notwithstanding, we continue to promote science as a Creator-enabled gift to enrich man’s existence.