The UK Covid-19 Inquiry shows that political leaders need policy advice not science lessons
At one of the early White House COVID press briefings Trump was riffing on his desire and intent to open the economy back up quickly. The press corps kept repeatedly asking if he would listen to what the scientists told him, refusing to accept his clear answer that he would "listen to a lot of people...including scientists, business people, economists..." etc...
He was, typically, quick to pivot off to some of his homemade "information" that obscured the basic sanity he was trying to sell, and the regime media was typically disinterested in letting nuance get in the way of their narrative.
I was watching this in real time (I think it was mid April 2020) and knew right then that we were in big trouble if Bad Orange Man gave in to the mob. He did and we were.
Reminded me of a video of three scientists explaining to a group of Canadian Senators why the global warming narrative was a hoax. Like many scientists, they made the mistake of talking in scientist lingo. At the end of their hour long presentation, one of the Senators said (paraphrasing) "We don't understand this stuff so we must listen to the scientists making the most noise". For politicians ignorance is bliss. For the rest of us their ignorance it is hell.
What's so shockingly ironic is that Vallance was (and likely still is) so preoccupied with massaging his own alleged big brain and ego that he, not only makes insulting remarks about his own PM's IQ, but he also never even considers that it is him who doesn't understand his own "science" well enough to teach it to another adult. "If you can't teach it to a 5th grader, you don't understand the subject matter."
There needs to be a rigorous postmortem on USA response to the pandemic but in our hyper-partisan society it is unlikely.
Retiring Pres. Eisenhower's farewell speech also warned about a scientific-technological elite that might have undue infuence on government and impair democracy. We saw that in the Covid-19 response and it is ongoing regarding climate issues. Rational debate on both has been and is being suppressed.
And I love the sound of "bamboozled" !!
Nice work RP.
I have noticed that those who cannot do arithmetic are doomed to talk nonsense. Worse still, all too large a percentage of the people who gravitate towards politics are functionally innumerate. Not illiterate; some of them are brilliant speakers and writers with a gift of gab and a way with words. Just can't handle things like compound interest, fractions, percentages and time and distance problems. Such folk are easy marks for manipulation by an "expert" with a confident manner and some one-lunged computer model worked on a hand-held calculator. The UK has quite a long list of such debacles. Mad cow disease projections, repeat crib deaths, and yes, projections of deaths from COVID in lieu of lockdowns. More cautionary tales than success stories.
Great analysis Roger. This descriptor: "The result was a group with narrow technical expertise that was providing freelance policy guidance well outside their capabilities" — likely applies to 90% of climate, energy, environmental, emerging technology, and bioethics advisory committees in the US over the past two decades [including the recent NAS Accelerating Decarbonization report.] It would be interesting and useful to develop a framework and rubric by which to assess and compare major/influential advisory committees, the institutional, ideological, and political factors that influence composition and selection, and ways to address. Let's add it to the list of collaborations!
Why do all of these scientific graphs look like a hockey stick? It is the instrument which is used to prod politicians into making bad policy.
Either you have already hired an editor, or you are getting much better at proofing your own copy - I couldn't find a single nit to pick. congratulations!
Makes me think of Brian Wynne's Science’s hermeneutic imperialism;
“After seamlessly extending from informing policy, to justifying resultant political commitments, science now plays a further role … as de facto author of public meanings, thus also of proper public concerns”
Wynne, Brian. 2014. “Further Disorientation in the Hall of Mirrors.” Public Understanding of Science 23 (1): 60–70.
And, of course in the USA, the Great Barrington signers, experts in both epidemiology and policy,were suppressed by the government.
Roger, your analysis certainly shows shows that the information provided to our leaders was not helpful. What is more interesting is how virtually all Western nations moved in unison to adopt extreme measures seldom contemplated before - probably driven by social media, not expert opinion.
If the costs of projected warming are in line with mainstream economic assessments, the expenditure of World War sums of resources chained to 2° hard targets and below water on benefit for cost at some level of price per tonne of CO2 mitigated may add up to the greatest bamboozlement in history
We're living in it. Get the economists to the table
A cautionary example about letting scientists give policy advice comes from the Manhattan Project. About 50 of the world's leading physicists signed a letter advocating giving nuclear secrets to Stalin.
Brilliant scientists often have terrible judgement outside of their specialty.
A recent court ruling in Canada regarding a ban on single use plastics was written by a judge with a B SC. and a Masters in biochemistry. She wasn't fooled by the specious arguments about their toxicity and wrote a damning ruling against the ban essentially calling out the junk science.
We need more jurists and politicians with strong scientific backgrounds on these complex scientific matters such as plastics, climate change, etc. For that matter, we need journalists with the same background to call "b.s." when they see it.
So important to look back and analyze mistakes. Otherwise, it’ll happen again.
Not fair. Al Gore took a science class! He got a C- but he is clearly qualified to become a subsidy billionaire and buy a house on the beach. Some scientist is going to give HIM advice?
The error here is to assume the politicians give a shit about anything except themselves.