Article 10

Sage Advice.

To illustrate the ubiquitous failure of media and public to understand the nature of science, I hereby quote the leading article which appeared under the above title in The Spectator of 23/5/20. It opened by stating that ‘from the outset of the Covid-19 crisis, the government was determined that scientists would play a central and highly visible role’; and that the Prime Minister set the tone in his first daily press briefing, when he addressed the nation flanked by the chief medical officer and the chief scientific adviser; and that the message was clear: this was a government that cherished and not rejected experts’. It then went on to state that they were not going to be kept in a back room, but would be present to explain the reasoning behind all policy-making’. At this point in my quotations from the leading article, I interject to observe that not all experts act as scientists, though they may self-style themselves as such; and that this is continually revealed in courts of law when both prosecution and defence call such expert witnesses in support of their respective opinions/counter-opinions while science provides non-debatable  knowledge and consequently does not debate opinions with counter-opinions for elective choice.

Nonetheless, the leading article goes on to state that ‘this new relationship between government and the scientific establishment risks going sour’ that ‘Professor Neil Ferguson of Imperial College advised the government that Covid-19, if left un-confronted, would take 500,000 lives: almost as many as are killed each year by all other causes put together’ while ‘lockdown would limit this to about 20,000’; that ‘Ministers started to publish charts comparing the UK favourably with other nations; and that ‘they stopped doing this when it became clear Britain had somehow ended up with more Covid-19 deaths than any other European country’The leading article then asks ’what went wrong’ and responds that ‘it’s not so much that Professor Ferguson’s advice was incorrect: it almost certainly was, but that everyone, in the early stages, was simply making their best guess’; and that ‘Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer would regularly remind us of how little we knew for sure’.  In this vein the leading article goes on to state that ‘Ministers kept repeating that they were following the best scientific advice, yet that advice, mysteriously, was usually kept confidential, perhaps because it simply laid out options and emphasised how little certainty their actually was’. Indeed, the leading article states that ‘scientists stressed that decisions were made by politicians, who must also gauge the effects of non-scientific issues such as school closures, economic hardship, and lives damaged by both lockdown and the virus’.

The leading article then quotes Sir Adrian Smith, president-elect of the Royal Society as summing up his colleagues frustration in saying that ‘politicians must make the ultimate decisions; and that there is danger in politicians saying that they are simply doing what scientists tell them’. The leading article then reinforces this position by asserting that ‘advisers advise and politicians decide; that is what we pay them for; and that they ought not to hide behind the advice they receive whether it is from a paid scientific adviser or a doorman at No.10’; and that ‘if this advice is not published’ we have ‘a form of black box democracy, where decisions are taken on advice which is never shared or scrutinised’; and that ‘such an approach is a recipe for bad decisions’. For the benefit of the author of the leading article, of Sir Adrian Smith and of their readerships, I assert that there is nothing wrong with politicians doing what scientists tell them provided what they tell them is non-debatable scientific knowledge as I have defined it in my third book and in this website. There nothing wrong with acting on reality-validated knowledge and nothing right with acting on belief.  Political action only comes to the fore when the issue is one of opinion/counter-opinion which I have shown to be no more than belief/counter-belief respectively supported by partially selected facts/counter-facts, evidence/counter-evidence, or news/ false-news, no set of which is debate terminating conclusive knowledge, though such opinion is all too often presented as science by those who ought to recognise and reject it as unreliable pseudoscience.

As to the term ‘advice’, I define this as opinion which recognises the existence of the counter-opinion which it seeks to overcome by emphasising selected facts and suppressing counter-facts by the long-established tricks of rhetoric.  Thus, I hereby declare that such ‘advice’ has always been proffered and erroneously accepted as science by politicians when it suits them to do so; that, as I personally recall,  scientists who refuse to comply with this means of acquiring influence never get a look-in; and that when I acted as a referee for scientific journals, the process involved ensuring that the experimental method of acquiring the stated result was fully adequate to its verification while the refereeing of pseudoscience consists of agreeing with the proffered result despite the absence of any experimentation as is ubiquitously observable in much of what  is now uncritically and erroneously accepted as science.


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