Article 12

Government Needs To Treat Us As Grown-Ups.

The Daily Telegraph of 6/6/20 published an article under the above title by Sir Paul Nurse (Nobel Laureate) and Lord Saatchi (a former chairman of the Conservative Party) which opened by stating that ‘science and politics’ is ‘not a marriage made in heaven’; that ‘both now need a marriage counsellor’; that ‘difficult marriages lead to unhappy outcomes’; that in this case, it may be the worst death toll in Europe and the worst recession ever’; that ‘the couple should fix their relationship as we move forward to the next stage of this long and painful journey’ and that they (the authors) ‘have some advice for them’, to the effect that ‘importantly’ they should ‘not treat the public like children because they are grown-ups’. Accordingly the authors state that ‘the politicians have the scientists centre-stage with their slides, charts, graphs and diagrams; and that they ‘put the science in the limelight’, thus ‘diluting responsibility over decision-taking’.  

These authors then observe that ‘the politicians are following the science’; that ‘this is good’; but that ‘they (the politicians) should let the public see it too’; that ‘people want clear accountability which means clarity about the governance arrangements and the demarcation of advisory versus decision-making roles’; that ‘the public want to know who is in charge’; and that ‘there are too many organisations, too many cooks in the kitchen’. These authors go on to claim that ‘communications are also important’; that ‘the scientific case should not be “distorted” by the messaging’; that there should be ‘more respect for plain English’; that for example ‘testing does not mean in the post’; that ‘died of the virus is different from died with the virus’; that ‘scientists should not be used as cover for politicians who are ultimately responsible for policy making’.  Again, the authors claim that ‘sometimes politicians have to make difficult decisions’; that ‘they may choose not to follow scientific advice’; but that ‘if they do they should make that clear and give their reasons for doing so’, this being ‘part of being a leader’.

These authors then state that ‘scientific understanding of Covid-19 is uncertain and tentative’; that ‘it will change with time’; that ‘though communicating uncertainty is difficult, it is essential if trust is to be maintained’; that ‘uncertainties must be identified and assessed when “scientific” advice is given’; that ‘uncertainties have many causes’; that ‘they arise from problems with the limitation, analysis and interpretation of data‘; that ‘the epidemiological models developed to guide us through the pandemic sometimes had 500,000 dead, and the health service in collapse with no hospital beds for the sick’; and that ‘the assumptions made in them, the range of probabilities associated with different outcomes, the effects of corrective measures, and the range of other models should be explained’. At this point, the authors state that ‘it is the same for the  famous R number which is now driving whether we remain in our leave the lockdown’; that ‘it should be explained that “the R number” is an estimate based on modelling’ that ‘it is not a direct measurement and is subject to uncertainty’; and that perhaps ‘the politicians let alone the public do not understand this’. The authors then state that ‘it is not enough for politicians to say they are following the science’; that ‘they need to understand the uncertainty in the science and to communicate it; that ‘when there are uncertainties, there are speculations’; that ‘some are crazy. such as ingesting disinfectant is good for you and 5G towers are bad for you’; that ‘these should be simply stamped on especially when uttered by political leaders’ while ‘others are plausible, but turn out to be wrong’; and that ‘when speculation does turn out to be wrong, it is important to admit it otherwise the public will stop believing you’. 

Further to the foregoing, the authors state that ‘trust has to be earned if the public are to have confidence in their political leaders and the scientists advising them’; that ‘trust is only possible if the scientific advice is open, transparent, and properly communicated’; that ‘this allows the evidence on which the advice is given to be publicly assessed’; that ‘being open allows other scientists to challenge the evidence and its interpretation; that ‘this is required when the knowledge is tentative and uncertain’; that ‘there needs to be challenge and debate between scientists to advance knowledge’; that ‘this is how science works’; that ‘differences in opinion should not be hidden, but forced into the open’; that ‘the whole interface between science and public policy needs to ensure public trust’; that ‘we need a more mature relationship between scientists and policy makers’; and that more humility, more honesty, more communication and more trust are all needed now’. From the foregoing, I conclude as can my readers, that these authors present science as the opinion/counter-opinion or transient belief-consensus of a debating society as is politics itself; that in not knowing how science actually works, they fail to recognise it as our sole source of debate-terminating conclusive knowledge; and that in writing as they do, they demonstrate its absence from their commentary, and they thus fail to recognise the need for its acquisition, if not already available, to replace belief and opinion as I advocate in this website.  16/6/20.

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