Wednesday, April 7, 2021

"The Science"

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Health, Medicine, Society, Nature of Science

Ed Hessler

We'd all like certainty on whether it is safe for governments to "reopen" what has been closed--schools, restaurants, gymns, sporting events, government name it. However there is no certainty. And it has led to considerable tension and shouting and certainty depending which side people are on, adding more fuel to partisan politics.

One of the fallbacks used in thinking about this and in making such decisions is science, "the science"  is the phrase of choice.Another, of course, is to dismiss what science is known.

It is even more complicated now that more and more Americans have been vaccinated and will be as age limits are lowered semeingly almost weekly and eligibility for vaccine injections becomes wider. Some people who have been vaccinated appear to think that they are fully protected and that they are no longer able to get COVID-19 or transmit SARS-CoV-2 to others. I've heard a few of them appear to say either after the full round of two vaccinations +14 or the single round of one + 14 days: I'm off to the airport or driving to my relatives right now to see my grandkids.

Bloomberg's science writer Faye Flam, in another widely reprinted and perceptive column, titled "Policy choices about reopening? Wouldn't call 'em science" has something to say about this.

Almost at the outset, Flam quotes Peter Sandman, a risk consultant, on what "the science" tells us. He said to her "'I am simply not interested in an epidemiologist's opinion on whether schools should be reopened. I'm interested in an epicemiologist's opinion on how much more the virus will spread if schools are reopened. Whether schools should be reopened--that's not their field.'" 

Sandman's website is a treasure trove and leads with this box: Risk = Hazard + Outrage.

Ms. Flam writes, "It's fine to warn people that the crisis isn't over; we don't know whether the new, more transmissible variants will cause a new wave. But we're seeing a more dysfunctional relationship in which scientists suggest untenable rules and people get called selfish for failing to follow them. It could be driving people toward indifference, fatigue, distrust and suspicion that rules are being imposed with ulterior motives."

Flam doesn't deny at all that science can tell us a lot about the science of the virus, indeed more and more is learned it seems almost daily AND that it is important citizens are informed on risks following vaccination or as new variants appear but she writes "it's time (for public health officials) to stop  disguising their preferred goals and trade-offs as 'the science.'"

Government officials have to make the final call under decisions of uncertainly.

I read Flam's complete column on the opinion page of the March 22, 2021 Star Tribune but it has appeared other places, e.g., the  Richmond Times Dispatch.  

Please read it.

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