Column is science governing us now?

Lars Vollmer

It will probably take a while yet for the big loosening up in Germany. Instead, there’s plenty of less-than-pleasant public debate surrounding the Corona measures that I can’t escape – and you probably can’t either.

I have no way of knowing how you feel about this, but I notice an interesting and, in my opinion, dangerous phenomenon in these discourses.

Are you a populist?

No matter which of these debates you watch, you can bet on one thing: Before long, a participant will preface his or her speech with something like, "We need to listen to the scientists and they say …". What follows is a specific kind of statement. Which says: We can end the discussion, because the matter is clear. And the other participants understand this announcement as well. For in recent times a narrative has taken root in large parts of public communication.

This narrative is that every smart and sensible leader in business and politics listens to science. Who does not do that, must be a populist. And so science becomes a kind of general argument.

This phenomenon is not new, but the pandemic washes it to the surface with full force. To the detriment of balanced decisions full of measure and center.

The decision without alternative

Usually it is not even scientists who argue like this. It is other participants in the debate who hurl scientific findings from studies at the round table. They act as if it makes it crystal clear which decision is the right one to make. What decision is made Must, because everything else contradicts the facts. That the decision thus without alternative Is.

But it is not. Can’t be them at all.

Because the general reference to science raises three questions in my view.

Question 1: What science at all?

The first question: If we are to listen to science, then – please – to which one? Right now in the covid crisis: should we listen to the virologists, or the epidemiologists? What about other medical specialties? Or should we better listen to economists? To lawyers? Media researchers? Sociologists? Engineers?

Every science studies the world with its own approach. And the disciplines among themselves thus come to quite contrary results. For example, Karl Lauterbach’s former wife claims that her ex-husband has no idea because he is an epidemiologist. As a virologist, you would think most of what he says is nonsense. Perhaps the only thing that can be traced here is the social study of a failed marriage, but the contrasts are there. If, for example, initial studies by social medics say that the number of depressive illnesses and even suicides increases dramatically during lockdowns – doesn’t that contradict the intensive care studies that say that the lockdown saves lives?

This contradictory nature of scientific results is by far not only found in the topic of corona restrictions. You can observe them in the climate debate, for example: Not only climate hysterics, but also a considerable part of serious climate research predicts the end of the world, but the economic sciences, for example, come to partly contradictory results there. How does this go together? My guess: not at all – unless you mark one science as good and decent, the other as bad and reprehensible. With such explanations you quickly slip into the moral good-evil-game – which then has nothing to do with science anymore.

So already the first question must remain open. The second question raised by the general argument "science" is no less explosive.

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