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Think about the times you’ve been told to “trust the science.” Two occasions should come to mind immediately: when discussing climate change and when talking about the Wuhan coronavirus.
There’s a lot of science being done on the subject of climate change. There’s a lot of science being done on the subject of the coronavirus. Let’s assume, for the sake of discussion, that the vast bulk of this is “good” science — that it’s being conducted by competent people acting in accordance with the techniques and standards of science. That’s almost certainly a safe assumption.
You still shouldn’t “trust the science.”
That’s because when we’re talking about public policy — and that’s what we’re always talking about when people tell you to “trust the science” — we’re talking about a lot more than just science.
Take climate change policy. Science can make predictions about temperatures and sea levels 80 years from now (though how well it does that is open to debate), but science doesn’t make predictions about economics 80 years from now, or about national boundaries, or populations, or the pace of technological change, or human rights, or any of the myriad other things that have to be considered when creating public policy.
So when the politician tells you to “trust the science” about climate change, he’s also telling you to trust all the other “experts” who think they can predict the future 80 years from now, all the economists and sociologists and population experts and futurists, and to believe that they all know better than you how you should live your life.
And when the politician tells you to “trust the science” about the coronavirus as he’s announcing some new restriction, he’s also telling you that you should trust his judgment about a bunch of other things that aren’t science. Things like the value of: visiting a loved one in the hospital; having your family over for the holiday; keeping your business open; allowing your child to be educated; going to church; and living like a free human being.
Science can’t tell you whether or not those things are worth doing at the risk of possibly catching or spreading a disease that most people will survive and many will hardly notice. That’s something an informed citizen can do for himself, not something politicians, nor scientists, can do for him.
Think about it. The only time you’re told to “trust the science” is when the science is a small part of something much bigger, something that will require you to change how you live, to accept restrictions and limitations, to give up freedom and choices. No one tells you to trust the science of quantum physics or organic chemistry or fluid dynamics. It’s only when they need to leverage the authority of science as a tool for lawmaking that we’re piously told to put our faith in them and their science.
Sure, trust the science. But don’t trust anyone who tells you you should, as part of telling you how you’re going to have to live and what you’re going to have to give up.Published in