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When we say “science,” we are talking about a particular process used to answer a certain class of questions. The scientific method is formidable: we know of no more effective technique for understanding the natural world. The successes of science are countless and impressive, and provide incalculable benefit to mankind.
Prepending the definite article gives us “the science,” which refers to the products, the answers, obtained by the application of the methods of scientific pursuit.
But not all questions are scientific questions, and so amenable to solution via the scientific method.
What is the value to a grown daughter of being by her mother’s side for the last hours of her life? What is the value to a husband and wife of saving the family business into which they’ve poured years of their lives and all of their savings and credit? What is the value to a high school senior of securing a soccer scholarship to a college she couldn’t otherwise attend? What is the value of a job to a single mother with two young children, or to a husband responsible for a family of four? What is the value to a free citizen of being able to decide for himself whom he will invite to dinner and how long they will sit and talk?
What is the value in sparing tens of thousands from depression, addiction, and despair by allowing them to continue living their lives as best they can?
And what is the value in knowing that none of those things can be taken from us, from an American, without clear, concrete, sound rationale – in knowing that we are not subject to the whims of mediocre people driven by petty motives of personal advantage or by an unhealthy obsession with safety over other considerations at least as important?
As we seek answers to those questions, science can provide some inputs. But science can’t answer those questions, and people who think that “the science” is the most important consideration are blinkered fools. Expertise too often brings with it a form of provincialism, a narrow-minded obsession with the domain of expertise, and a consequent denigration of the vastly greater number of things that fall outside of it.
People who invoke “the science,” as if “the science” were sufficient to explain the various decrees and restrictions imposed in response to the Wuhan coronavirus, are clinging to the science. They’re clinging to the one thing about which they’re confident, the easy thing, the knowable thing, hoping or believing that that’s enough to justify the vast rippling chaos these policies are unleashing upon billions of people.
But science isn’t a priesthood. It’s a way of answering a narrow range of easy questions, completely inadequate to address the real-life issues most of us face on a daily basis. Today those issues are being decided for us by men and women who don’t understand the harm they are doing with their policies, nor care about them, but who are secure in their faith that “the science” absolves them from question or criticism.Published in