It is tempting to have faith in “science” when it comes to public policy during an emergency. However, as the coronavirus pandemic episode shows us, “experts” can be just as wrong and harmful as the politicians hiding behind them.
Type into a search engine “trust science.” Check news and op-ed results. You’ll be hard-pressed to find any counterpoint to the notion that America and its government must unite in submission to the experts.
Perhaps what’s driving this prevalent attitude is not just fear of Covid-19. Amid a presidential election year, our society is more hyper-politicized than ever. What could be more non-political than science itself? Its cold calculations offer a comforting escape from the hot air.
However, there is a catch. That is, living under a technocracy and sacrificing self-government in the process. Indeed, this has been a trend in American governance for a long time.
There are experts advising or running unelected boards, commissions, bureaucracies, and agencies all around us. Think of the Federal Reserve or the Office of the Surgeon General, both created in the Progressive Era.
In a technocracy, there’s no representation or accountability. The politicians simply yield to the health specialists or some guru who has looked at the data. Even if this solves some problems, the sterilization of the people and their democratic processes isn’t worth it in the long run.
The truth is the experts often get it wrong, not to mention they are still only human, subject to political or ideological biases or other interests like ambition. If they’re making decisions for the country, and likely pulling in a decent tax-subsidized salary, shouldn’t they earn the support of the people or otherwise be held to account for failure?
Take the current surgeon general, Jerome Adams, for instance. On February 29th, the day after the first U.S. death from Covid-19, he tweeted, “STOP BUYING MASKS!” and urged Americans to stay home.
That tweet didn’t age well. Masks are now required for virtually all people in some areas of the country, or in some retail chains like Costco. Staying at home was what 66 percent of New Yorkers hospitalized with coronavirus were doing.
As science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke wrote, “For every expert there is an equal and opposite expert.”
The Trump administration’s coronavirus task force head, Dr. Deborah Birx, reportedly told the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that there is “nothing from the CDC that I can trust,” according to the Washington Post.
It’s possible that some scientists skew their research for financial gain or political prestige. That isn’t known to be the case during this pandemic so far, but it’s not exactly an exercise in mere hypotheticals either.
In November 2015, Stanford News reported that a “pattern” of scientists fabricating their data spurred the development of a sort of lie detector for research publishing.
Even with good intentions, basing public policy purely on “science” can have disastrous effects. It’s estimated some 75,000 people will die “deaths of despair” as a result of the lockdowns.
In America, do we still hold to the belief that our government is of, by, and for the people? At the very least, the second category, by the people, seems unpopular during the spread of Covid-19.
Government by the experts is more comforting these days. But what about tomorrow? We may regret it.