“What the Pandemic Has Taught Us About Science”

Bias, overconidence and politics can sometimes lead scientists astray.

That’s where the WSJ comes out in an essay by Matt Ridley — author of “How Innovation Flourishes”.


Mr. Ridley makes a couple of transcending points:

> Organized science is indeed able to distill sufficient expertise out of debate in such a way as to solve practical problems. But, science is a flawed and all too human affair.

> Scientists are fallible.They are not omniscient demigods whose opinions automatically outweigh all disagreement.

> There is no such thing as “the science”.  Rather, there are different scientific views that need to be tested and debated.

More specifically…


Mr. Ridley observes several behavioral pitfalls that are evident in the COVID experience so far:

“Anchoring (without) adjustment”

Science is much better at telling you about the past and the present than the future.

Research has shown that forecasting economic, meteorological or epidemiological events more than a short time ahead continues to prove frustratingly hard.

Experts are sometimes worse at it than amateurs, because they overemphasize their past experiences and pet causal theories.

My take: How many times — especially early-on — did Dr. Fauci refer to his HIV-AIDS experience, where straightforward testing (of symptomatic patients) and contact tracing (of a handful of possibly contagious people) was operative … unlike the novel coronavirus?


Confirmation bias

Scientists “believe” in their guesses, so they often accumulate evidence compatible with them but discount as aberrations evidence that would falsify them.

All sides in this debate are succumbing to confirmation bias to some extent, seeking evidence that is compatible with their preferred theory and discounting contradictory evidence

My take: How many times has Dr. Fauci dismissed contrary evidence as “anecdotal” — even when there were numerous such anecdotes from credible practioners?


Suppressed debate

Organized science is indeed able to distill sufficient expertise out of debate in such a way as to solve practical problems.

The health of science depends on tolerating, even encouraging, at least some disagreement.

In practice, science is prevented from turning into religion not by asking scientists to challenge their own theories but by getting them to challenge each other,sometimes with gusto.

Where science becomes political, as in climate change and Covid-19, this diversity of opinion is sometimes extinguished in the pursuit of a popular consensus.

Investigations show that peer review is often perfunctory rather than thorough; often exploited by chums to help each other; and frequently used by gatekeepers to exclude and extinguish legitimate minority scientific opinions in a field.

“It is beyond naïve to believe that censorship does not occur.”

My take: I couldn’t have said it better myself…

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