It has become a mantra among many people in this society that they are going to “follow the science”. Anyone who says this is either ignorant or stupid. And I’m going to explain why.
Science is a very misunderstood practice amongst many people in this world. They rely on it almost as a savior, and assume that it will eventually solve all of the world’s problem if we just listen to what it tells us. This is stupid for many different reasons.
There are two different types of science, I think. One is explanatory, and one is predictive. The explanatory sciences take something that exists, and tries to explain how it got that way. There are some serious issues with this type of science in that it makes many assumptions that must be assumed to be true in order to proceed (this is why Intelligent Design is both unprovable and equally as explanatory as geography – “God did it” is a perfectly valid explanation for anything, but it’s not really helpful, so scientists rightly dismiss the idea for their purposes. It is still an assumption that God did not do it, and an unprovable one.)
The predictive sciences are a bit more wooly. They also make quite a few assumptions. The mode of the predictive sciences is, “if you do this, then this is likely to happen. But if you do this, then something else is likely to happen”. The predictive sciences can be, but not always are, good in their realm. For example, in physics, you can safely assume that if you are going to drop something, it will fall. This is a prediction based upon the assumption that gravity will always work, either locally or universally, but since there are not yet any verified examples of gravity not working, it is an extremely safe assumption to make. It is also an assumption.
I am not anti-science in the sense that I am a huge fan of the explanatory and predictive powers of science, but I also put science in its proper place. It is based on predicates that are only assumed to be correct (that say, gravity always works everywhere at every time), and it is entirely not capable of making a value judgement.
So let’s go back to the premise of this post: saying “follow the science” is stupid. It is stupid because the science that you follow, is in itself following a value judgement that you’ve already made. Science, after all, is completely amoral.
People say “follow the science” with regard to the COVID response. The science they are following comes from the base of a series of value judgments, from which the science follows. Some of these value judgments most everyone can agree on (We want less COVID infections, we want fewer people to die from COVID, etc) and following the demands of science that predicts bringing us closer to those goals is a good thing. But here’s the sticky part – which value judgments are also being followed that we aren’t aware of? Let’s say (and I’m not saying these are specifically value judgments that are being followed, but they could be) that these value judgments are also being plugged into the equation: “We want pharmacies to make more money, we want to be able to control people, we don’t want individual freedom to be a factor”. Science will also bring us closer to these outcomes if we desire it. We can follow that science if we choose. And it will cause nothing but problems.. Science has no concept of “making things worse”, it just has the concept of “if you do this, then this will probably be the outcome.”
Which outcome we want is a value judgement, and science doesn’t care at all. Destroy the earth? Fine with science, here’s how to do it. Don’t want to do that? Okay, here’s something else you can do. Science is amoral, it doesn’t care at all about our values.
So if you are folowing the science, you are following the path that someone who wants a certain outcome has already prescribed, and most of the time, you think you know what that outcome is, but you don’t.
And that, my friends, is why you really don’t want to brag about following the science. You don’t know enough about any of the factors involved to make any of those decisions for yourself. The CDC has an agenda, the government has an agenda, the WHO has an agenda, and the scientists have an agenda. It might even be an agenda that you like and agree with, but you don’t know that. So take their advice if you want and deem it appropriate, but never thing that because science tells you to do something, that it’s the right thing. It might be. It might not. And ultimately, that’s a value judgement that you must make for yourself.