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“Listen to Scientists” Is Not A Smart Policy Slogan

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One thing the pandemic done has exposed a real problem in the way we talk about science in this nation, as if it was a thing that existed in a vacuum and not part of society, the myriad problems of which you can’t hand wave away as if it didn’t really matter. First, scientists are human and are impacted by the same human failings as the rest of us. That’s why a white supremacist society creates racist science and technology. Second, scientists don’t have any special powers to understand how to implement policy. “Listen to Scientists” might seem like a rhetorically good move when you had an administration actively just ignoring scientists that didn’t fit their narrative. I get that. But when crafting good policy, you need to be listening to all sorts of experts, each of which bring a different piece of knowledge about the world to the table. You most certainly do need scientists. But you also need economists, public health experts, political scientists, psychologists, sociologists, and, yes, historians. Just to throw out one example, how much would listening to experts on journalism and misinformation have added to early conversations about COVID and the vaccine? They have knowledge that scientists simply do not have. And as we have seen, the role of misinformation has significantly impacted the response to this entire crisis and continues to do so today as the Delta variant sweeps through the nation and world.

In any case, I thought this tweet really brought all this home.

The literature on vaccine hesitancy is huge. Even in the field of history, there is a lot of material. But the scientists didn’t really consider this at all. And because there is more attention paid to scientists than the rest of the scholarly world, the policy makers didn’t plan for this either.

What is happening now is entirely predictable. In fact, is anyone actually surprised by any of this? I am certainly not. Lots of people could have suggested that something like this would happen. But they don’t get listened to because they aren’t doing SCIENCE!!!

This is, I remind you, not at all a broadside against science, which is a necessary part of any conversation. It’s a plea for the equally important findings of all fields, all of which contribute to the necessary understanding of humanity required to create policy. But no doubt we will continue to make these mistakes going forward.

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