Institutional science follows politics; it will always endorse central regime policies.
During the pandemic, Germany closed schools on a wider scale and for a longer duration than most other places in the civilised world. I was recently reminded of how our government came to embrace these extreme policies. The story is very revealing:
It began with the strange decision of state media to elevate Christian Drosten at Berlin Charité to national prominence, by granting him the Coronavirus Update podcast on 26 February 2020. The WHO had just endorsed lockdowns two days before, and various countries were acquiring new Corona tsars – random virus wizards who would become the face of containment policy to panicking domestic audiences. Every day, Drosten’s banal podcast interviews were reported breathlessly across the German media, as if they meant anything.
It’s important to remember that Drosten is a virologist. He’s not a statistician, and for what it’s worth, he’s not a public health expert either. He studies how very small proteins work and how they interact with human cells. Nevertheless, Drosten had (or claimed to have) a wide range of opinions on matters outside of his field, including the question of whether closing schools would slow down SARS-2.
At first, Drosten said that he didn’t think this would accomplish very much. Like everyone else of his ilk, he had an early history of saying basically correct and sensible things before he went crazy. On 11 March 2020, he went home and read this paper on Nonpharmaceutical Interventions Implemented by US Cities During the 1918–1919 Influenza Pandemic. It wasn’t his field; his assessment of its analysis is worth no more than mine or yours. But after reading it, he decided that actually closing schools would be a great idea, especially when used in combination with other interventions, such as banning mass gatherings. This was wind in the sails of hystericists like Markus Söder, minister president of Bavaria. And so we closed our schools, and our kids endured months of social isolation and mental anguish, because Drosten read a thing and had a brilliant idea.
But, that’s only the official story. It may be vastly worse than that. I really doubt, for example, that Drosten’s ridiculous podcast was a spontaneous programming idea by Norddeutscher Rundfunk. I suspect, instead, that there’s a reason lockdowns and Corona tsars went together in those early days. Primary was the political or bureaucratic decision to do all this crazy stuff, in the absence of any evidence aside from some dodgy numbers out of Wuhan. Thus the genius smart guys who run our institutions had to find celebrity virus astrologers, who could become the public face of novel policies and provide a simulacrum of science for the politicians to pretend they were following. It’s even odds, whether Drosten really did change his mind because of a paper he read one night; or whether it was rather the political or bureaucratic faction behind Drosten that changed their minds and gave him a paper or two to read.
Science isn’t some objective reasonable force outside of politics. Scientists spend most of their careers chasing government grant funding, and fighting for appointments and promotions in government-funded university systems. Science follows politics, and nobody knows this as much as the disingenuous politicians who claim that their policies are subordinate to scientific findings.
Thanks for bearing with me these past few days. I have now reached the end of my conferencing labours – regular posting from tomorrow, at which point I should be fully recovered.
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