Some notes on Coronavirus, science, and politics by John Rees
1 There is never one single authoritative group of experts. Experts disagree, and that’s the basis of scientific progress. Appeals to scientific authorities can never be a sufficient condition for decision making, though understanding the relevant scientific debate is a necessary condition.
2 Even the same expert advice can have different political outcomes according to implementation. Different advice will have widely variant outcomes. Appeals to science alone never override political debate.
3 No science is value-free: every theory comes with social and political assumptions.
4 Behavioural psychology or sociology is a highly contentious social science, not a natural science.
5 It is common, especially for authoritarian social theories, to claim supposed natural scientific authority to enhance their standing.
6 Behavioural sociology of the kind the government is relying on is the classic authoritarian ‘enlightened elite/dumb mass’ theory. Its fundamental operating model is that the mass must be cajoled or coerced into doing what the elite thinks is good for them.
7 Adopting the ‘herd immunity’ term fits this world view. It misapplies a scientific description, without experimental or medical evidence, to propagate a social Darwinist political strategy.
8 Science without a philosophy of science (ie an investigation of the methodological, social and political context of science) is useless. Politics is the master discipline, not science, because politics decides what science will be heard and how its conclusions will be met. Politics can not determine what scientific truth is, but it does decide if the truth gets heard.
John Rees is a writer, broadcaster and activist, and is one of the organisers of the People’s Assembly. His books include ‘The Algebra of Revolution’, ‘Imperialism and Resistance’, ‘Timelines, A Political History of the Modern World’, ‘The People Demand, A Short History of the Arab Revolutions’ (with Joseph Daher), ‘A People’s History of London’ (with Lindsey German) and The Leveller Revolution. He is co-founder of the Stop the War Coalition.