Scientists should admit their covid errors to regain the trust they lost

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Americans’ trust in scientists has plummeted in the post-Covid years, according to a Pew poll. In the year In 2019, only 13 percent of Americans said they did not trust scientists to protect the public interest. Now that figure is 27%—despite recent breakthroughs in astronomy, cancer research, genetics, and more. It’s reasonable to assume that the problem stems from covid-era public health missteps. It took years for some public health agencies to accept the obvious: the virus was airborne. Others have suggested precautions such as closing playgrounds and beaches have had little effect. Some policies such as continued social exclusion were difficult to implement and sustain.

Public health researchers and officials think that rebuilding trust is a matter of clearer and more persuasive communication. That helps, but it’s not enough – they have to admit their mistakes.

Reluctance has arisen. Last week, I attended an international conference on epidemic prevention at Boston University, and the communications panel never got into the fallacies of Covid. When I asked experts about policies and statements that seemed wrong in retrospect, I got a chorus of “we didn’t know”—an unsatisfying answer. Even then, scientists should have been more specific when basing policies on educated guesses. .

Sandro Gallia, dean of public health at Boston University, explores this in depth in his forthcoming new book, Within Reason: A Liberal Public Health For an Illiberal Time. It resists the silencing of dissent that causes groupthink and the interweaving of political and personal opinions into science. That has always led to irrational policies — restrictions on outdoor behavior, closed playgrounds and long school closures.

Galia’s reluctance to talk about such mistakes in an interview comes from a lack of security – the fear of betraying the other side is similar here to former US President Donald Trump. Public health officials are rightly frustrated by Trump’s incredible bombast. But the answer is not to appear infallible.

In the year Even in January and early February 2020, the US public health community was making unforced errors. Evidence that this disease is wreaking havoc in China and spreading around the world is increasing week by week. Health officials should have been scrambling to prepare hospitals and nursing homes, create tests that worked, and develop contact tracing and virus-tracing systems. They should have warned people about possible future closures.

Instead, the US got confirmation from public health officials, including editors who say seasonal flu is the worst threat. In the year In March 2020, New York’s major outbreak created a turning point. We’ve moralized about the dangers of going out, even though people are locked up and people die, even though there’s reasonable evidence that it’s not the problem.

Perhaps it is wrong to expect people to trust scientists when trust in so many institutions has collapsed. (Scientists are still more reliable than journalists, by the way.) However, the scientific methods that do science are flawed because they are designed to turn the work of human beings into a reliable and useful body of knowledge.

The double-blind clinical trial is a clever antidote to our biases and our humanity of seeing what we want rather than what really is. This is why I got the covid vaccine – not because I uncritically believe Anthony Fauci. The same level of evidence does not support the implementation of vaccination mandates, and some institutions have exceeded reasonable evidence by requiring staff and students to receive second and third booster vaccinations for very low risk of serious disease.

This public health surplus has fed into the pockets of existing irrational paranoia, giving new energy to gurus on YouTube who claim that the government is covering up deadly vaccine side effects and the ‘real’ cure for covid, except for UFO guests and conspiracy to take over. Getting rid of everyone’s property. Some of the conspiracy theorists were scientists (or at least people with the right degrees), which pointed out the flaw in the idea that people should believe the whole profession. Historian Edward Tenner calls them “alt-thorities” and they appear not only on YouTube, but also on Fox News and the legendary Joe Rogan show.

So perhaps the best we can hope for is that you put more faith in scientists who draw on that great body of established knowledge and come up with new knowledge as they accumulate more evidence. And we should trust them not necessarily to protect the interests of the people, but to work in pursuit of the truth. ©Bloomberg



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