A few months ago I wrote a blog post about the limits of science in forming public policy. Since then the chattering class has only gotten worse and the CBC cheerleads it all the way.
On Thursday November 26, the CBC ran an article Secret recordings reveal political directives over Alberta’s pandemic response in what can only be described as form of gutter-level journalism that will serve to damage the working relationships between Alberta’s scientific advisors, specifically Dr. Deena Hinshaw, and government decision makers in the response to COVID-19. The CBC provides a platform to University of Alberta associate law professor Ubaka Ogbogu who, quoted in the article, said “If the government is not following scientific advice, if it is not interested in measures that will effectively control a pandemic that is killing Albertans, then Hinshaw owes us the responsibility of coming out and saying, ‘They are not letting me do my job’…The focus needs to be on the disease, on how you stop it, not the economy. Nothing is more important.” On Friday the CBC followed up with a response from Dr. Hinshaw, who feels personally betrayed, and added, “I was not elected by Albertans. The final decisions are up to elected officials who were chosen by Alberta. This is how democracy works.” Dr. Hinshaw is the only professional in this sordid mess.
With their article, the CBC is appealing to the I-believe-the-science crowd, an intolerant wokeist slogan that reflects a distrust in democracy, incrementalism, consensus building, and an attitude with little recognition for the difficulties in real decision making. Increasingly, the new chattering class feels that the job of our elected officials is to hand the keys of the state over to the “experts” obediently accept “solutions” (I believe the science, after all) and leave the room. Our democracy doesn’t work that way for a reason – experts are not accountable like our elected officials. Liberal democracy may not be perfect, but it has given us a quality of life unprecedented in human history with stability and peace that is the envy of the world. Accountable legislatures are among our institutions that make it all possible. You’d think that this ground would have been covered in middle school. I hope the forthcoming investigation finds those responsible for the leak, and if they are civil servants, fire them.
As a scientist, I really detest this trend of looking to science to provide the answer to our social and moral questions. From COVID-19 to climate change, the chattering class appeals to “settled science” as a mechanism to prescribe policy solutions. Science can do no such thing. Scientific discoveries by themselves do not have moral implications. This wokester attitude of believing-the-science for public policy is not unlike the 15th century Catholic Church’s persecution of Galileo in reverse. What we discover about the world does not tell us what we should do or how we should treat our fellow human beings. When it comes to public policy, science cannot make the decision for us. In the public sphere everything is a trade-off. Those trade-off decisions create suffering and make losers out of some people regardless of which choice we make. How we balance that suffering – how we gain the acceptance of those who lose – is part of the grand bargain built into our liberal democracy. It’s how we create legitimacy. That’s not a scientific question! Believe-the-science is nothing but vacuous wokeist sloganeering.
With COVID-19, our elected officials have a monstrously difficult task. Science is an input, but it cannot offer the solution. COVID-19 mitigation strategies will cost lives no matter what we do. Our polices risk a debt crisis, falling productivity, business destruction, and a potential for the gutting of human capital formation with long term consequences. Balancing those choices and risks against protecting society from the immediate harm of COVID-19 is not obvious; it’s not as easy as professor Ogbogu would have us believe. A policy that saves as many near-term lives as possible, damn the consequences, is a moral choice, a political choice, not a scientific one. In a liberal democracy our elected representatives make decisions that best reflect our collective values. The CBC did us all a disservice by reporting these secret recordings. The CBC undermined Alberta’s efforts to build legitimacy and made Dr. Hinshaw’s job even more difficult than it already is.
Shame on the CBC.