Scientism, driven by a psychological need for security, is quite seductive. But it is a dangerous train to jump on because science can never be a moral guide to life.
Michael Esfeld, Professor of Philosophy of Science at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland, analyses how the COVID crisis turned into a post-factual scientism. According to him, there has never been any factual evidence for an extraordinary situation, a real emergency, and COVID policies were utterly arbitrary. We now need to examine how this could have happened.
All the existing standards of medicine and science were thrown overboard, says Esfeld. One major issue is science that is based on models instead of evidence. Models are not reflecting reality, and neither can they make predictions. Scientifically they have no value. He explains the success of models through the psychological need for answers, and the need for certainty. Pessimistic predictions generate attention in media and politics. As a result, there is the danger of abusing them for fear-related political business models by offering protection and security. However, preventive measures come with a cost and collateral damage. You need to assess the proportionality, and you need a faculty of judgment.
The problem is also about language and changing the meaning of concepts. So, for example, the definition of a pandemic is no longer associated with excess mortality but rather infection only. Infection, in turn, no longer means a symptomatic sick person but rather a positive PCR test only. It's completely arbitrary, he says, "I call this post-factual."
Science has brought about substantial progress in modern society and therefore benefits from great credibility. This crisis demonstrated the danger of abusing science for political scientism, whereby science is taking the role religion had in pre-modern times. Under the doctrine "follow the science," science is believed to be capable of imposing norms and telling people what to do. But science has to abstract from subjective values, Esfeld explains. It cannot be a moral guide to life. In scientism, science loses its objectivity. This will backfire on science and destroy its credibility. Science is about to destroy itself.
Asked about the role of media, Esfeld states that the intention of discrediting any critical voices, as he had to experience in his own case, is to intimidate others to speak up. If they tolerate people asking critical questions, the whole regime of "follow the science" will be finished because the public will realize that it is not THE science. But there are always two sides. There are those who intimidate, and there are those who let themselves be intimidated.
We must ask: "What can we do to prevent this from happening again?" We thought we had enough mechanisms built into our political system. The shocking thing is they all failed. The whole judiciary failed. The entire system of checks and balances failed. We have to employ reason to limit the exercise of power. We have to prevent a concentration of power in the hands of the state that various interest groups can seize to further their interests.
Regarding the vaccination campaign, Esfeld notes that in a free society, a vaccine producer or other interest group would have to convince people to take a product and take liability. They could not seize the state power, force the vaccines on the people, and exempt the producers from liability. Those experiencing adverse effects from the vaccines should sue the doctors who vaccinated them.