Instead, the CDC on Tuesday issued murky new guidance, without backup evidence, recommending that vaccinated people resume wearing masks indoors in some cases because unpublished studies suggest they could transmit the virus. But on Thursday the Washington Post ran an alarmist story on an internal CDC slide presentation with the unpublished evidence, which triggered a media panic that could undermine vaccinations. Only on Friday afternoon did the agency release some of its evidence and offer a calmer explanation.
What a fiasco. The CDC should be a source of fact and reason, not a hair-on-fire spreader of fear. The agency could start by explaining that Covid cases have been increasing across the U.S. and that more vaccinated individuals are testing positive. But most of these “breakthrough” cases are mild or asymptomatic.
The popular slogan today is “Believe in science.” It’s often used as a weapon against people who reject not science in principle but rather one or another prominent scientific proposition, whether it be about the COVID-19 vaccine, climate change, nutrition (low-fat versus low-carb eating), to mention a few. My purpose here is not to defend or deny any particular scientific position but to question the model of science that the loudest self-declared believers in science seem to work from. Their model makes science seem almost identical to what they mean by, and attack as, religion. If that’s the case, we ought not to listen to them when they lecture the rest of us about heeding science.
The clearest problem with the admonition to “believe in science” is that it is of no help whatsoever when well-credentialed scientists–that is, bona fide experts–are found on both (or all) sides of a given empirical question. Dominant parts of the intelligentsia may prefer we not know this, but dissenting experts exist on many scientific questions that some blithely pronounce as “settled” by a “consensus,” that is, beyond debate. This is true regarding the precise nature and likely consequences of climate change and aspects of the coronavirus and its vaccine. Without real evidence, credentialed mavericks are often maligned as having been corrupted by industry, with the tacit faith that scientists who voice the established position are pure and incorruptible. It’s as though the quest for government money could not in itself bias scientific research. Moreover, no one, not even scientists, are immune from group-think and confirmation bias.
Public policy is about moral judgment, trade-offs, and the justifiable use of coercion. Natural scientists are neither uniquely knowledgeable about those matters nor uniquely capable of making the right decisions for everyone. When medical scientists advised a lockdown of economic activity because of the pandemic, they were not speaking as scientists but as moralists (in scientists’ clothing). What are their special qualifications for that role? How could those scientists possibly have taken into account all of the serious consequences of a lockdown–psychological, domestic, social, economic, etc.–for the diverse individual human beings who would be subject to the policy? What qualifies natural scientists to decide that people who need screening for cancer or heart disease must wait indefinitely while people with an officially designated disease need not? (Politicians issue the formal prohibitions, but their scientific advisers provide apparent credibility.)
Most people are unqualified to judge most scientific conclusions, but they are qualified to live their lives reasonably. I’m highly confident the earth is a sphere and that a water molecule is two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen. But I do not know how to confirm those propositions. So we all need to rely on scientific and medical authorities–not in the sense of power but in the sense of expertise and reputation. (Even authorities in one area rely on authorities in others.)
But we must also remember that those authorities’ empirical claims are defeasible; that is, they are in principle open to rebuttal and perhaps refutation, that is, the scientific process. Aside from the indispensable and self-validating axioms of logic, all claims are open in this sense. That process is what gets us to the truth. As John Stuart Mill pointed out in On Liberty, even a dissenter who holds a demonstrably wrong view on a question might know something important on that very question that has been overlooked. To our peril do we shut people up or shout them down as heretics. That’s dogma, not science.
One thing these characters will not do post-pandemic, however much we might wish it, is pack their bags and slope off back to their university seminars and academic journals. I don’t think it is impugning their integrity to suggest that they have enjoyed their new-found power — who wouldn’t? It is against human nature to relinquish influence once you have it. So keep that slot open on Question Time: the voice of science in the public debate is likely to be a constant feature from now on. On a whole raft of issues — from obesity and alcohol to climate change — scientists will be organised and visibly pursuing their agenda  on the airwaves.
In part this is the result of a long-term move towards interdisciplinary academic fields that cross over into politics. “Public Health”, for example, which has provided some of the most visible commentators on Covid, is the science of how best to organise society to achieve the best overall health outcomes — it is therefore collectivist by design.
Martin Kulldorff :
When @gbeclaration [the Great Barrington Declaration ] advocated focused protection of older high-risk people, lockdowners pulled a fast one, falsely claiming it was a let-it-rip strategy. Sadly ignorant about public health, they could only imagine lockdowns or nothing.
Let’s start with zero Lockdown. Will improve health more than any other zero X.
Whether or not [DC mayor Muriel] Bowser deliberately delayed the mask mandate until a few hours after her [birthday] party had wrapped up, this is bad behavior from a public official. There are a great many vaccinated people in D.C. who would like to celebrate their birthdays this month (disclaimer: I’m one of them), but if they party in public, in many circumstances they will need to wear masks to comply with the mayor’s decree. No, this isn’t the greatest burden in the world—but it is a needless burden. Despite the recent paranoia about the delta strain of COVID-19, the vaccines are holding up remarkably well at preventing severe disease and death.
Throughout the pandemic, politicians and bureaucrats have asked the citizens to make tremendous sacrifices. But time  and time  again , they have shown us that they are not willing to do the same. The people are expected to mask up and stay six feet apart, but our government leaders? Well, you only turn 49 once.
To enforce its deranged Covid restrictions, the government of New South Wales is now using the Australian military . Behold the ‘logic’ and the authoritarianism:
With little sign that of restrictions reducing infections, [New South Wales premier Gladys] Berejiklian said new curbs would be imposed on the southwestern and western areas of Sydney where the majority of COVID-19 cases are being found.
Residents there will be forced to wear masks outdoors and to stay within five km (three miles) of their homes.
With even tighter restrictions set to begin on Friday, New South Wales Police said it had asked for 300 military personnel to help enforce lockdown orders.