Covid Derangement Syndrome is literally causing starvation in Vietnam. (DBx: But I reckon that that’s okay, for we all now know that no fate is as bad as coming into contact with the Covid monster.)
Australia no longer seems to function like a country and Australian citizenship has been largely drained of legal and practical meaning.
Thousands of Australian citizens remain stranded abroad, unable to return due to strict caps on spots in hotel quarantine, which are set by state governments. Frequent domestic border closures — also decided by state governments — have effectively fragmented Australia into eight separate countries. Last month, Australians were treated to the surreal spectacle of the Australian Defence Force patrolling the border between Queensland and New South Wales.
Across the country, citizens have discovered that reserve powers are largely the prerogative of state governments, and are being exercised in ways that routinely exclude other states’ residents, as if they were foreign nationals. For example, Western Australia now requires that people living in New South Wales have at least one shot of the Covid vaccine to enter the state. In one of the most callous examples of exclusionary state politics in practice, last year the Queensland government denied a 14-year-old double-lung transplant patient from NSW access to his specialist doctor, declaring that Queensland hospitals were for Queenslanders.
In the past I had often fervently wished that one day everyone would be passionate and excited about scientific research. I should have been more careful about what I had wished for. The crisis caused by the lethal COVID-19 pandemic and by the responses to the crisis have made billions of people worldwide acutely interested and overexcited about science. Decisions pronounced in the name of science have become arbitrators of life, death, and fundamental freedoms. Everything that mattered was affected by science, by scientists interpreting science, and by those who impose measures based on their interpretations of science in the context of political warfare.
One problem with this new mass engagement with science is that most people, including most people in the West, had never been seriously exposed to the fundamental norms of the scientific method. The Mertonian norms of communalism, universalism, disinterestedness, and organized skepticism have unfortunately never been mainstream in education, media, or even in science museums and TV documentaries on scientific topics.
Disinterestedness suffered gravely. In the past, conflicted entities mostly tried to hide their agendas. During the pandemic, these same conflicted entities were raised to the status of heroes. For example, Big Pharma companies clearly produced useful drugs, vaccines, and other interventions that saved lives, though it was also known that profit was and is their main motive. Big Tobacco was known to kill many millions of people every year and to continuously mislead when promoting its old and new, equally harmful, products. Yet during the pandemic, requesting better evidence on effectiveness and adverse events was often considered anathema. This dismissive, authoritarian approach “in defense of science” may sadly have enhanced vaccine hesitancy and the anti-vax movement, wasting a unique opportunity that was created by the fantastic rapid development of COVID-19 vaccines. Even the tobacco industry upgraded its reputation: Philip Morris donated ventilators to propel a profile of corporate responsibility and saving lives, a tiny fraction of which were put at risk of death from COVID-19 because of background diseases caused by tobacco products.
Other potentially conflicted entities became the new societal regulators, rather than the ones being regulated. Big Tech companies, which gained trillions of dollars in cumulative market value from the virtual transformation of human life during lockdown, developed powerful censorship machineries that skewed the information available to users on their platforms. Consultants who made millions of dollars from corporate and government consultation were given prestigious positions, power, and public praise, while unconflicted scientists who worked pro bono but dared to question dominant narratives were smeared as being conflicted. Organized skepticism was seen as a threat to public health. There was a clash between two schools of thought, authoritarian public health versus science—and science lost.