Led By The Science

Episodes

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20200811
20200811Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic the UK government has stated that its decisions have been “led by the science”. This pithy phrase implies there is a fixed body of knowledge from a consensus of scientists that provides a road map of what to do to stop the pandemic. But there isn’t.

And if decisions made by politicians turn out not to work, then who gets the blame? Is it the science?

While some scientists have willingly appeared in support of the actions announced, many researchers are furious with the way that the government has used science. They point out that scientists from different disciplines have different expertise to bring to the discussions about what to do in a pandemic caused by a novel virus. Public health doctors say that their experience of local communities has been ignored in favour of mathematical models. Virologists feel their knowledge of how infection works has been sidelined. And psychologists believe the government has taken the idea of nudge as the only way to understand the behaviour of the population. Scientific knowledge changes through debate and discussion, in particular when we are confronted by a novel situation.

Philip Ball explores the relationship between science and political decision making in the pandemic.

Producer: Alex Mansfield for BBC Radio 4

How does scientific advice lead to government policy at the best of times, and the worst?

2020081120200816 (R4)Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic the UK government has stated that its decisions have been “led by the science”. This pithy phrase implies there is a fixed body of knowledge from a consensus of scientists that provides a road map of what to do to stop the pandemic. But there isn’t.

And if decisions made by politicians turn out not to work, then who gets the blame? Is it the science?

While some scientists have willingly appeared in support of the actions announced, many researchers are furious with the way that the government has used science. They point out that scientists from different disciplines have different expertise to bring to the discussions about what to do in a pandemic caused by a novel virus. Public health doctors say that their experience of local communities has been ignored in favour of mathematical models. Virologists feel their knowledge of how infection works has been sidelined. And psychologists believe the government has taken the idea of nudge as the only way to understand the behaviour of the population. Scientific knowledge changes through debate and discussion, in particular when we are confronted by a novel situation.

Philip Ball explores the relationship between science and political decision making in the pandemic.

Producer: Alex Mansfield for BBC Radio 4

How does scientific advice lead to government policy at the best of times, and the worst?