Politics Is About More Than ‘Following the Science’

In our increasingly secular age, being on the side of science is similar to being on the side of God—a way to settle an argument by not actually making an argument. Just enlist an unassailable authority and move on.  

That’s how Joe Biden campaigned for president, vowing to “follow the science” on the COVID-19 pandemic wherever it led him. Only now it seems like he’s leading the science as much as the science is leading him. And that was inevitable. 

First, as with God, it’s sometimes difficult to know what science says. This isn’t meant as an anti-science talking point. Science is good. Science is real. But science doesn’t speak on every issue with a booming voice that clears all doubts like a thunderclap scattering pigeons. Sometimes scientists—the high priests charged with telling us what science says—disagree with each other. (Priests also have their disagreements. You can look it up.)

And sometimes science gets things wrong. Phrenology—basically palm-reading applied to your skull—was briefly considered cutting-edge science. It’s now widely recognized as pseudoscientific quackery. Today’s “settled science” is often tomorrow’s “I can’t believe we said that.”

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