If you take the weeks of pauses from between the messages, covid advice looks like this:
We need to lockdown for three weeks to flatten the curve.
Okay, actually, we need to lockdown until we develop vaccines.
Okay, we’ve developed vaccines, but we can’t end the lockdowns until enough people get them. And you should get them! They’ve been tested – they’re perfectly safe and highly effective.
Okay, they’re not perfectly safe, but they’re safe enough.
Okay, they’re not that effective against the current strains, let alone new ones, but you should still get them.
You have concerns?
Right, I didn’t realise you were a science-hating anti-vaxxer nut job. Maybe if you weren’t such a degenerate, brainwashed moron, you’d believe whatever politicians say the science is now.
This is a disaster, start to finish. If this is an important issue, then it’s vital to communicate well.
That means not constantly contradicting yourself.
It also means responding appropriately to critics.
It’s fair enough for people to have questions, concerns and doubts. Back when the narrative was that the vaccines were perfectly safe, I questioned that. What, in medicine, is entirely safe? A new drug with a new mechanism is not going to be safer than aspirin.
I can’t argue with science, but I sure as manure can argue with marketing and policy.
“But William, you’re being unfair. Of course the narrative changed! That’s the strength of science – it adapts as new information comes in.”
Yes, science’s superpower is humility. While others search for Truth in tradition or how intensely people feel something, science tests everything. It demands evidence for every claim. Hypotheses can’t just fit the data – they have to make bold predictions better than other hypotheses.
No belief is beyond scrutiny – although not all beliefs are equally uncertain.
Sir Fred Hoyle was a brilliant physicist, who greatly contributed to our knowledge of stars and matter. He also refused to believe in the Big Bang – not based on evidence but based on his personal beliefs. He didn’t like that it left room in physics for a creator deity – that the Big Bang stank too much like the Book of Genesis.
That was an arrogant stance to take. If he happened to be correct, it would have been by luck.
If he had approached the question with a humble mind, he would have considered the evidence and been less wrong about the whole thing.
I’ll say it again: humility is science’s superpower.
Where in these covid messages and policies has there been a scrap of humility? At every turn, it’s been, “early studies seems to weakly suggest X, although it’s all still an open question, so… X is the Truth! Full speed ahead!”
You can’t tell people they’re idiots for not believing you, then claim to be humble in your beliefs later. That’s not how logic works, let alone science.
Genuine science-based policy would look something like this:
“Based on what we know right now, vaccines might be a bet. They will almost certainly have costs that we don’t know about. The cost of inaction, though, is clearer to us. We’re questioning this advice every day, comparing it to every alternative we can think of. In the meantime, this is the plan.”
Don’t hold your breath waiting for a message like that. Scientists advance their careers through humility, but it’s poison in politics.
We’ll keep hearing the dance of “we know this is true because SCIENCE… oh, wait, that was wrong, but THIS is definitely true because SCIENCE!” for a long time yet.
This should be obvious to anyone with a lick of training or common sense. Everything that I’ve spoken about here is remedial science. If this shocks or offends you, then you don’t science at all.
Yet go onto any science-based forum or community. You’ll find a minority of folks pointing this out as they get drowned out by meme-making, anti-humble losers who love – genuinely love – science’s brand…
… but nothing else about science.
After all, real science is hard. Real science plasters the universe with shrug emoticons – some of them big and in neon, some of them small and faded.
Forget that – it’s much more gratifying to pretend you like science and laugh at people who buy crystals.
Anyway, why do I keep talking about this?
Because back in my Twitter days, I’d see this all the time. Folks would say something like, “boy, I wish hypnosis were real, that seems like it could really help with my issues.”
There are probably hundreds of scientific journals dedicated solely to exploring what hypnosis can do. Hypnosis is Settled Science – there’s no question that it’s real and it’s powerful.
But it doesn’t seem like science. It seems more like New Age nonsense, if you go by impressions and not… you know, evidence or the scientific method.
Science is 100% on hypnosis’ side, but science’s brand is square against it.
As a hypnotist, that means science is my ally and science’s brand is my enemy.
If politicians and the media want to lean the latter, then I’ll call them out on it. Same with businesses, marketers and random people on the street.
Science’s brand, divorced from science, should be a poisoned chalice. Anyone foolish enough to drink from it should suffer embarrassment. Believing something that seems scientific but has weak science to back it should be shameful and humiliating.
I genuinely wish that I found thinking stupid thoughts to be physically painful in the moment. Anyone who thought like that would become smarter over time. No information could ‘corrupt’ or ‘brainwash’ them – it would only add to their wisdom.
If everyone felt pain on thinking a stupid thought, we’d have a paradise on Earth by 2022.
I can’t make that happen. The next best thing is to shame anyone who embraces science’s brand while pretending they’ve embraced science.
Anyway, I mentioned hypnosis a while back.
Get some here: