COVID-19 Justificatory Civility, Science, and Health

The relationship between science and justificatory civility.

Scientific methodology and observations can play a vital role in public justification, as we found out in article and as Rawls himself emphasizes. This is only on the condition that the procedures and results are not contentious. 

Politicians, for example, who use conspiracy theories to defend such rules or practices are clearly violating the obligation of civility. 

From a justification standpoint, though, those who focus on flawed or imperfect scientific data, or who purposely pick some bits of (sound) scientific evidence while disregarding others for political convenience, are often being uncivil. COVID-19 is especially interested in the relationship between scientific experience and societal justification. 

The ongoing pandemic has elicited perhaps more controversy about the role of science in public policy than any other policy question in modern memory, emphasizing the need for a convergence of science and policy. 

Social distancing laws, mask-wearing policies, and lockout or stay-at-home directives all depend extensively on science knowledge and data to prevent the virus from spreading. Without such facts, it is unclear how governments might legally enforce such burdensome rules on their people, particularly given the considerable toll these policies take on rights and liberties. 

The politicization of experimental evidence is one of the most significant issues facing the science/policy intersection during COVID-19. 

According to Fauci, scientists who counsel politicians should follow a common motto: "[y]ou remain totally apolitical and nonideological, and you stick to what it is that you do." I'm a surgeon and a biologist. That's what there is to it.' 

Scientists must focus on evidence and data, even though they conflict with decisionmakers' political agendas. 

This is particularly critical as evidence-based strategies will save lives. However, this is not a simple credo to live by. ‘[W]hen you walk into the White House, you should be prepared it that is the only time you will ever go there,' Fauci remembers being told. 

And if you head into it thinking, "I'm going to tell someone what they want to know," you've already shot yourself in the foot." It's no wonder that strains between Fauci and Trump arose during the pandemic, with the former US President often proposing potential COVID-19 therapies only to see them immediately rejected or debunked by Fauci. 

We need to focus on three specific issues posed by COVID-19 to the connection between science and policy: 

  1. the first is the scientific community's ongoing limited understanding of the virus and its long-term health effects; 
  2. the second is the lack of scientific research on how COVID-19, and the policies that implement it, work; 
  3. and the third is the lack of scientific research on how COVID-19, and the policies that implement it, work.

You may also want to read more analysis about the COVID-19 Pandemic here.