Can political decisions be based on science in the midst of a crisis?

Quebec Prime Minister François Legault emphasized drawing on the expertise of the Public Health Directorate for the proposed gradual dismantling. But is it really possible for decisions to be based on science in times of crisis?

Do you feel like you’re reading everything and its antithesis about COVID-19, even from experts, right now? Thus, the Quebec Pediatric Association and the German Academy of Sciences have positioned themselves in favor of resuming classes this spring. But the Scientific Council of France on its part, It is rather against. By the way, have you seen This magazine Who is suggesting that children get sick less easily? or so This story About possible links with young Kawasaki syndrome?

Team Quebec ScienceAnyway, you find it hard to navigate sometimes! (Much like science journalist Ed Young, from Atlantic Oceanwho says the problem Bigger than anyone can understand.) Furthermore, readers sometimes criticize us for not really answering their questions about COVID-19, when we point out that the answer has not been proven. How do politicians get ahead?

Rhys Kassen, professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Ottawa recently published Text on decision making based on science On the website of the International Monetary Fund, in particular to indicate that information useful to decision makers is still incomplete, despite the fact that there is an incredible amount of data. I looked this morning GISAID public platform He said in a phone interview that there are more than 15,000 genome sequences of the virus available. He’s crazy! “

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He believes that the current crisis exposes the scientific process to light. Instead of just seeing the end product [c’est-à-dire l’article scientifique revu par les pairs], the public can now access the entire process, to all discussions. Science is a very slow process. We can speed things up now and publish preliminary papers or do more informal peer reviews, it’s been a long time before we see a clear trend. For this to happen, several independent research groups must come to the same conclusions. So politicians cannot simply say: Good science: tell us what to do. It’s more of a collaborative relationship than that.”

Cite your sources

Rhys Cassen believes that politicians have an interest in being “honest about what is known and what is not” (not forgetting that their decisions can also be influenced by other factors: the economy, issues of individual liberties, or public trust, he said).

Comment shared by Kimberly Girling, of Canadian NGO Evidence for Democracy. “This is an opportunity to go further and say clearly to the audience: This is the science you used to make such a decision. I had an anecdote: in Germany, the director of public health announced a decision on COVID-19 at the beginning of a week to amend it a few days later. He explained that the first decision was based on science, but the latter simply evolved. “

Last fall, he published a guide to democracy a report Suggesting that MPs easily find scientific information, but struggle to discern what is reliable. Half of the participants in this study also said that information overload was a challenge for them. We imagine the situation is only worse in times of COVID-19. The best guide for decision makers is the expert, according to Kimberly Girling. “They have to be there, whether they are scientists in government or abroad, so that the information is understandable to decision makers.”

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She feels this is the case in Canada, citing COVID-19 Expert Committee which supports the chief science officer, Mona Nemer. In Quebec, the National Institute of Public Health appears to be very involved, as are many academics (particularly for modeling disease transmission). Quebec could also rely on its chief scientist, Rémy Kerrion, whose role is to direct the government.

Gender confusion

There is often confusion about what science-based decision-making is, says Eric Monpetite, a professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Montreal. He states that the concepts of “science” and “political decision” are two very distinct things, in times of crisis such as in normal times. “Science cannot clearly dictate what to do. Science rarely produces absolute certainty: it is made up of questions and doubts. Rather, it tells us the risks involved.” The dangers of prolonged strict confinement and the dangers of disqualification, eg.

How much the government is willing to put up with remains a political decision. If the decision is the turn of science, we will no longer need politicians! Climate change issues have set the stage for this discourse that to judge well, you just have to listen to the science. It lacks nuances.”

In addition, the different disciplines are in conflict at the moment: An infectious disease specialist’s view of moving forward in the next few weeks may differ from that of a psychologist and an economist. “There is a race to get the attention of politicians.”

Policymakers desire certainty, which science rarely provides. This is why some people sometimes resort to pseudoscience, which Professor Monpetite denounces.

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