Following the Science Without Forgetting Values

Written by Stephen Rainey

It is presently feared that ‘lockdown’ may be beginning to fray at the edges, as people tire of their restrictions. From the start of the emergency, discussion focussed upon the ability of the public to stay the course where restrictions were at stake. This neatly ignores the public’s being ahead of the government in acknowledging the severity of the situation before the 23rd March announcement to restrict social freedoms. At any rate, concerns over policy effectiveness were addressed through faith in behavioural science (via ‘Behavioural Insights’, née ‘The Nudge Unit’), and communications devices such as the repeated phrase, ‘following the science’.

‘Following the science’ raises reasonable questions including, which science and why? In what sense ‘follow’? To what degree? The idea of creating arguments ‘from science’ for any given policy is presumed sufficient as a motivation, or a reason for citizens to submit themselves to policy demands. However, given the expert basis for these arguments, it is not a safe bet that any given citizen will share the assumptions or knowledge base of the experts, let alone adopt them as straightforward reasons to alter their behaviour. Few people like to be told what to do without at least understanding what is being asked of them and why, so this can be a problem.

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