Following the science…

Perhaps I should have asked my friend the scientist about this before letting my fingers do the laptop dance.

But I am genuinely puzzled by the way science has been dragged into every government statement about Covid-19.

Obviously, even a total non-scientist can see that the science is important. But is science being used as a shield, a political distraction or an eventual get-out clause (well, we followed what the scientists said so it’s not our fault)?

When it was revealed that Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s adviser and chief propagandist, attended meetings of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, reactions were varied.

Sensible people shouted that such an arch manipulator shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near a scientific group working out how to deal with Covid-19; slavish followers of comedy turn prime minister Boris Johnson said it was all a fuss about nothing stirred up by the Guardian – good old Boris will sort it out and cheer us up.

What the Guardian did was reveal who sits on those meetings. According to wider reports, it is not normal for advisers/spin merchants to attend. After all, can such an important gathering be open if Boris Johnson’s chief hitman is glowering from the sidelines?

My other takeaway was, oh, that explains the sciency slogans. Cummings is the master of the simple slogan: “Get Brexit Done” and “Take Back Control” being two of his greatest hits. Others pertinent to the gloomy moment are “Stay at Home”, “Protect the NHS” and “Save Lives”.

Now he’s at it with science. Every minister bundled into a Zoom interview comes armed with variations on “we have followed the science”. Yesterday it was the turn of Victoria Atkins, who is the safeguarding minister, apparently. Safeguarding what exactly: herself; her own arse; her party? It’s a continuing mystery.

Aktins did the morning rounds and was roughed up by Piers Morgan on ITV and Louise Minchin on the BBC. Every time she stumbled, and that was often, she blabbered about following the science and kept saying “We have been absolutely transparent…”

Bizarrely, she also said she had never heard of Exercise Cygnus, the pandemic stimulation exercise carried out by the government in 2016. Pretty sure she has heard of it, but prefers not to talk about it.

I have come to see science in italics: the science, as if it were one definite discipline with a golden test tube containing all the answers. Saying the science all the time overlooks the wider truth that science is ever-evolving, a constant search for answers, and creates the idea that there is one science, like a sort of true religion, rather than lots of different scientists with different disciplines and competing interpretations of the available evidence.

Also, choosing which strand of science to follow, cherry picking the evidence you most like, becomes a political decision, not a purely scientific one; doesn’t it?

One reason Boris Johnson’s government is so keen on spouting forth about following the science is that for a while it blithely ignored the scientific evidence, preferring to follow Johnson’s gut instinct that life should carry on as normal; until he changed his mind.

Also, all those breezy proclamations – “We can send coronavirus packing” – have much more to do with makeshift oratory than the science.

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