Bias, overconfidence and politics

Greater Kashmir

Every aspect of human life has been impacted by Covid-19 in one way or the other. Science (considered as panacea for all the problems faced by humans) also fell into crisis at the initial stage of pandemic, when people who believed in science succumbed to myths and speculations. There were many instances where politicians and some scientists made hasty decisions that later on proved unscientific. For example hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) was initially touted as a magic drug for emergency treatment of Covid-19 patients by U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, it was later on proved that HCQ was in fact detrimental for COVID-19 patients and may lead to adverse heart ailments in some patients. The story didn’t end here; serious debates started among the scientific community regarding proper guidelines for social distancing, appropriate use of masks, washing of hands and many other issues. It is pertinent to mention that WHO had to revise its guidelines of preventive measures with the revelation of new findings. The governments were in total confusion whether to go for herd immunity, complete lockdown or smart lockdown. One may reason that this happened due to the fact that there was no basic information available about this novel disease. However, as per an essay published in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), bias, overconfidence and politics can impact the integrity of science during the crisis like COVID-19. Recent experience from Covid-19 warrants us to know what the pandemic has taught science.

Science works at slow pace

Science is not like a rapid fire game rather it is a slow endeavorthat is achieved by following set procedures and ultimately gives us direction for certain conclusions. Science improves across time and allows investigators to learn about the unknowns. But, it is important for the people who believe in science that science does not believe in shortcut methods, rather it believes in systematic approach. Many countries are making quick efforts to launch their brand of vaccine which seems against basic norms of science. Normally, if we want a vaccine in a quickest possible time to be ready for public use, then it should take at least 18 months. In the present scenario it seems, politics and overconfidence hinders the scientific approach towards vaccine production.

Scientific illiteracy in population

Science and myths do not work in cohesion, and there seems to be scientific illiteracy in our population. Sad part of the story is that smart people (having intellectual capability & thinking) had fallen for dangerous myths regarding COVID-19. A report published by BBC (April, 2020) debunked many false claims about the unscientific treatment of the new coronavirus. For example, there were reports made by authentic sources that sunshine, drinking water, warm weather, ozone, Vit. D etc. can affect coronavirus. Even WHO had to intervene to update people regarding these false claims by publishing myth-busting pages. Proper scientific awareness and temperament is essential for not falling to above myths and lies. Intelligent guessing, a cornerstone of scientific approach, is sometimes being confused with blind guesses that has no base in science. Science is all about exploring the unknowns by using these intelligent guesses, however, sometimes these guesses may prove wrong. The popularity of false claims about unscientific treatment of Covid-19 on social media underscores the need for enhancing scientific temperament among the general public.

Politics in Science

Of late science has been influenced by politics that hinders the independent working of science. The extra political influence during pandemic in scientific research has already affected the credibility of many science related activities across the globe. For example, there was excessive political pressure of some developed countries on many international agencies like WHO to coordinate in vaccine and drug production on their own terms & conditions. On many occasions, there was a contradiction regarding the use of emergency drugs for COVID-19 between USA & WHO. For example, FDA approved hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) for the treatment of COVID-19 on presidential orders, while WHO refused to approve the same. There was also politics at the start of the pandemic when governments pressured WHO to blame particular countries for the spread of the virus. Such an approach is not good omen for the progress of science and needs immediate attention in future.

In short, science seeks an independent environment to work for humanity. Best lesson from COVID-19 is that Science is also with limitations, and thinking that science could provide quick fix solutions is not the way science works.

Dr. Ummer Rashid Zargar is Assistant Professor (Zoology), Government Degree College Boys, Anantnag