Politics, post-truth science and COVID-19
Masks, schools, contact-tracing, quarantine, ventilation, vaccines. Policymakers said they were “following the science” – but the science was contested, sometimes aggressively and even violently. Research progressed at unprecedented pace and scale; too little knowledge quickly became too much. A few questions were resolved, but many were not. “Facts” were not merely value-laden; time after time they slipped the shackles of scientific circumspection and became saturated with ideology. Uncertainty became a weapon to be used tactically by politicians and interest groups. As definitive answers continued to elude them, scientists – their flawed assumptions, their premature conclusions, their academic rivalries, their political allegiances, their private lives – became the story.

COVID-19 has changed science – perhaps forever. The pandemic and its aftershocks have shaken the traditional pillars supporting dispassionate inquiry and how academic findings are reported and disseminated. How to buttress these crumbling pillars? This lecture will consider four approaches that can be taken by the individual academic: reflexivity (the need, in these troubled times, for heightened awareness of one’s identity, values and ethical commitments as a scientist working for the public good), painful engagement (a close reading of criticisms and personal attacks can generate data on the damaging interaction between science, ideology and politics, and may highlight potential avenues for limiting that damage), epistemological labour (to defend the credibility of our science, we must put work into defending our underlying assumptions – and challenging competing assumptions – about the nature of reality and how that reality might be known), and deconstruction (to transcend the distortions produced by others’ language, we must be aware of, and actively seek to circumvent, the constraints of particular discourses and linguistic conventions).
Date: 26 November 2020, 16:00 (Thursday, 7th week, Michaelmas 2020)
Venue: Zoom- See below for registration details
Speaker: Professor Trish Greenhalgh (University of Oxford)
Organising department: Department of Social Policy and Intervention
Organiser: David Humphreys (University of Oxford)
Organiser contact email address: communications@spi.ox.ac.uk
Part of: Centre for Evidence-Based Intervention Seminars
Booking required?: Required
Booking url: https://bit.ly/33XMPXw
Audience: Public
Editors: Esme Wilks, Lani Fukada