“Trust me, I am an expert”. How to understand expertise during a public health crisis

Dr Alberto Giubilini and colleagues explore how we respond to public health challenges in this hour-long discussion.

Who counts as a relevant expert when facing a public health crisis? Why? How should we deal with disagreement among experts both within and across disciplines? And why did so many experts disagree with one another during the pandemic? In this event, we will discuss the role of different types of experts in informing public health policy, in a dialogue spanning disciplines as different as epidemiology, history, ethics, and the social sciences.

“Follow the science” has been one of the key public health messages during the pandemic. But it is not as simple as it sounds. There are different sciences that are relevant to a pandemic response, because there are different dimensions of human health. During the pandemic, epidemiology and mathematical modelling have been the fields policy makers have more often turned their eyes to for guidance. But mental health, economy, developmental psychology are just a few examples of the many other scientific fields that are obviously relevant to public health policy involving restrictive measures.

Moreover, sciences by themselves do not lead anywhere, unless we have decided what we want to achieve in implementing a public health policy, and what we are prepared to sacrifice. These are not scientific issues. They presuppose ethical and political decisions on the basis of certain values on which people are likely to disagree. Values and ethical disagreement seem to require expertise from the humanities in order to be properly addressed. For example, we could look at how humans have historically responded to pandemics, or to how tradeoffs among values are usually made in other areas of public health, or how state-led response shapes people’s trust in health institutions.

Navigating these issues will help not just to understand and assess our response to COVID-19, but also to address the other old and new public health challenges that await us in the post-pandemic world.

A wine reception will follow the talk.