October 2, 2022

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COVID-19, politics and the role of scientific advice

The intertwining of medicine, politics, and communication. This is the maze of concepts, needs, decisions, understandings, and misunderstandings that have been the guiding thread for all pandemic management processes, starting at the beginning and continuing seamlessly to this day.

The advice of scientists divided the world, which led science to become almost opinion. Therefore, the use, non-use and abuse of advice from natural, medical and social scientists during a pandemic remains controversial. Governments generally decidedFollow the flagwhen they discuss their political options. While presenting the UK government’s Covid-19 response plan in the spring of 2020, the Minister of Health Matt Hancockstated that “driven by scienceThey expressed their confidence inUK global expertise to understand emerging dataAbout the virus, as an article published in the British Medical Journal explains,

Those who have criticized the government’s policies on Covid-19 have argued that the statement “Follow the flagIt was a political theater, designed to support desired political positions of the government rather than evidence-based decision making. Others have pointed out that science is not homogeneous, making it almost pointless to pretend to follow science without specifying the type of science behind such decisions. The claim to follow science only raises questions like “qWhat knowledge?” And the “on whom?“.

Understandably, according to the BMJ, holding advisers accountable for government decisions is complex. Political advisors are not forced to do anything. Politicians have their own interests and abundant sources of advice. The weaknesses of the British system are, according to the analysis, a lack of autonomy between advisers (they are chosen by the government and answer questions asked by the government) and a general lack of transparency. Although the transparency of the UK advisory system has improved as the pandemic progressed, a lack of initial transparency, combined with a lack of independence for advisors, has drained the legitimacy process in the early stages and may have allowed harmful government choices. . What lessons can we draw from the UK experience?

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First, there’s a fact: Governments tend to get the advice they want. Voters can judge the overall performance of their governments, but it is difficult for them to know whether governments asked the right questions or received correct answers from private consulting firms. Second, transparent and independent advice can enable democratic accountability for decisions made even if governments do not want to. It is the right of elected politicians, not scientific advisors, to balance and represent interests. All this would allow observers and, ultimately, voters to judge the competence and priorities of their politicians.

According to analysts, we must be aware of the limitations of scientific advice systems. Giving advice is not making decisions. Good advisory systems maintain the independence and credibility of advisors and scholars by separating their advice from final decisions. Finally, the role of transparent scientific advice is not limited to allowing the formulation of policy choices; It also allows for accountability for political failures, such as those seen during the Covid-19 pandemic.