“Follow the science” has become a mantra for politicians world-wide.
Our leaders started to use it to defend their actions in fighting climate change, and when that seemed to stifle critics (denounced as climate deniers) it was used again to justify the various mandatory measures designed to stop the spread of Covid.
“Follow the science” sounds nice, and non-political. It is anything but.
I can remember when cigarette companies had their scientists saying that smoking was harmless. The politicians of the day believed them, for decades. Were the politicians following the science or were they following lobbyists with science degrees?
“Follow the science” makes no sense. It misuses two key concepts: “the science” and “follow”
Science is not a leader to be followed. Science is not a path in the forest to follow. Science is a process. A scientist (or several) present a hypothesis and then these presenters and others verify or falsify it with laboratory experiments or other empirical tests. When Einstein presented his Theory of Relativity he warned everyone not to accept it until it could be empirically verified. That didn’t happen for several years.
A government can accept the opinions of certain scientists, but it is misleading to say that that acceptance is “following the science”. The real question is: among a range of different or even contrary opinions, which scientists’ opinions will you accept and why?
Quite apart from the issue with “the science “ is the problem of “following”. What does that mean?
A scientist can offer the prediction that if the population of the planet continues to emit X tones of CO2 over the next Y years the planet will warm by Z degrees. If a country’s government accepts that prediction that doesn’t tell it what policy that country should adopt in the interest of both its people and all the other countries on the planet.
As climate is global while weather is local, climate change policy must be a global, collective action issue. No country can “save the planet” on its own. Therefore, any country’s climate policy must first consider what every other country is actually doing (regardless of what they claim they will do) and then decide what that country’s contribution should be in relation to the others. That is not a scientific question. That is many political questions. Nor is there any science that will provide the “right” political answers.
It is wrong for political leaders to try to avoid political accountability by claiming that they are merely following the science. Anyone who says they are following the science isn’t. They are using the word “science” like a drunk leaning on a lamppost at night: for postural support rather than illumination.
It makes no sense to try to justify a political policy choice by saying the politicians are following the science. They are following their political noses. Which is what they should be doing. And then accepting the credit or the blame.