Political necessity and science


Sir, – Michael McDowell (“We must err on the side of keeping our society open”, Opinion & Analysis, January 12th) refers twice – it reads dismissively – to the “medical establishment” in his comments regarding the response to Covid.

Is there really a problem in allowing this establishment (if such exists in any meaningful or coherent sense) decide “the science” (sic) which should be followed? Are they really simply guessing about the efficacy of double vaccinations and boosters?

Mr McDowell argues that the health establishment cannot be the only determining expert voice, but does not indicate what other expert voices he refers to, leaving one at a loss in following the argument.

The opinion that we must simply muddle through the pandemic and take an optimistic view is hardly deep science. We are informed that (with any luck) the crest of the Omicron wave will abate this month, that the viral disease “seems to be bearable”, and is likely to become endemic with or without further mutations. And we are told there is “a good chance” that Covid will reduce to a sustainable endemic level and that social, economic and cultural activities will gradually return to normal.

Are the above comments to be taken for science dressed as opinion, or opinion dressed as science? What is the normal we may chancefully return to?

I have the same concerns as Mr McDowell about keeping society open, but believe that an essential constant in doing so is to “do science”, and do it as well as one can.

This means developing and testing hypotheses as rigorously as possible, and holding to that principle in pandemic times is clearly difficult.

I believe that the medical, statistical and related advice presented by good science experts in general has been vitally important in getting our society through to this point.

It is important not to mix political necessity with the acquisition of knowledge; they have widely divergent aims and necessities.

As Mr McDowell’s article makes one reflect, this is perhaps an endemic problem in itself. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.