Science and power: when a blind man guides a blind man

For politicians and scientists alike, the Covid-19 is a leap into the unknown. You still have to have the humility to recognize it. If scientists know that their knowledge is temporary in nature, what about rulers?

“One principle guides us in defining our actions, it is trust in science, it is to listen to those who know.” By following the advice of scientists, let’s ensure the continuity of our democratic life! For Emmanuel Macron, the scientific word is golden. Let us follow his advice: the elections will take place. In this same speech of March 12, he announced the closure of schools. Scientists say children spread the virus more. Maintaining elections, closing schools: it is the scientific word that sets the tone. Two weights, two measures ? Can we shamelessly affirm one thing and its opposite, by dressing it moreover with the mantle of scientific support?

Two days later, Edouard Philippe took the floor to announce, without notice, the closure of the restaurants while reiterating the continuation of the first round. The inconsistency takes its course … And the political calculation prevails in this orphan decision, which strikes by its abstraction. Until, two days later, Macron asserted, flattering his words: “Scientists say it is the top priority. I consulted the experts: the confinement must be reinforced and … the second round postponed. ”

We think we are dreaming! One day the elections are maintained, without risk, another day they are postponed: major risk. Where is the consistency ? Credibility ? Authorizing a trip to vote and to scold those who in the process go to the park is an illegible message for the population: the so-called irresponsible and inconsistent behavior of the population is commensurate with the irresponsible inconsistency of the government.

What does the latter say? He surrounds himself with experts. On March 11, a scientific committee was created, named by the government newspaper La Dépêche “Compass”. Could it be that, without these eleven experts (nine men, two women, let us note…), this government would be disoriented, to the point of shattering on the rocks? The general view is that this committee only gives an advisory opinion. It recommends, it informs the public decision. The executive draws on its expertise, then decides in conscience, remaining in control of the action. The image of the compass is beautiful: knowing how to orient yourself in the storm, what better hope? This is a great story, of those that we tell children to put them to sleep, those that all children want to hear: mom and dad are there, don’t worry, they are the ones who know …

Knowledge guides power. Except that … these experts are mistaken: Yazdan Yazdanpanah, infectious disease specialist in Bichat (read his portrait on the last page), interviewed on February 26, said: “There is not going to be an epidemic in France, because we are prepared”, inviting the French to kiss each other… Didier Raoult, in his book Epidemics. Real dangers and false alarms are reassuring: he speaks of “world hysteria”, of “less mortality than that announced at the outset”. Jean-François Delfraissy himself, president of the scientific committee, who lived with HIV, the Ebola virus, admits “not having sufficiently perceived the seriousness of the event” in mid-February.

What then is the use of the insistent, obsessive, indecent reference to science? We are led to believe that science is the absolute guide to political decisions, to show that the politician has perfect control of the situation, thus giving credibility to his action. This knowledge is uncertain, made of ignorance, of errors. Professor Delfraissy admits: “It goes beyond anything I’ve seen so far …”

In fact, scientists can be wrong. It’s true, they don’t know much: they said the Covid-19 is like the flu. It is much more contagious and the symptom of respiratory oppression clearly distinguishes it; they said there was no point in putting on a mask. We will soon not be allowed to go out without it. They said the tests were useless. But … only tests would tell who is positive and who is not.

Of course, there is no question of depriving yourself of scientists. The problem is not science: scientists know they don’t know much (sic Socrates). They have the humility of experimentalists, the wisdom of not knowing. As Didier Raoult puts it, knowledge is “temporary”. The problem, therefore, is not science, it is politics. He absolutizes the reference to science by presenting scientists as the absolute masters of knowledge, and he thus makes them play a dangerous game (sic Werner Heisenberg). Especially since he manipulates the reference to science for his own ends. Affirmably a uselessness (that of masks or tests) to hide an economic shortage! To exercise control over the population (sic Michel Foucault) by claiming to control the situation with the alibi of science, invoked at random. This is suspect … Because the Covid-19 is the unknown. You should have the humility to recognize it. Edouard Philippe began to do so by acknowledging that he does not know everything. Too late…

What if the scientific compass, however humble it was, was just a weather vane in the hands of politicians? What is worse: being blind and knowing it? One might think that this is what many scientists, authentically disoriented, are going through today … Or else: be blind and believe that we have the situation in hand? By dint of believing themselves masters and owners of the universe, our leaders have succeeded in persuading certain scientists to act as guides, even faltering, in their public action. Double illusion, double blindness: when a blind guide a blind, the fall of Scylla will be worse than that of Charybdis…

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