The phrase has bothered me since I first started hearing it and I despair when I hear it repeated. Despite there being no such things as “The Science” it is used with painful regularity and has more than a hint of religion about it. What you follow is often your idol and maybe your god. That could be anything. Most likely it will be yourself. But to make “Following The Science” a specific policy of government should send alarm bells ringing. The desire to follow what Churchill called “perverted science” came to a horrific conclusion in the 1930s and we seem to have forgotten that. Many have already pointed out that Science is, anyway, not a thing that speaks or gives direction or knows the way and the idea of following it is plain stupid. By definition it is never settled but is always on the move. It is, of course, a discipline, a method of exploration, observation and investigation and it is rooted in a kind of believe that there are patterns to be found, that there are discoveries to be made and there are reasons why things are the way they are.
Science is a wonderful thing. As a 15year old I thought that I was destined to be a scientist. This was due, I realised afterwards, to having an amazing inspirational teacher. He gave us enormous freedom in the lab which would never be allowed now-a-days . He would often leave us to work on our own. On one occasion we manufactured something I think was ammonium sulphide which stank the whole school. We had got accustomed to the smell and were quite unaware of where it had travelled, until staff came to find out. On another occasion we rigged up a complicated apparatus with, test tubes, beakers and Bunsen burners. I don’t know what we were trying to do but it exploded and carried everything to the ceiling and crashed back down on the bench just as the teacher returned to the class. Amazingly no row or reprimand followed, with unnerving calm he said “Well you’ll know not to do that again” and we cleared up the mess.
I have also had the privilege of knowing a few scientists from different parts of the world some involved in cutting edge research in life and other sciences. I listened two Phd students, both mathematicians chat on a long journey in a minibus talk about a professor who they knew. It was fascinating how their conversation about mathematics was often punctured with the word “Beautiful”. He was a beautiful professor, they both agreed. The idea that maths could be beautiful was beyond me but I believed them. I have sometime tried to ask the researchers what they were doing but very quickly realised that I could not begin to understand. Still I have enormous respect, and nothing but admiration for those working on the edge of knowledge and what through great skill, rigour and determination they are able to achieve and discover
But the fear that it has become a religion with its own dogma and one that has to be followed is very worrying. When we see how opposing voices offering different perspectives are dismissed and treated like heretics who need to be silenced, we get the strong impression that the subject is not up for debate. It is settled we are told. The way that the cogent case put forward by the Great Barrington Declaration for herd immunity and against lock-down, was summerly dismissed by the health secretary, made this very clear. No attempt was made to reason with the arguments or respond to Professor Gupta’s detailed rebuttal and the put-down was, on the face of it, crass and ignorant. I really don’t know about such things but I do know, what the secretary didn’t seem to know, that malaria is not transmitted by human to human contact but by a mosquito. I suppose the problem is you cannot argue with a dogma. And it may well be impossible for politicians to climb down and finally admit that they were terribly wrong, before the full extent of the disaster is revealed. The trouble is, it is already being revealed and the politician’s keep on digging.