Our latest Policy & Politics article, authored by Margaret MacAulay, GSL Senior Investigator Patrick Fafard, Research Director – Public Health Institutions Adèle Cassola, and Michèle Palkovits, analyses the frequent use of the phrase “following the science” by political leaders during the COVID-19 pandemic. The paper focused on the early months of the pandemic (March-September 2020) and analyzed the usage of this phrase in Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom (UK). The findings shed light on the implications and concerns associated with its excessive use.
Examining instances where the phrase “following the science” was used in relation to critical issues such as mass event cancellations, border closures, face masks, and in-person learning, the analysis revealed a common trend. Political leaders employed this phrase to delay and justify decision-making on contentious matters, essentially presenting Chief Medical Officers (CMOs) as the ultimate decision-makers. This presentation created the perception that public health decisions were solely driven by scientific evidence or advice.
This kind of messaging can be problematic for several reasons. First, in representative democracies, policy decisions are not (and should not be) based solely on scientific evidence; considerations such as resource constraints, public opinion, and ethics also matter. Second, this messaging has the potential to confuse the public about who decides and who is accountable for those decisions. Third, it also risks undermining the public’s trust in scientific advice and advisors. Understanding these dynamics can contribute to greater transparency and accountability in decision-making during future crises.
Read the article in the link below.