Most of science is about discarding what is wrong and “following the science” leads to many false trails and cul-de-sacs

I see that the CDC is under fire – again – for producing confusing and contradictory recommendations. The CDC defends itself by claiming that they are “just following the science”. The scientific method is a long process from observation to theory and – as I take it to be – goes as follows:

Observation > correlation/ analysis > hypothesis

hypothesis > experiment/falsification/analysis > hindcasts/forecasts/nowcasts > verification > theory

Probably less than one in a 1,000 hypotheses get to being considered a theory of any significance. Probably less than one in a 100 “sound” theories stand the test of time. Anybody who thinks any science is settled is just an idiot. Science is not a thing but a process. True science is – and needs to be – permanently skeptical. Most of the work of science actually consists of discarding what is wrong. It is inevitable that “following the science” will lead you down more false paths than correct ones. Yet “following the science” is claimed as justification for actions. Following false trails is imbued with a sanctity and a virtue it does not have. It is also a way of avoiding blame.

Backtracking from previous advice, giving conflicting advice and following false trails has been evident more often than not over the last two years as authorities have tried to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic. The medical response to the pandemic can be classed into 3 areas.

  1. Public health measures
  2. Vaccination
  3. clinical treatment (including drugs for clinical use)

Public health measures across the globe have been confusing, contradictory and blatantly political. Of course, epidemiology is no science even if it tries to cloak itself in scientific methods. What is certain with the spread of the Delta and the Omicron variants is that public health advice today is much the same as it was 700 years ago with the Black Death in Europe. “Avoid the infected, wear a mask and burn your dead”. Pharmaceuticals are doing very well as programs of mass vaccination are rolled out across the globe every 3 months. It is a business which has a bright future ahead of it. Certainly the speed with which testing methods and vaccines are being produced and rolled out is impressive. Both the testing and the vaccination production industries are proving to be wonderfully remunerative. There have been great advances in the clinical treatment of those infected and in the identification of drugs (many taken from other uses) for effective treatment. But there have also been a very large number of false starts with “promising” drugs which have later been found to be not very effective. Health services and health care personnel have been rushed of their feet and have done a remarkable job. They have also gone down many cul-de-sacs. In spite of the advances in treatment many of those infected are still losing their lives.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) backtracked on a few more facets of COVID-19-related guidance this week, leaving the agency open to more social media mockery.

This week the CDC admitted its initial estimates about the prevalence of the omicron variant were way off. A few days earlier, the agency also revealed it was shortening the length of quarantine for COVID patients from 10 days to five if they were asymptomatic at that time. Those walk backs followed a series of other confusing announcements from the CDC, including fluctuating guidance on masks. The agency initially said only unvaccinated individuals should wear face coverings, until July, when the CDC changed course to say vaccinated individuals should resume wearing masks in certain situations.

NBC’s Peter Alexander confronted CDC Director Rochelle Walensky Wednesday, wondering why Americans should “trust” her and her agency in light of all the “mixed messaging.” She said they are simply following the science.

I am afraid the CDC is just going through a CYA exercise.

It has been 2 years now. We have followed the recommendations of the medical and public health fraternity. We have had 3 vaccinations so far. I expect we shall have to have a fourth in April or May.  And a fifth and a sixth before this pandemic is over.

It is almost time to rename the Omicron variant as the Covid-21 virus.


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