In this article we argue that,
In any pandemic response, the measures undertaken by authorities must effective in the sense of actually addressing the viral threats. A strategy that didn’t slow the rate of viral spread, for instance, wouldn’t work and for that reason would be due criticism. The concept of legitimacy is one perhaps less easy to cash out. In any pandemic response, the measures undertaken by authorities must be legitimate in the sense of fairly and justifiably constraining liberties enjoyed prior to the viral outbreak. A strategy that placed undue or disproportionate burdens on societal sub-groups, for instance, wouldn’t be legitimate and for that reason would be due criticism. For effectiveness in a medical crisis particularly, science is an essential element of any response.
“‘Following the science’ is one vital element for effectiveness where a pandemic is concerned. ‘Following the science’ raises reasonable questions including, which science, and why? In what sense ‘follow’? To what degree? The idea of creating arguments ‘from science’ for any given policy is tempting, for it ‘borrows’ the perceived authority of science to legitimize decisions.”
In this work, we also look at how rights and demography – like socio-economic position – set different starting points among social groupings. The internal complexity of societies makes a strategy of ‘following the science’ particularly tricky. We write,
The idea of science both as instrumental for effective responses, and at the same time open to careful evaluation, makes post-normal science (PNS) particularly interesting. PNS was originally conceived of in the 1990s by Silvio Funtowicz and Jerome R. Ravetz as a means of understanding predicaments of high uncertainty and high stakes. In such conditions, expert opinion may not be as reliable as is often assumed, with the unknown playing a big role. More resources may be required than expert consultation. We write,
How to manage the inevitable disruptions to life brought about by the emergence of a viral pandemic – a question that for many seemed remote has now had us all preoccupied for well over a year. With our just-published article, entitled The Post-Normal Challenges of COVID-19: Constructing Effective and Legitimate Responses, in the Journal Science and Public Policy, Maru Mormina, Sapfo Lignou, Joseph Nguyen, Paula Larsson and I set out to investigate some of the perplexing difficulties especially relating to effectiveness and legitimacy. We examine these in the light of pandemics as wicked problems and lay out how ‘post-normal science’ can contribute to a sound pandemic response.
“When decision stakes or system uncertainties are high, there are no precedents for managing the issue and no agreed scientific or technical solution, yet something must be done. In these situations, finding a way forward to manage uncertainty requires stepping outside the boundaries of science and engaging with questions of value, ethics, and politics. It is therefore necessary to create new epistemic structures… where scientific knowledge enters in dialogue with other relevant kinds of knowledge.”
Written by Stephen Rainey
A more level playing field has worth in itself, but also this instrumental value: where we can expect a future of environmental, health, or other such crises a more level playing field enables greater resilience across all of society. The tools used to address crises can also be deployed in advance, for the sake of readiness, and promote health, security, and safety for a greater proportion of all. And where such tools are put to use, they ought to be operated in a pluralistic epistemic context, involving those for whom they will be working as well as politicians and expert groups. This is necessary if the goals toward which society wishes to move are to be considered legitimate, and the means to get there effective.
“…in recognizing the rifts laid bare through the various impacts of the pandemic, opportunities arise to correct systemic and historic issues relating to inequality and inequity. In addressing these, (1) a human rights-based response more sure-footed and (2) a more resilient policy environment is seeded for future emergencies.”
“…pursuing the twin goals of effective and legitimate COVID-19 responses involves thinking carefully about the nature of scientific advice and the varieties of people upon whom such advice impacts via policymaking. A threat like that posed by Covid-19 must be tackled effectively through carefully adopting scientific advice, but also legitimately, so that scientific advice does not dominate political legitimacy.”
The present pandemic has shown how uncertainty can be more guaranteed than a path through. It has also shown how science and political decision-making intertwine, mutually reinforce, or challenge one another. This happens at the level of advice, and action. The pandemic has also laid bare inconsistencies among societal groups that raise questions about justice and fairness in pre-viral systems. Through recognising the complexities latent in any pandemic response, especially with reflection on effectiveness and legitimacy, we suggest that it is possible to build a better basis for future emergencies. We conclude that,