Comment on political reaction to emerging science on coronavirus

The study pre-released yesterday by Oxford University’s Evolutionary Ecology of Infectious Disease group uses different modelling to that used by researchers at Imperial College. Its initial findings suggest it is possible that there is a much higher spread of coronavirus in the population than first thought. Other studies emerging worldwide show a similar picture of high prevalence of mild disease.

“This emerging picture will now help governments to better estimate a time when they might phase out measures to prevent a breakdown of healthcare. It will also guide governments in how much resource to put into testing people quickly and what kind of testing that should be. And it will enable other researchers to update and challenge models with new information. This is what a scientific approach is: a picture that emerges through challenge, new information and critical appraisal of yesterday’s assumptions.

What it isn’t is a set of antagonistic political positions. When we shut down major areas of life, it is not surprising that the science becomes politicised. But politicians, commentators and members of the public should resist the temptation to lobby around single studies or to dig-in on one particular snapshot of what might be happening. They should instead be urging the government to share its updated reasoning regularly and transparently and to be clear about how plans are changing in the light of this emerging science. We should also appreciate the speed at which such huge research resources have been diverted to this new disease, with results now improving knowledge almost hourly.”


Tracey Brown

Director, Sense about Science

Published 25 March 2020