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How to Fit the Weaknesses and Strengths of Science During the Pandemic
shutterstock Shutterstock / fran_kie After a year of pandemic, science is one of the most present social elements in our lives. Not only because of the relevance of everything that has happened in hospitals, but also because of the demand to know what was happening with the virus. On a biological and medical level, but also on a social level. This has been and is a great subject of sociological and media study. Now we know more about the virus, about the strategies to fight it from various fronts and how our habits can be changed after some learning. After a year of presence of science in society, perhaps it is time to evaluate a not inconsiderable effect. We refer to investigating to what extent the great effort of scientific dissemination carried out has penetrated outside the strict scope of each scientific discipline and the health environment. Do biologists, sociologists, physicians, chemists, psychologists, economists, physicists, historians, and mathematicians understand each other? What basal information will remain in the general public after a certain time? Will we really be more scientific? Considering that science opens the doors of truth and that it is infallible, as soon as it shows its fragile and insecure aspect, as soon as it recognizes that there are aspects that escape it, even that they are unapproachable, it can generate frustration and disenchantment in those who need it. know everything instantly. More in this time that we have had to live, trained to access and have information at the click of a button. We would suffer the consequences of asking science what it cannot give or, translated into the popular saying, we would be asking for pears from the elm. We are living an example these months. At the end of December, against all odds, the first vaccines arrived. The need to end the pandemic caused excessive expectation and an excess of confidence in the scientific system. Now, when we come across its limitations, with the difficulties inherent to any biotechnological production process and with the ethical evaluation of which are the priority groups and the order of vaccination, distrust and arbitrary accusations arise. Something like falling out of love after a way of loving too unreal that can lead, and it would not be the first time, to the rejection, even contempt, of science in favor of occult knowledge and conspiracy theories. This is how the ad ignoratiam fallacy works: from what you don’t know follows what appeals to the ignorant. Another example is not being able to understand how each specific person becomes infected and sick by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, despite having similar habits and constitutions. It is also not easy to understand how the disease evolves so unevenly. Some patients are asymptomatic, others become ill and respond quickly to medical treatments, others do not overcome the infection and others are left with serious sequelae whose causal relationship with the virus is far from being known. These differences are attributed in part to the genetics of each individual, but the regulation of genes and their epigenetic activity also play an important role in these differences although we do not yet know them precisely. On the other hand, the biology of the virus and how it interacts with the cells of the body is an aspect to take into account that is not yet fully understood. Science, for the moment, does not have a clear, decisive and easy-to-understand answer to these pressing questions. Philosophy as an antidote Faced with this complicated situation, it is easy to despair. Here philosophy can be a good antidote to this evil effect. Taking things with philosophy can be a vaccine against those undesirable effects. In particular, we can turn to George Santayana’s philosophy of science (Madrid, 1863 – Rome, 1952). Santayana was a contemporary of the splendor of positivism and science, although he did not feel the need, like others, to take refuge in the irrational or the pseudoscientific as a self-defense. He was also a contemporary of idealism, he knew how to detect in it its inescapable, methodological side, and unmask its fallacious side, when it turns nature into the human experience of nature. Moral puritanism and political liberalism were questioned by him from within. His brilliant and fluid style ties in with that of Locke and Hume, and the force of his arguments inherits that of Spinoza and Schopenhauer. Already in his first philosophical system, the life of reason, he dedicated one of his volumes to The reason in science (1906). Later, when there was another boom in interest in science similar to the current one, although in another field – that of physics, in the context of the discussions around Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity and quantum mechanics – , Santayana wrote, in his article Revolution in science (1928): “The moral condition is that the pride of science should be turned into humility, that it should no longer imagine that it reveals the intrinsic nature of things. And the paradoxical result is the following: that the methods of science are optional, like languages or different forms of notation. One may be more convenient or subtle than the other, depending on the place, senses, interests and scope of the explorer; a reform in science can make old theories out of date, such as the custom of wearing robes, or of going naked, but it cannot make them false, or true in themselves ”. Limbo 22 (2005). In a recently published book of his, Essays on the history of philosophy, it can be read: “The existence of the world – unless we fall back for a moment in untenable skepticism – is safe or, at least, it is something that must be assumed without question. Experience can explore it as an adventure and science can accurately describe it, but, after being traveled up and down for years and after gathering all the information possible about its customs, that same world, since it exists substantially and is not invented, it is still something strange and a prodigy for the spirit: unknowable as a drop of water is or as the loved one is ”. In conclusion, scientists have to learn to communicate without noise, from humility, with dialogue and without dogmas, because we know that any scientific problem admits different approaches. In this way, we will not create false expectations in the public and we will avoid disenchantment with science. With a good disclosure, it will be clear that the weakness of science is in turn its strength with respect to religious or pseudoscientific assurances, even weaker, despite these being presented as the truth, revealed or esoteric. Daniel Moreno Moreno, a member of the Limbo editorial board, has contributed to this article. International bulletin of studies on Santayana, KRK Ediciones. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original. Inmaculada Yruela Guerrero does not receive a salary, nor does she work as a consultant, nor does she own shares, nor does she receive financing from any company or organization that can benefit from this article, and she has declared that she lacks relevant links beyond the academic position mentioned.