Derriere and ‘Follow the Science’
Frankly, I don’t care what your political stripes are. If you’re a celebrity, I really, really don’t care. Equally, I don’t think you should give a zebra’s derriere about mine.
But I do care about the political competency of our elected leaders. They should know something about the things they make decisions about. If they expect ‘the folks’ to subordinate to their leadership, they should be willing to explain their decision-making rationale to us. Anything less would suggest a dictatorial tendency- the kind your father might use when telling you to do as asked without explanation- or else you’ll get a swat to your derriere.
As you grew older, dad would sometimes take the time to explain his decision-making in the hopes his superior reasoning skills would rub off. But if he blew smoke up your derriere with a feeble or disingenuous explanation, your rapidly developing verbal skills could get you into an argument with him. “But dad, it makes no sense. I’m sure they’ll be no booze or drugs or sex at Woodstock. Dad. Please?” Dad would then say something to the effect that he wouldn’t want anything bad to happen to you. “I want to keep you safe, dear, cause I love you.” You likely rolled your eyes and snuck out the upstairs window anyway. Rock on!
Today, the equivalent of ‘keeping you’all safe’ as deployed by the politicos is this rather peculiar phrase; ‘follow the science.’ “But dad, I mean governor, I know you want me to stay at home ‘hunkered’ down but I don’t know what you mean by ‘follow the science.’” The governor appears to be a nice man or woman and gently says that when science says this, then we can do that. And today, science says to stay indoors.
I’m not as smart as governors, so it takes me time to think through this phrase called ‘follow the science.’ I never considered ‘science’ an object which one can follow but rather a process of discovery. I always saw science as an earnest effort by smart learned people to ponder on a hypothesis, design ways to observe, test, carefully retest, check against the hypothesis, and write a nice report on the results contributing to the advancement of knowledge. My following of any number of scientific theories suggest that some are pretty bulletproof and hold up. Others crumble upon further scrutiny or by new discoveries making old determinations obsolete. Maybe ‘follow the science’ is just another empty cliché.
Early on in this COVID-19 pandemic, I heard that science, the kind that sits deep in some university basement, foretold of millions upon millions of dead. Models, big spreadsheets, where any number of hypothetical numbers can be injected and presto, a projection bubbles up, and the creator scientists must now excitedly disseminate the results to the media complete with details soon to be ignored. A press conference is hurriedly called, the numbers solemnly spoken with the politico’s promise of draconian but appropriate measures to follow. Follow the science.
As the masses sat shaking in front of the boob tube on their puckered-up derrieres, deeply pondering what living with an invisible little bastard means, daddy, I mean the governor, told us that life would never be the same. You told us that we are to stay indoors and stay away from parks. Just in case you don’t, I will sand them in. If you persist, I’ll have you arrested. Stay away from ocean beaches. Go ahead and buy garden hoses and yard art from the big box hardware store, but by God, stay away from the great outdoors! “I’m just trying to keep you’all safe. Follow the science.”
Perhaps, governor, you might be hiding behind this shallow, meaningless cliché ‘follow the science.’ You might not have the courage to look around you, to see the devastation being wrought, and take decisive steps to free us to pursue life, liberty, and happiness knowing full well that a few dangers lie in the way. Science has no interest in those things, nor should they. There are no models that suggest what happens when you remove liberty and freedom from the spreadsheet. What number do you use when ‘the folks’ grow restless and no longer see the logic behind feeble explanations, clichés, and made-up hypocritical arguments? Maybe you see some political advantage in keeping us cowering in fear?
It is possible, governor, that you are giving science a bad name. Most scientists worth their salt, those not easily frightened and who resist holding strong biases, will tell us that good science is always in a state of evolution. That knowledge is a process of building block upon block. The more we know, the more we realize what we don’t know. There’s a cliché that actually holds up to scrutiny.
I’ve never been a fan of ‘following’ just anyone or anything except family members on Facebook and Instagram and Medium. I recommend against blindly following a car’s GPS or some nut job who claims a passing comet will make a magnificent new space ship. And there are more than a few epidemiologists who disagree that ‘follow the science’ would ever suggest staying indoors when a walk in the park is possible. Nor would they suggest that sitting on a fishing boat with a line and hook in the water is anything but healthy to both the immune system and the soul. Or taking wild swings at golf balls. Since you disagree, please show me the science. You should have it. But perhaps you expect me to follow with a healthy dose of faith.
Finally, there’s this little issue of credibility. The models used, which led you to ‘follow the science’, have proven to be no better than wild guesses. You used this horrific ‘millions will die’ data to instill the fear of God in ‘the folks’ and convince us that our only course of action was to ‘shelter in place.’
With all due respect, dad, I mean governor, I think they let you down. We both might feel like the nineteenth-century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who, when misled, said, “I’m not upset that you lied to me. I’m upset that from now on, I can not believe you.”
Ah, dark has fallen. Excuse me while I crawl out the upstairs window. See you at Woodstock!