COVID19: Exposing Science

My last post blamed our current situation with a pandemic as a sequence of decisions each relying entirely on proven science for each new surprising observation.   The sequence occurred so quickly that we had to rely on documented policies.  There is no time to consider whether the observations may challenge the older science or suggest something we did not know before.

The overall message of the post was redundant with most posts in this blog: that there is a benefit to prioritize our attention on new observations over expectations derived from science.   This is the basis of my fantasy government driven by data and urgency where both data and urgency is checked regularly for new information.    Science can generate data in the form of computations but this dark data ought to be segregated from the bright data of recent observations from sensors and from sampling popular opinions.

I think the COVID19 response exposes different versions of science.   I complain about the dark data that comes from computations from proven theories.   My complaint is that this kind of science is necessarily past tense data.   The science was developed in the past using data from the past.   The consistency of nature makes past tense science relevant to the present because the present is no different than the past.    My concern is that the present presents new observations never seen in the past.

The present crisis illustrates that disconnect.   We are observing that this disease is behaving unlike other diseases we assume are of the same type.   Our government’s reliance on past-tense science left us with no choice but to conclude that the difference was a matter of degree: we were right about our first categorization of the disease and we know know it is worse than what we saw before.

Our form of government cannot consider the possibility that the observations may challenge the original assessment.   We may be dealing with an entirely different category of problem never before studied.   Governments are powerless for that kind of conclusion.   Something so new means there is no science to base our policies on.   We prefer to base our policies on science that is not working.   To do otherwise means we are experimenting to develop a new science when the population demands we act to solve the problem.

The modern forms of government relying on past tense science has to follow that science.  If all the available evidence-based options are ineffective and lead to disastrous consequences, we much choose the one that is the least ineffective and least disastrous.

My fantasy government offers an alternative by segregating past tense science from present tense science.   This government places a priority on fresh observations instead of past tense science.  It also places postpones enforced policies until there is sufficient expression of urgency by the population and even then the policies are quickly removed to reassess the situation.

Inherent in this fantasy government of dedomenocracy is our doubt about what is actually happening in the present.   This government presumes that the past tense science might not apply.   When action is forced by sufficient demands of urgency by the population, science may guide the resulting policy but the doubt continues to be expressed by making such policies with very near expiration dates.

The certainty modern governments have in the past tense science results in the current state of permanent policies that can only be removed when proven to be wrong.   A dedomenocracy always doubts the past tense science and instead bases decisions (and the need for decisions) on current data or popular opinion.   To truly understand what the population is currently confronting, the government needs the least biased observations as possible, free from government interference unless the population continues to demand that interference.

I do believe we are at a point where we need to reassess the entire situation.  Is this really a single virus?   Is this virus really responsible for all the conditions we are seeing?  Are our practices really effective or could they be making more harm than good?

I assert that this kind of doubt is healthy for any government of a present tense crisis.   We don’t allow our governments to have this kind of doubt because we expect it to be guided entirely by the past tense science.

There is a problem with the word science itself.   In the 21st century, the popular perception of science is knowledge of what has previously been proven.   Science is an act of recall of past experiments.

Earlier ages recognized science as an activity instead of knowledge.  The activity was to collect observations and compare those against earlier theories but where the goal is to challenge, improve, or replace those theories.   We allowed this process to occur in real time because we had good reason to doubt the at the time young science that had recently replaced some previously cherished belief.

When the earlier ages encountered a new disease, they eagerly sought out new explanations and strategies based on what they were observing in real time.   They were more accepting of observations that contradicted the predictions of their science because they did not trust the past tense science.   I’m suggesting we can benefit from a similar attitude today, especially with the current crisis.

There are three very different sciences based on tense.

  • The past tense science is something already known to recall when approaching some new problem.
  • The present tense science is the activity of finding new understanding about observations available at this time.
  • The future tense science is the leadership and persuasion to guide a population to result that either minimizes the current threat of maximizes the current opportunity.    This is usually not described as a science because it is not understood and may never be understood.

When confronting a new and frightening danger, I propose that we may be better off with the present-tense definition of science and blindly following the past-tense science.

The mere fact that it is new and behaving in unexplained ways should disqualify any past science.   Any past tense science never had available these new observations and thus the past tense science was never tested with these observations.

The example in the last post was the case for invasive ventilator being demanded by past science despite the fact that the patient did not exhibit the usual distress associated with the vital measurements.   Blindly following that science may have greatly increased the fatality rates because of effects of the ventilators instead of the disease.

Medical doctors serving actual patients are trained in observation and we are hearing stories of some subset of these doctors doing present tense science to try out alternative approaches despite taking the risks to their professions for deviating from the evidence-based policies.   Our ancestors expected this from their doctors, but we come close to forbidding this to ours.

The dedomenocracy approach gives preference to liberty, but this is for practical purposes instead of some philosophical benefit of liberty.   The practical purpose is to collect observations unbiased by past science so that it can learn what it needs to learn about the new situation.

I created this fantasy from an extrapolation of my own experiences working with data that often contradicted past science in the scenarios where the data proved some engineering design did not work as promised.   I imagined a government that created policies only when needed and only for short periods of time.   This lack of long terms conviction frees up the government to work on correlations instead of proofs of causation.   Instead of having the government identify the perfect permanent policy, the government guides the population to learn for themselves the new knowledge necessary for leading their lives.   With such education from experience, the population will continue to act in their own best interests without the need for government enforcement.

I recognize the utopia aspects of this fantasy, but I counter that it is also very practical.  We live an era of rapid succession of new challenges and opportunities as humanity continues to progress to a more capable population.   There is no time to waste on clinging to old theories merely out of respect to the past science.

This fantasy government may not be so fantastic at all.   Instead if reinvigorates the true science of the activity of figuring out new truths of the current world based on recent measurements that our predecessors never encountered.

One of the earliest names for this disease was novel corona virus.   Of the two descriptors, the novel part was more significant.   We are seeing something we never seen before.   It makes sense that we approach with with an open mind to find a novel solution rather than to expect it to behave as if it is just like what we saw before.

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