Race is not real: It’s time to stop acting as though it is

For something that doesn’t exist, race exerts a pernicious and persistent influence on society. Placing people into a racial category, based on observable external features, and then attributing to it holistic ‘cultures’ that determine behaviours or moral character, is not supported by evidence.

But even those who are prepared to go to the barricades to oppose racism perpetuate the notion that race is real. This makes the management of entrenched racism inordinately difficult – but belief in race can be undermined – this is what needs to happen.

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Cultures of expertise and politics of behavioral science: A conversation with Erik Angner (Cambridge)

An interview Professor Erik Angner of Stockholm University as part of the Humanities and Social Change Centre at the University of Cambridge‘s series on expertise and COVID-19. Erik Angner is a philosopher and an economist writing on behavioral economics, economists as experts, measurement of happiness and wellbeing, Hayek, and the nature of preferences among other topics. Recently he has commented on the need for epistemic humility and the uniqueness of the Swedish response to the pandemic. The interview with Anna Alexandrova

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Sonia Sodha: Nudge theory is a poor substitute for hard science in matters of life and death

How appropriate is behavioural economics as a basis for making public policy? Sould it be called ‘science’? What does the evidence tell us? Published in The Guardian on 26 April 2020, this article is a thoughtful contribution to the current debate about about the extent to which some government responses, notably that of the United Kingdom, have been influenced by behavioural science/economics, and whether this has been appropriate in all the circumstances. Read the full

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David McCoy: Faith in coronavirus modelling is no substitute for sound political judgment

David McCoy is a professor of Global Public Health and director of the Centre for Public Health at Queen Mary University of London. In this article published in The Guardian on 10 April 2020, he makes some important observations on the relationship between the scientific and non-scientific elements of COVID-19 decision-making; the inherent limitations of modelling – particularly when dealing with a novel virus about little is known. The article touches on many of the

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Blinded by ‘the science’: COVID-19 and the authority of science in public policy

There are important distinctions when it comes to the way governments claim to have been ‘guided by the science’ when justifying their approaches to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ministers are not saying they are following a course of action because ‘an experimentally and observationally validated law of nature has been brought to my attention’. They mean that social scientists, based on some assumptions and suppositions, have modelled a range of possible outcomes and produced a number of projections, not predictions.

It is not science but policy, that mixture of ideology, politics, and pragmatism, that the ministers are doing when the choose between the pandemic options.

Governments should not be able to avoid scrutiny and accountability for their actions by leaning on the authority of science.

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Herd immunity or herd culling? Shades of Bentham, Spencer and Galton stalk government COVID-19 responses

Seeping faintly through the pronouncements and policies of some government responses to the coronavirus pandemic are the vapours of older belief systems; a whiff of utilitarianism, the scent of social Darwinism, and the fetid reek of eugenics.

Closer examination of the UK government’s ‘herd immunity’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic suggests that it’s not too farfetched to connect contemporary politics with these ostensibly outdated ideas.

The capacity of governments to respond appropriately to crises has never been more important. How will they respond to greater crises? Where will they find their moral moorings?

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How good are (Australian) Royal Commissions?

Is Australian Prime Minister Morrison’s call for a Royal Commission on matters related to the recent bushfires just a smokescreen, an excuse for avoiding real action, or putting off a confrontation with the luddites in the Liberal Party Room, until at least after the next election? Or is it a genuine attempt to get a body of evidence and a report on which the government could build a holistic strategy for addressing global warming, which should be applauded?

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