One challenge is to understand how knowledge is often fluid rather than fixed. As new data arrive and competing models seek to describe and predict a fast-changing reality it’s become increasingly clear that the science of Covid-19 is in motion.
For example, the Imperial College model released on 16 March, based mainly on data from Italy, had a big impact on UK decision-makers. But new findings could upend this again—for example, if data from other countries reveal significant natural immunity, or the relaxation of restraints in China and Korea doesn’t trigger a surge in infections.
Another challenge is to appreciate that even when the science is clearcut, it alone doesn’t tell decision-makers what to do. Economics, politics, psychology and social dynamics also come into play.
Ultimately what matters for governments is public legitimacy. Policies that rapidly prove illegitimate, such as the promotion of herd immunity, are pointless. Cultivating trust is critical at times of crisis and can decide whether policies succeed or fail. That requires a broad perspective and an understanding of the contexts in which science operates.