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How to prevent another scientific great leap forward

By Graham Young - posted Monday, 21 August 2023

COVID-19 introduced us to some novel and nonsensical concepts, not the least of which is “the speed of science.”

Before COVID, no one thought that science had velocity. Rather than proceeding at pace, science was a process that took time and was thorough.

But in her testimony to the EU parliament, Pfizer executive Janine Small explained Pfizer hadn’t tested the vaccine for stopping transmission because: “Did we know about stopping immunisation before it entered the market? No ... We had to really move at the speed of science to really understand what is taking place in the market. And from that point of view, we had to do everything at risk.”


The statement is pretty garbled, but I think a reasonable precis of it is that the threat was so bad that Pfizer was justified in taking risks and truncating procedures so they could bring their product to market before others.

Along with confusing commercial, safety, and scientific imperatives, it seems to be an example of the “precautionary principle” in action and how it is corrupting the scientific process.

The precautionary principle says that if the consequences of an event happening are possibly catastrophic, you are justified in taking all actions to stop that event before you have fully assessed either the risk or the probable size of the consequences.

It ignores proper analysis as well as any cost-benefit trade-offs and attempts to divert all resources to deal with the hypothesised risk.

We apply it to climate change, with the effects starting to manifest inexpensive and fragile electricity networks. And we applied it to COVID.

Thrown out the window

Before COVID, we had a universal pandemic plan which involved focused protection (looking after those who were most vulnerable and allowing the rest to look after themselves); no masks; no lockdowns; and no virus testing and tracing.


During COVID, all of those principles were abandoned. Why?

Well, it wasn’t because there was new scientific information. Rather it appears to be a panic borne from a coincidence of factors.

First, there was groupthink—China threw out the rule book first, brutally incarcerating its population, even welding doors shut to keep residents inside. Italy followed suit.

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This article was first published in the Epoch Times.

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About the Author

Graham Young is chief editor and the publisher of On Line Opinion. He is executive director of the Australian Institute for Progress, an Australian think tank based in Brisbane, and the publisher of On Line Opinion.

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