We need to be extremely careful about the inevitable pitfalls
Half a year into the coronavirus pandemic, many of its enormous public health, economic and political ramifications are still poorly understood. The virus itself has turned out to be maddeningly complex. It manifests itself in different populations in diverse and confusing ways, depending on age, environmental and social conditions, blood type, form of exposure, and other interacting factors. Doctors, epidemiologists, geneticists and other scientists are struggling to understand the virus and its effects so that policymakers can develop clear guidance for the public on how to balance protecting public health with the need to protect economies and communities.
Under these pressures, the typical scientific process has been accelerated. Science is normally slow: creating and testing theories, collecting and analyzing complex data, developing and assessing models, writing and rewriting (and rewriting again) papers, and then going through the long peer-review process of publishing scientific results in journals.
A fundamental characteristic of science is that what we understand to be true must be testable. A theory is only as good as the evidence that supports it. Overturning core scientific understandings can take years or decades or even centuries. The idea of an Earth-centric universe was refuted when Galileo and scientists who followed him found conclusive evidence that contradicted it. Evolution, plate tectonics, special relativity, anthropogenic climate change—are all theories that replaced conventional wisdom as the weight of evidence accumulated over the years, decades and sometimes centuries in their favor.