Final Stage of the Pandemic
You may have noticed I’ve been much less loquacious in my writing in the last few months. Some of this is due to a shifting focus in my priorities as I’ve started a new job, but more of it is due to the fact that this newsletter started as a clearinghouse for news and data related to the Covid pandemic.
The pandemic as an event marked by the spread of a novel disease has been over for almost two years. We are now in an “aftermath” stage in which we get to debate what happened, where it happened, why it happened, and what is still happening because of the choices that were made in those years.
This stage is terribly important but can also be quite boring. We are watching the concrete of history set. The narratives that are being locked in now will be used over the next century to set policy and to establish an “official” version of what happened.
This isn’t exactly a new development. As early as June 2020, people were publishing books meant to act as an early official record of the pandemic. I reviewed one such book in early 2021 and it was particularly valuable because the author, the editor of The Lancet (a high-impact British medical journal), showed open excitement about the possibility of world governments handing control over the levers of power to unaccountable scientists such as himself.
Since then, dozens (hundreds?) of books on Covid have been published; that tends what happens when you lock a bunch of white collar knowledge workers at home for 12 months. The last thing we need is yet another account of all this nonsense
Or do we?
No, we do not.
Throughout the Covid pandemic, I noticed that our institutions (specifically our public health institutions) decided that this was the moment to spend all the credibility they had banked over decades. They burned that credibility pushing weak narratives, bragged about how they manipulated public opinion , and (in the now-famous case of the “Proximal Origin” paper on the origin of Covid) just flat-out lied about the science in a paper intended to provide political cover to China and public health organizations.
But, as these valuable institutions shredded their own credibility and the public increasingly lost trust in their ability to act in a non-partisan and scientifically truthful way, I noticed that as people sought new information and new authorities, most were not willing to hand over their ability to discern scientific truth to just anyone. In the collapse of institutional trust, people were creating their own ad hoc solutions for evaluating technical, medical, and scientific evidence.
This inspired me to embark on a project that I think can prove to be of enormous value. I’m researching and writing a book on how institutions lose trust, where that trust goes, and (hopefully) how we can rebuild institutions to fulfill the promise that they once had.
That is going to be the project of this newsletter for the next year or two.