If there is a silver lining to Covid-19 (and we won’t know either the trajectory of the virus or the potential for a silver lining for quite some time) it might be a smack-in-the-face wake-up call that science is more important than political ideology when it comes to really important things.
This is not a right-versus-left problem; all sides of our increasingly divisive political landscape play loose with facts. Most recently, the problem has been with those denying the science of climate change, but we are now seeing the impact of turning our back on the science of pandemics in a hugely interconnected world.
We don’t know the severity of this particular outbreak yet, but at a minimum a lot of people are going to die, lives will be profoundly disrupted, and the monetary losses will be staggering. And Covid-19 is hardly the most virulent or dangerous bug we can imagine.
So what are the lessons here for the long run? For educators, it is the absolute moral imperative that we practice and teach the critical role of objective reasoning based on science, not ideology or faith. This does not mean that all science or scientists agree; that is far from the case. But objective reasoning is founded on a set of principles which, like the rule of law, work when we all observe them, and threaten the foundation of modern civil society when we don’t.
And for all of us, educators, parents, students, the lesson is that the world can be a very unfriendly place. Our modern comforts can disappear quickly if they are not tended. Things don’t go well just because they have in the past. Of all the policy issues that might press us into voting one way or another, how we invest, that might influence how we forecast our lives and those of our kids, I hope that we put respect for science and objective reasoning way high on our personal lists. If not, Covid-19 is just the opening act.
As I finished writing this short blog, I got an email from the Institute For The Future in Palo Alto, a future-fcoused think tank founded by visionary Marina Gorbis, and one I draw on for some of my own workshop activities and thinking. They are sharing the following resources:
This explainer video is an easy-to-understand 9-minute course on the fundamentals of epidemiology. Key takeaway: the number of recorded coronavirus cases outside mainland China is increasing by a factor of 10 every 16 days.
Yascha Mounk’s article in The Atlantic, “Cancel Everything.” Key takeaway: “so far only one measure has been effective against the coronavirus: extreme social distancing.”
The Coronavirus Tech Handbook is an open-sourced list of resources for citizen-scientists, makers, and others interested in learning how to help. Key takeaway: crowd-sourced activity around responses to COVID-19 is immense, and is an important source of informative signals to consider.
What are the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic?
Venture capitalist Azeem Azhar discusses six ways coronavirus will change our world. Key takeaway: prepare for a shift from fragile global supply chains to “networked, decentralized and resilient” models.
Other Respiratory Viruses lists eight social benefits gained from developing effective response mechanisms to pandemics. Key takeaway: there are many “potential collateral benefits from pandemic planning and preparations that can be realized regardless of a future pandemic occurring.”
How can we better prepare ourselves for the next future shock:
“The Future as a Way of Life,” that the only way to effectively deal with black swan events is through a “massively public endeavor” to envision and make the future. Key takeaway: “futures thinking is an essential 21st century skill: we need to cultivate it widely in everything we do.”
“Counterfactual Thinking Is the Key to Creativity — and a Vaccine against Future Shock.” Key takeaway: “to invent something new, or make any kind of change in your society, you first have to be able to imagine how things can be different.”