Michael Head (University of Southampton) on the UK response


This is from this guy:

How to react to this? I find it dispiriting to be told that we can’t be trusted to act the right way in life or death situations because we can’t be trusted not to buy toilet paper. There are buying frenzies ever year on Boxing Day and Black Friday, and that has no real permanent bearing on people’s social and self-interested common sense. What a weird, condescending take.

In everyday life things genuinely aren’t as bad as they seem a lot of the time, and the reflex to look down superciliously on those who panic or shout the loudest isn’t a bad one. But the reality of a crisis situation is quite different, and the corresponding tendency to trust the voices that are calmest, most reassuring and most similar to 'business as usual respectability is a total dead end disaster.

There’s a real strand of appeal to authority in Head’s argument which only makes sense when combined with a sort of British exceptionalism or even a little bit of xenophobia. So foreign scientists, foreign governments are taking dramatic action, but we should have faith in British scientists, British actions… After all, the government advisers are not just experts, but our experts. Ignore their experts…

I also think that what we’re seeing here is a kind of bothsidesism straight out of the noughties media climate change coverage playbook (if you have a climate change affirmer, you have to have a climate change denier on the panel). Head is a great scientist I’m sure and probably extremely qualified in his field - which is 100% the field of the moment and the source of the voices we should respect the most. But he’s just one voice, and I feel like his individual voice is being given an outsize promotion literally because he (and a few other scientists) are going against the grain.

I don’t think anyone could believe that the current government programme can continue indefinitely, and it will probably have to change to something quite similar to what we’re demanding right now. But the point is, we need it right now. Not two or three weeks down the line when it’s a month too late.

1 Like