From Covid to climate change: have we lost faith in (the) science?

Battle of Ideas festival 2023, Saturday 28 October, Church House, London


Since the Covid pandemic began, arguments have been raging about all aspects of the science and governments’ responses. Critics have claimed, despite evidence of millions of deaths, that Covid is no worse than flu or even made up altogether as a ‘plandemic’. More recently, there have been rows about vaccines and whether they are potentially responsible for many deaths. Equally, claims have been made about the effectiveness of masks and restrictions on society that seem to run ahead of the evidence.

If these claims are mostly made on the margins of public debate, they do raise concerns for many people beyond ‘conspiracy theorists’ and ‘anti-vaxxers’. Appalled by the consequences of lockdowns, some go further than simply criticising restrictions on our liberty and call into question mainstream science itself. Many argue that science has become politicised in recent years, from climate change to obesity, while vaccine hesitancy became a problem long before the pandemic.

Yet science and technology have achieved huge advancements for humanity. Even setting aside the many deaths prevented by Covid vaccines, our ability to understand quickly what the SARS-CoV-2 virus was and to understand how best to treat Covid was astonishing compared, for example, to ‘Spanish’ flu a century earlier. Similarly, thanks to early warnings from meteorologists, Bangladesh was able to prepare for Cyclone Mocha in May and potentially save thousands of lives.

Why are so many willing to believe that science should not be trusted? If science has been politicised in recent years, who is to blame? How can trust in science be restored?

Dr Stuart Derbyshire
associate professor in psychology, National University of Singapore and the Clinical Imaging Research Centre

Professor Sunetra Gupta
professor of theoretical epidemiology, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford; award-winning novelist

Professor Mike Hulme
professor of human geography and head of department, University of Cambridge; author, Why We Disagree About Climate Change and Climate Change Isn’t Everything; former founding director, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research

Graham Stringer MP
member of parliament, Blackley and Broughton; select committee member, Science and Technology Committee and Foreign Affairs Committee

Thomas Walker-Werth
fellow and editor, Objective Standard Institute; co-host, Innovation Celebration

Timandra Harkness
journalist, writer and broadcaster; presenter, Radio 4’s FutureProofing and How to Disagree; author, Big Data: does size matter?