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Science and Corona: The truth is not relative

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It is now well over 2,000 years ago that Epicurus formulated a reservation against the modern age that is still common today in a letter to a friend. The philosopher thought it was much better to follow the myth of the gods than to be subject to the natural philosophers' necessity of fate like a slave. The myth ultimately put off the hope that the gods would allow themselves to be asked by worship, while fate shows only inexorable necessity. Pray and hope: That was the program of the anti-knowledge rejection of progress even back then, while natural philosophers wanted to understand the world, trying to decipher their operating instructions, so to speak.

Ralf Bönt

is a freelance writer and author of various texts, novels and publications. One of its main themes is patriarchy and how it shapes gender roles. To this end, he published, among other things, the book "The Dishonored Sex. A Necessary Manifesto for Men". In the DIE ZEIT he last wrote "Men first!" for corona vaccination.

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Unfortunately, one has to ask today why scientists are still met with so much skepticism and distrust. After all, centuries of overwhelming successes behind them. Even at the moment they are hardly doing anything they dream of and are providing vaccines against an epidemic in a very short time. Nonetheless, virus deniers are on the streets demonstrating against a policy designed to protect them from coronavirus infection. Politics is subservient to scientists, so the accusation that scientists exaggerate their science. Or they are even subservient to a policy that pursues dark goals and avails itself of the authority of science. One could easily say that many just didn't know any better, a failure of education. But there is also a discussion among the elites about alleged belief in science.

All of this is based on a long-standing misunderstanding of both science and modern society that desperately needs to be cleared up. Exaggerations by scientists certainly occur in everyday working life, especially when this takes place to a large extent on talk shows. For example, there are virologists and doctors who want to impose severe restrictions on their freedom of movement, masks and professional bans on people who have been vaccinated, because a few remaining percentages remain at risk of infection. It is commonly called déformation professionnelle, popularly: occupational disease. Just as a tennis player dreams of the world as a yellow felt ball at some point without noticing anything, all they see is viruses. The exaggerations and blinkers of the scientists are, according to their opponents, only the reason for economic chaos and demoralization, for all the collateral damage caused by failure to diagnose cancer, depression and suicides, private bankruptcies and loss of education. You can now even read that they are responsible for the deaths of incorrectly ventilated patients who would never have died of corona. It is probably not by chance that it is often great thinkers from other disciplines, preferably philosophers and historians, who relativize and ultimately discredit the achievements of the so-called exact sciences. Ironically, they then pretend to be something they can hardly be: experts in infection protection.

In doing so, they reproduce the old and extremely lively misunderstanding to which Epicurus was already subject: natural scientists are not the new gods they are now being made into. You do not submit to anyone. On the contrary, they are simply trying to really read the world, God's scriptures, Johannes Kepler would say, and it doesn't sound much different with Einstein either. Yet they themselves are only good subjects of the only inevitability, nature. In this case, it is about the nature of the virus, especially when and how it finds the nearest host, and how to cut it off. The assumption of Epicurus - reading and understanding enslaved - is absurd. Ultimately, understanding the world broadens the scope for action and thus also individual sovereignty. You can also call it freedom. To insist that all knowledge is relative is pointless: A law of nature is something other than the arbitrary decree of a god or his deputy secular patriarch, which is only valid until revoked. A law of nature is reliable. It was not made by a man or by a god like man. That is why the opinion that is often heard that there is not just one science, that one should hear all opinions, is at least extremely imprecise, but rather completely wrong.

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Since no two truths exist side by side for the same thing, there is always only one science as a doctrine of truth in the end. This does not mean that scientific findings do not create connection problems in other disciplines. A classic fallacy, however, is to relativize the findings with reference to the connection problems and to assume a belief in science where only someone says: something is like this - and these are the likely consequences. The nature of virus transmission is so far only partially known and has to be researched anew with each mutation, but philosophy, for example, has precious little to contribute. Contrary to popular culture claims, not everything is relative. In any case, the theory of relativity, to give an example, is not. Rather, it is known exactly where it applies, how to apply it and how big its corrections to classical mechanics are. So you also know when to neglect it. And that's basically always how it is.

The alleged relativity of all arguments is needed as a door to infiltrate unfair intentions and a covert political agenda into an otherwise purely objective debate about infection protection. One would like to force what is known in logic as the fallacy in the golden mean. In terms of the dynamics of the conversation, this amounts to a war of fatigue.

Of course, there is now a lot to discuss between natural scientists. The open is, however, of a completely different category: Open is the level of knowledge that one has first of a law of nature and second of the special situation in which it is applied. This is about the laws by which the new coronavirus spreads. Are aerosols dangerous or doorknobs? At which temperatures, which humidity and which light do you have to be particularly careful? And what will these sizes be if a previously decided measure to protect against the virus is to take effect? Why is one island badly hit, England, and another, Taiwan, not? Most of the arguments used in the debate are simple but wrong. You need data that you have to evaluate and evaluations that you have to apply again. Only then does the crucial discussion about the goals of politics take place: Do you want to save as many people as possible from virus death, or is it only others who die? If you don't know what you're talking about and always change the subject when something doesn't suit you, you can't decide anything.