The Corona pandemic has caused great damage in all countries of the world, in the economy, in society and for many people also in their personal lives. However, as in every crisis, positive effects were also seen during this period.
Particularly striking is the discovery of the “home office”: the possibility of carrying out all professional activities requiring some form of communication from home via the Internet. For many this was new to this extent and they learned that it works surprisingly well. This digital form of communication has received a big boost and will find an important place in our lives in the future.
A second important effect of the pandemic is not so obvious: to fight the pandemic, the expertise of virologists and epidemiologists had to be called in every country to help. But even for them, the situation was new in its scope and intensity. The most important transmission routes in a globalised world as well as in a highly differentiated local society had to be identified and a vaccine against the virus had to be found. The work of the scientific community was now publicly observed and discussed.
Here it became clear what the public’s ideas about how science works are. Even in ancient times, a distinction was made between two ways of gaining knowledge: in one path, knowledge is revealed to chosen people through a higher instance or “an awakening”. With the other path, people assume a state of knowledge and then “always look for something better”. The first path was taken by the religions, the second by the sciences. Over 2,000 years after a first attempt at science, the first path prevailed. It was not until the Renaissance and the Enlightenment that the second path was taken up again, and over the following centuries it became the motor of development in all fields.
However, the minds of people who never experienced the second way are mostly still dominated by the first way. They think that there are definitive scientific truths, just as religions claim to have them. One does not know that statements of the sciences can be assured in very diverse grades, nor do they know the difference between statements of a single scientist and statements of the whole of his science. A single scientist may be in error or may present a too daring thesis. Only when his or her statement has been extensively discussed by colleagues and is considered to fit into the whole network of statements of the relevant science, can it be considered as the result of that science. Doing science is always a difficult matter.
The discussion about the possibilities of containing the pandemic has brought this very nature of science a little to the public’s attention. It is to be hoped that something of this will remain and that the debate will not be dominated by those who take the easy way out by inventing simple stories to explain everything, today mainly in the form of conspiracy myths. An educated civil society has to raise its voice against it with determination.