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Coronavirus

Facts And Uncertainty: What COVID-19 Tells Us About Science

Building scientific beliefs is a long and arduous path that originates from a contradictory process. But facing a pandemic, it's the best we've got.

A health worker taking a break
A health worker taking a break
Augustin Landier and David Thesmar*

-Analysis-

PARIS — The coronavirus crisis and its accompanying armies of white gowns has put science back at the center of the economic and political scene, as in the days of the Manhattan Project and the Space Race. Yet the feeling many of us are left with is ambiguous, since the health crisis has actually shown the staggering uncertainty and limits of human knowledge.

Scientific experts have expressed diverging views and frequently changed their points of view. The terrifying predictions concerning the number of infections and deaths calculated by mathematical models did not materialize. Major publications have published contradictory experimental results, with some later withdrawn. Some wonder if science risks coming out of this crisis discredited in the eyes of the public.

Analyzing the coronavirus — Photo: COVER Images/ZUMA

And yet, the absence of consensus among the experts is actually a sign that the scientific debate is healthy. Knowledge is the result of an ongoing debate on the interpretation of facts, which are themselves established with varying degrees of precision. Different researchers act as advocates of diverging ideas. The debate might be heated and it takes time for dust to settle.

In experimental sciences, the evidence is often statistical: there is always a portion of uncertainty concerning the impact of an effect or its universality. In social sciences, the interpretation of observations is left even more open, as multiple events are often occurring at the same time. For instance, the beginning of the lockdown may have coincided in each country with a rise in fear among the population, which makes it difficult to isolate the direct effect of the quarantine on the transmission of the virus.


*Augutin Landier is a professor at HEC School of Management and David Thesmas teaches at MIT.

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Society

Jehovah's Witnesses Translate The Bible In Indigenous Language — Is This Colonialism?

The Jehovah's Witnesses in Chile have launched a Bible version translated into the native Mapudungun language, evidently indifferent to the concerns of a nation striving to save its identity from the Western cultural juggernaut.

A Mapuche family awaits for Chilean President Gabriel Boric to arrive at the traditional Te Deum in the Cathedral of Santiago, on Chile's Independence Day.

Claudia Andrade

NEUQUÉN — The Bible can now be read in Mapuzugun, the language of the Mapuche, an ancestral nation living across Chile and Argentina. It took the Chilean branch of the Jehovah's Witnesses, a latter-day Protestant church often associated with door-to-door proselytizing and cold calling, three years to translate it into "21st-century Mapuzugun".

The church's Mapuche members in Chile welcomed the book when it was launched in Santiago last June, but some of their brethren see it rather as a cultural imposition. The Mapuche were historically a fighting nation, and fiercely resisted both the Spanish conquerors and subsequent waves of European settlers. They are still fighting for land rights in Chile.

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