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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 Major publications have published contradictory experimental results, with some later withdrawn.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.

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Geopolitics

NATO Entry For Sweden And Finland? Erdogan May Not Be Bluffing

When the two Nordic countries confirmed their intention to join NATO this week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan repeated his plans to block the application. Accusing Sweden and Finland of' "harboring" some of his worst enemies may not allow room for him to climb down.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared opposition to Finland and Sweden entering NATO

Meike Eijsberg

-Analysis-

LONDON — When Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared his opposition to Finland and Sweden entering NATO, it took most of the West's top diplomatic experts by surprise — with the focus squarely on how Russia would react to having two new NATO members in the neighborhood. (So far, that's been a surprise too)

But now Western oversight on Turkey's stance has morphed into a belief in some quarters that Erdogan is just bluffing, trying to get concessions from the negotiations over such a key geopolitical issue.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

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To be clear, any prospective NATO member requires the consent of all 30 member states and their parliaments. So Erdogan does indeed have a card to play, which is amplified by the sense of urgency: NATO, Sweden and Finland are keen to complete the accession process with the war in Ukraine raging and the prospect of strengthening the military alliance's position around the Baltic Sea.

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