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Geopolitics

Scientists In Charge? Questions For The 'Aristocracy Of The Wise'

Germany's top epidemiologist Christian Drosten
Germany's top epidemiologist Christian Drosten
Michaela Kozminova

Whether or not they were looking for it, the COVID-19 crisis has given epidemiologists bonafide public power. "At this point, if Drosten says it is too early, that carries as much weight as Merkel saying it," quipped German economist Marcel Fratzscher about his country's top epidemiologist Christian Drosten and top politician Angela Merkel.


There is no doubt that the pandemic, epidemiologists, virologists and medical professionals worldwide have stepped into the muddy terrain of national politics. Though the public may not understand every technical detail epidemiologists offer on TV or at press conferences, there's a certain comfort in listening to the scientists who have spent their lives studying the kinds of epidemics that now occupy our minds, if not lives.


Still, as Kenyan economist David Ndii pointed out on Twitter, the current rise of the "epistocracy" – the aristocracy of the wise — should be watched with caution. Although doctors may be adept at curing our bodies and understanding the dynamics of pathogens, they have far less experience managing people and guiding societies.


One example, where the political and the scientific have successfully been embodied in one man, is Taiwanese Vice President Chen Chien-jen, who also happens to be a Johns Hopkins-trained epidemiologist and an expert in viruses. Praised for balancing his dual role of politician and scientist, he has nonetheless kept his scientist hat on through just about everything he's said during the crisis.


But is it ultimately possible, or even desirable, to keep politics out of the conversation? Wouldn't it be naive to think that expert task forces can prevent crisis-related decisions from getting political? Indian policy analyst Sanjaya Baru wrote in The Wirethat every policy decision pertaining to crisis management is ultimately about power, and there is no reason the coronavirus crisis should be any different. Let's just hope that more power than not is in the hands of the wise.


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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Shame Of A Nation: History Will Judge Germany For Holding Back Tanks From Ukraine

A retired German general spells out in clear language what the choice is for Chancellor Olaf Scholz, and what the long-term consequences of half-hearted support for Kyiv as it battles for survival against the Russian invasion.

Photo of German Army Leopard 2 A7V tanks

German Army Leopard 2 A7V tanks

Klaus Wittmann*

-OpEd-

BERLIN — The German television newscaster cheerfully predicted last Friday morning: “Today the German evasive maneuvers are ending...” And yet, the high-level meeting of the Ukraine Contact Group at the Ramstein military base, proved this prophecy completely wrong.

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The burning issue of Germany stalling and blocking the approval of battle tank deliveries to Ukraine continues to burn.

As intense as the international pressure was, Berlin has once again refused to make a commitment. Rhetoric about the difference between what one wants and what one can achieve, the endless counterarguments, the citing of numbers...none of it however, make them any more credible. In reality they are excuses, with which Chancellor Olaf Scholz shirks the responsibility which, after all, the great, prosperous Germany will not be able to escape.

[A Sunday evening comment by Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock that Berlin "would not stand in the way" of other countries providing German-made Leopard tanks is only provisional, and still mentions nothing about Germany sending its own tanks.]

The final decisions are ultimately in the hands of Scholz, and one wonders if he is unable to be swayed from an idea he's committed to. Or perhaps he continues to listen to Angela Merkel’s former advisor, General Erich Vad, who said before authorizing the sending of tanks to Kyiv, it would first have to be clear whether the Russian forces should be driven out of Ukraine at all.

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