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The Road to COVID-19 Enlightenment

We have yet to identify the best explanations for countries’ varying success in controlling the pandemic, which obviously is enormously valuable when designing public-health strategies with potentially huge consequences. But knowledge does not advance just by formulating plausible hypotheses.

CAMBRIDGE – Certainty is like a rainbow: wonderful but relatively rare. More often than not, we know that we don’t know. We may seek to remedy this by talking to people who may know what we want to know. But how do we know that they know? If we cannot ascertain whether they actually do know, we must trust them.

Historically, we have bestowed our trust on the basis of science, experience, or divine inspiration. But what if the knowledge we seek does not yet exist, and even science knows that it does not know what is being asked of it?

That is the situation we currently find ourselves in with COVID-19 and the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes it. Our knowledge of the new coronavirus is rapidly increasing, but utterly inadequate. We have not yet learned much about how to treat the infected, much less figured out how to make an effective vaccine. We do not even know how to control the pandemic reliably through social-distancing measures.

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