Staging Science: Authoritativeness and Fragility of Models and Measurement in the COVID-19 Crisis


In the COVID-19 crisis, society pins its hopes on science to play an authoritative role in reducing uncertainty and ambiguity. But is science up to the task? This is far from self-evident. The demands on science in times of crisis run counter to the values of good, normal science. Crisis science needs to be fast, univocal, personalized, and direct, while normal science is slow, contentious, collective, and sensitive to complexity. Science can only play its atypical role if it is staged in the public arena. Some patterns of staging stand out: personalization, visualization, and connection to lived experiences. So far, the staging of science has been successful, but it is fragile. The COVID-19 crisis shows the potential of well-staged forms of alliance between science and policy, but when the general assumption is that scientists will “solve” societal “problems,” the staging of science has gone too far.

In Public Administration Review