“Follow the Science”: the Winning Political Slogan of 2020

Voting in the 2020 American presidential election raised the question posed by Johnny Carson’s game show “Who Do You Trust” (1957-1963). Candidate Biden was chosen based on trust in his half century track record as a political centrist opposed to his Party’s left wing agenda to promote racial, economic and environmental justice. “Follow the Science” on the pandemic became a campaign theme to bolster trust because scientists – unlike lifetime politicians – are perceived as purveyors of truth. The campaign worked, then centrism was abandoned.

COVID 19 brought to the fore the differences between advocates of science-driven management – the premise of not just pandemic management but the entire Biden Administration agenda – and competitive markets. How can producers and consumers stumble onto greater truths than scientists? Economist Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” explained how – almost a century before the naturalist, geologist and biologist Charles Darwin’s “origin”. Scientific investigations were historically the domain of idle rich like Smith and Darwin, because in addition to the need for peer review independent from political influence, they were expensive, time consuming and only infrequently produced interesting results.

Today almost-universal government funding either directly or indirectly has inevitably and irredeemable introduced bias (and sometimes worse)  into science, particularly the social sciences. Political narratives feed back into the data, producing more noise .

To Tell The Truth, the Whole Truth and Nothing But the Truth

Panelists grilled witnesses on “To Tell the Truth” (1956-1968) to identify the real from fictitious characters. Economist Raj Chetty notes:

“As is the case with epidemiologists, the fundamental challenge faced by economists — and a root cause of many disagreements in the field — is our limited ability to run experiments. If we could randomize policy decisions and then observe what happens to the economy and people’s lives, we would be able to get a precise understanding of how the economy works and how to improve policy. But the practical and ethical costs of such experiments preclude this sort of approach.”

Hence economists, like virologists, rely on limited models to make generalizations. Virologists study the cellular makeup of a virus to explain pandemics. Economists study discrimination to reach a generalized truth about systemic racism, or financial panics to understand contagion. Physicists search for sub-atomic Higgs Boson particles to explain the origins and workings of the universe(s).

Witnesses in American court rooms on Perry Mason (1957-1966) swore to tell “the whole truth and nothing but the truth” under penalty of law. Scientific truth is a building block. Economists can then apply their tools, e.g., cost benefit, present value, probability, value of life, etc. to various alternatives to determine the whole truth and develop policies that are in the “public interest.”

But economists and politicians don’t take that oath. 95% of social scientists and historians identified as liberal/democratic, a bias toward progressive political action. The word “policy” derives from the Greek word for politics which is generally not aligned with the public interest.

Historians are even more liberal than economists, but most object to the 1619 Project. It’s not the income inequality caused by market capitalism, but government favoritism that’s unjust. Environmentalists use limited anti-capitalist models  to produce seriously sub-optimal policy recommendations. This science isn’t “the whole truth and nothing but.”

Scientific certainties spanning decades or even centuries are often proven wrong with better methods and larger samples or metadata. The federal government has for a half century warned against animal fats in favor of margarine even though metadata disproved the theory in 2018. Just as virology models assume contagion due to irrational public behavior, economic models of “financial panic” assume uninformed individuals irrationally run on solvent banks; in actual fact depositors acted perfectly rational, queuing only at insolvent banks that were paying out at face value on a first come, first served basis. Large scale economic models that suffer from the bias of small scale models tend to over-estimate the benefits of political intervention and under-estimate the unseen “unintended” but predictable indirect costs.

The Politicization of COVID 19

The first question epidemiologists and virologists needed to ask was the origin of the virus, not to assess political blame but to better understand it. Even as the virus continues to spread, 10,000 pages of research have already been published by the Social Science Research Network. But we may never know the full story of COVID 19 origins because autocratic politicians (in China, the US and the international community) suppressed the evidence and squelched the story until the evidence could be destroyed. The WHO, a previously respected international agency (not the rock band) launched a political investigation, first adopting and protecting the political narrative that the virus did not come from a military biological warfare lab in Wuhan, China – then creating a pretense of investigating this and alternative theories. The Wuhan Lab Theory may remain a conspiracy theory due to the ongoing suppression of evidence and dissent, but no more so than the original market theory.

The press demanded action by politicians “to save lives” from the pandemic’s start, so politicians demanded answers from their scientists before they were knowable. Bureaucrats pretended to know more than they did, and many politicians took what they could tout as the strongest actions possible. The contagion models assumed the virus was like 1918, almost universally deadly; shutting down has no health or economic consequences; universal vaccination is risk-less and effective. The actual facts are that it is deadly for the infirm elderly, 95% with comorbidities: the lock down caused massive public health problems and cost trillions of dollars; the vaccine is not as effective as natural antibodies and comes with risks, especially for young children.

There is no point in villainizing bureaucrats: politicians asked the wrong questions of the wrong people. Only a few politicians were truly villainous (e.g., NY Governor Cuomo, with his mind on his lucrative book deal promoting his COVID management and eyes on the presidency signed the order condemning perhaps 10,000 elderly, then covered it up; CA Governor Newsom diverted much of state law enforcement to prevent surfers from accessing the Pacific Ocean while he was lavishly wined and dined.) But politicians failed miserably in protecting the elderly and infirm, and the consequences of the lock downs for which there was no scientific basis were orders of magnitude worse than the disease.

The main villain is the liberal press that did their best to panic the public by demanding the unconstitutional lockdowns while chastising President Trump for not ordering them. The New York Times, which led the charge, now reports that 40% of Americans don’t trust the news, including the Gray Lady herself. That’s because the press (along with TV news) has reverted back to being Infamous Scribblers mostly for the left (Questionnaires showed only a tilt at the top but 2016 campaign contributions were split 95%-5%).

The Autocratic Nanny State Isn’t God

In 1789 the Founding Fathers were apprehensive about trusting the federal government with expanded executive authority beyond the protection of individual rights and international affairs. In 1956 the official motto of the United States was changed from e pluribus unum adopted in 1782 to In God We Trust. In 1984 President Reagan turned the Russian proverb “Doveryai, no proveryai “ in English “trust, but verify” against his presumably Godless untrustworthy Soviet counterparts.

We are told that we must believe in progressive tenets and governmental institutions to “save our democracy” but this is perverse. We can trust the impenetrable and unaccountable administrative state, or political commissions that are always designed to promote the politically chosen narrative, to mislead rather than clarify and inform, with truth hidden in classified appendices. Even if bureaucrats had unimpeachable scientific information and only the public interest as motivation, they would never have the extent of information produced in markets by Neanderthal (to use the President’s term) consumers and greedy capitalist producers to make better decisions.

Some things historically required federal action, but the required scope of federal activities has shrunk since 1789. Even “roads and bridges” can be financed by user fees using AI that monitors, not just how much but what roads when. (Big brother is always watching.) Instead, the government now accounts for half of all spending (we have to pay half of all income sooner or later) and the federal government accounts for 70% of that (with increases planned), operating a Soviet funding mechanism.

The original 1956 game show title was “Do You Trust Your Wife.” We were married to the administrative state in a shotgun wedding. As the young Herod said to his best friend and future emperor of Rome, Claudius (who he would later betray): “Trust no one, my friend, trust no one.”



Kevin Villani


Kevin Villani, Chief Economist at Freddie Mac from 1982 to 1985, has held senior government positions, has been affiliated with ten universities, and served as CFO and director of several companies. He recently published Occupy Pennsylvania Avenue on the political origins of the sub-prime lending bubble and aftermath.

20 thoughts on ““Follow the Science”: the Winning Political Slogan of 2020”

  1. }}} If we could randomize policy decisions and then observe what happens to the economy and people’s lives, we would be able to get a precise understanding of how the economy works and how to improve policy. But the practical and ethical costs of such experiments preclude this sort of approach.”

    This is PART of the reason for Federalism — the different states have their opportunities to play with some of the rules, and see the results… which leads other states to follow the evidence regarding best policies.

    Unless you’re a state run by liberals, in which case, like Cali in particular, but also NY. IL, MI, and others — you do whatever you fucking want, heedless of the results, time and time again. Because to learn from results is anathema to the entire basis of PostModern Liberals and their Liberal Midnight Reset Button.

  2. Francis Spufford’s book Red Plenty…part nonfiction, part novel…provides a vivid portrayal of Soviet economic planning in practice, as seen from the inside. It is helpful for understanding why such systems can never work as advertised.

    Gennady Andreev-Khomiakov, who was deputy manager of a Stalin-era Soviet factory, wrote about his own experiences. The plant, a lumber mill, was entirely dependent on the supply of raw lumber, and getting these supplies was always problematic.

    Gennady, whose father had been in the lumber trade before the revolution, was contemptuous of the chaos into which the industry had been reduced by the Soviets:

    “The free and “unplanned” and therefore ostensibly chaotic character of lumber production before the revolution in reality possessed a definite order. As the season approached, hundreds of thousands of forest workers gathered in small artels of loggers, rafters, and floaters, hired themselves out to entrepreneurs through their foremen, and got all the work done. The Bolsheviks, concerned with “putting order” into life and organizing it according to their single scheme, destroyed that order and introduced their own–and arrived at complete chaos in lumbering.”

    As Gennady says:

    “Such in the immutable law. The forceful subordination of life’s variety into a single mold will be avenged by that variety’s becoming nothing but chaos and disorder.”

  3. The politicization of science was foreseen by President Eisenhower — who had previously not only been WWII General but also President of Columbia University. In his famous 1961 Farewell Speech, he followed his “Military-Industrial Complex” warning with this caution:

    “Akin to, and largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our industrial-military posture, has been the technological revolution during recent decades.

    In this revolution, research has become central; it also becomes more formalized, complex, and costly. A steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or at the direction of, the Federal government.

    Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers.

    The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded. Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.”

    What happens to a society when the thinking part of the population no longer trusts “scientists”, politicians, election results, academics, media scum, bureaucrats? And what happens when the dominant but unthinking part of the populations insists on throwing wealth away pursuing scientifically-nonsensically chimera such as “Green” energy and “Climate Change”? Especially when there are other more rational societies on the same planet?

    Sadly, we can all see how this irrationality will end.

  4. Science, especially as it is promulgated by politicians and the media doesn’t exist. There are plausible conjectures and data, nothing else. The plausibility of any given conjecture rises or falls in relation to how it it conforms to the available data. Data consists entirely of measurements of the real world and always come with a margin of error. Outside of those parameters, metadata has no meaning. A measurement is ether repeatable within a meaningful margin or it isn’t, averaging nonsense only produces more nonsense.

    The problem is that both the conjectures and the interpretation of the data supporting them have progressed beyond the point where even a gifted individual can grasp more than a scant few. Thus, the appearance of the “public expert”, the “public scientist” and most perniciously, the “expert scientist”. At best, these can hold forth based on their knowledge and experience which more often than not equates to exactly zero. More universally, their maunderings are in service of some undisclosed private agenda.

    A scientist that tells you that he knows something is either lying or deluded. You are invited to conjecture what my opinion of a “public intellectual” is.

  5. For the 20 years following WWII, the prestige of science was very high, driven by seemingly-miraculous innovations such as nuclear energy, ballistic missiles, computers, antibiotics, vaccines (especially the polio vaccine), transatlantic phone calls, etc etc. The problem is that various other kinds of claimed expertise tried to piggyback on the accomplishments of hard science and obtain similar credibility and prestige for themselves. (For example, the demographic analysis and modeling done by Simulmatics Corporation for the Kennedy campaign was referred to by Harold Lasswell of Yale as: “the A-bomb of the social sciences. The breakthrough here is comparable to what happened at Stagg Field.” Such excessive claims were bound to lead to disappointment and to a cynicism about expertise.

    We have gone even beyond that level, though: most the preaching about ‘believe science’ have little to do with science, and a lot to do with submission to authority.

  6. Whatever anyone says, NASA has done an amazing job over the past 60 odd years, and has delivered real understanding and insight into the universe we live in.

    Happy birth day America.

  7. The Hubble telescope was launched into space with a defective lens, which was replaced by a shuttle flight. The shuttle is no longer available to fix the current computer failure. The current progress is made by private companies as the bureaucracy at NASA does what most bureaucracies do. Fail at the mission while expanding its own budget.

    We will survive this just as we survived Roosevelt’s bungling of the Panic of 1929.

  8. Are you just ignorant? NASA has sent space craft to all the planets and has performed extraordinarily well throughout all of this serious exploration, it has been carrying out over the last 50 years. You want to whine about a few mistakes and call the whole thing crap. Give your head a shake Mike.

  9. NASA works pretty well, for a government program that doesn’t care about costs. But by that standard, so does the military.

    It’s difficult for me to name a large private sector US organization that dominated its niche in 1969, the way NASA did during the moon race, that hasn’t been replaced by improved competitors. Sears? IBM? GM? AT&T? Kodak? Marlboro?

    I would not be displeased if SpaceX replaced NASA in the same way Amazon has Sears.

  10. There are two parts to NASA that might as well be separate agencies. There’s the successful one with the Mars landers and planetary exploration missions that consistently over perform and that while hardly cheap, operate under sever budget discipline. Then there’s the other NASA that has spent more than 20 billion dollars on a rocket that probably has a less than 50% chance of ever carrying astronauts anywhere and then only at an added cost of billions per launch. The Hubble and Webb telescopes, unfortunately, are products of the second one.

  11. The troll asks if I am ignorant. No, just aware that most of the successful NASA projects are run by JPL, while the boondoggles are run by the “Muslim Outreach” bureaucracy.

  12. A bit of wisdom for the troll.

    In a new initiative that runs until July 12, NASA is inviting the public to share ideas and comments about how the space agency can be inclusive and more representative of the public at large.

    On June 15, the space agency announced the program, dubbed Mission Equity, and released a request for information (RFI) called “Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities in NASA Programs, Contracts and Grants.”

    The goal of the RFI is to determine what roadblocks the agency is currently ignoring that prevent underserved and underrepresented communities from joining the space agency. It’s part of one of the several executive orders that President Joe Biden signed on his first day in office, Jan. 20. You can read the full RFI here.

    Why the agency is going nowhere.

  13. This crap is everywhere. It does not in any way diminish the absolutely amazing and stellar job NASA has done over half a century.

    Troll on Mike. I’m sure you can find something else to sh&t on. ;)

  14. This crap is everywhere. It does not in any way diminish the absolutely amazing and stellar job NASA has done over half a century.

    Once again you demonstrate you know nothing about the actual United States and won’t listen when you’re told. It’s amusing that while generally you seem to have a low opinion of the US, you somehow imagine NASA to be a bastion of success, which is utterly hilarious.

    Let me list a few of NASA’s greatest hits, from the perspective of someone who is paying for them:

    -The Challenger disaster, caused by famous and well-known incompetence.

    -The Columbia disaster, also caused by incompetence, but also notable because someone in the NASA bureaucracy turned down the suggestion to use a telescope to look for suspected impact damage from foam from the external fuel tank. A large piece of this foam had damaged the wing and subsequently caused the destruction of the shuttle.

    -The Mars probe that was lost because the organization failed to successfully manage conversion from English to metric units.

    -The never-ending boondoggle of the rockets intended to return to the moon Apollo-style that somehow never actually produce a working rocket or get anyone anywhere. The latest I’ve heard about this project is that now they’ve decided to send mannequins to the moon, for “research.” That is, they’ve been spending endless billions and spent many more years to accomplish less than what NASA achieved decades ago, all with an end goal of just what exactly?

    -The International Space Station, which began as an American space station but ended up as “international,” which I take to mean Americans paid for it but everyone benefits from it. Especially the Russian space industry, which may have ceased to exist if the US hadn’t been paying Russia to put American astronauts in space since NASA retired the shuttles it hadn’t managed to destroy.

    -The rather embarrassing fact that NASA can’t actually get people into space- I say again, NASA can’t get people into space. They’ve got a plan to fix that, real soon now, if we just keep giving them endless billions.

    -Or at least give Jeff Bezos $9 billion, so he can compete against Space-X.

    Meanwhile, Elon Musk and the aforementioned Space-X are running rings around everyone, doing what NASA should have done decades ago.

    This is not what success looks like. Maybe in Canada, but not in the US.

  15. To add to the list of NASA woes documented by Xennady, there is the sad lost opportunity of the Delta Clipper – Experimental reusable rocket.

    The US air Force and McDonnell-Douglas started design work on this reusable rocket back in the 1980s and flew it successfully in the early 1990s — 30 years ago. Thirty Years Ago!

    NASA killed it after one flight ended in failure. Where would SpaceX be if Elon Musk had the same philosophy? Instead, NASA pours billions of taxpayer dollars into the “Senate Launch System” which has no risk of failure since they have no intention of ever launching it for real.

    NASA did great work in the early years. After the Moon landings, it should have been shut down and a different agency created — with a limited life time.

  16. Our troll seems to be following the Canadian tradition of trashing anything that resembles civilization.

    On June 21, arsonists targeted two Roman Catholic churches in tribal territory in British Columbia (B.C.): Sacred Heart Mission Church of Penticton, and St. Gregory Mission Church on Osoyoos land. On June 26, arsonists burned two more Catholic churches in B.C. to the ground. Authorities also found that St. Paul’s Anglican Church on Gitwangak First Nations land in B.C. had been set on fire on June 26, but firefighters extinguished the blaze, mostly saving the church, Catholic News Agency reported. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police said all the fires were “suspicious” and local leaders attributed them to arson.

    On June 27, arsonists lit a fire at Siksika First Nation Catholic Church, but firefighters put out the blaze before it caused severe damage. On June 30, arsonists burned St. Jean Baptiste Catholic Church in Morinville to the ground. On the night of July 1, two fires destroyed one Anglican church — the aforementioned St. Paul’s Anglican Church — and damaged part of another church in Tofino.

    This appears to be part of a revolt against the civilizing influence of the European white settlers. Much of it seemed to fail but I think it was well intentioned. Amerindians never got as far as an invention of the wheel. They ate the horses rather than domesticate them until the Spanish brought European horses. Early settlers tried to bring the Amerindians to a state where they could live in a civilization. It did not work very well. The Iroquois seemed best positioned to live with white settlers but they chose the wrong side in the wars of the Spanish Succession. The Cherokee were also prepared but they were led astray by a renegade Scot who encouraged them to attack whites. This resulted in Jackson driving them west to Oklahoma.

  17. NASA killed it after one flight ended in failure.

    I’m going to guess any success would have threatened their phony-baloney jobs blowing up space shuttles, so it had to die.

    After the Moon landings, it should have been shut down and a different agency created — with a limited life time.

    Good point- but I will cynically note that the NASA of the moon landings was shut down and replaced- by the shambling, miserable failure we know today.

    And in my original comment, I forgot to note that one big honking reason for the destruction of the Columbia was that NASA replaced the original foam used on the external fuel tanks with a new product that was more “environmentally friendly”- but was also more fragile.

    Someone should have gone to prison for that decision.

  18. BOHICA If you thought that the Soviet system was trash, wait ’til you see what the Leftists, Corruptocrats, and the “sellout” Chamber [Pot] of Commerce can do when they are all feeding in the same trough. As long as everyone gets their cut [and there are sufficient number on useless Ghettocrats with fancy titles and an environmentally correct fascade, who cares what happens to you?]

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