How Far into Tyranny Will We Follow the Science?

Susan Dunham
4 min readAug 25, 2021


So much of the flip-flopping on safety policy in the last year — from early assurances that lockdowns, masks, and mandates don’t work, to promises that they do — has bred understandable cynicism among the best of us. But we know that as our experts have learned more about this novel virus, policies have evolved to keep up with the science. Radical pivots in messaging may seem like inconsistencies, but in fact demonstrate the agility of our policy-makers to course-correct with the flow of data.

Nevertheless, there’s an undeniable pattern to the many twists and turns we’ve taken in the last eighteen months, which might justify more than cynicism. While restrictions may loosen periodically, bad news around the corner invariably leads us back towards stronger measures and fewer freedoms.

Following the science has led us dutifully from two weeks of lockdown to rolling six-month lockdowns; from self-isolation, to isolation facilities; from no-masking, to mandatory-masking, then double-masking; from one vaccination, to eight-month-cycling boosters; from 70% immunization for herd immunity, to no hope of herd immunity; from freedom after vaccination to the same practiced routines; from vaccine choice to vaccine coercion. Thus far, it seems that every twist and turn we’ve wended in following the science has only inched us closer towards a dystopic future.

But responsible public health policy is supposed to consider more than science, which doesn’t — and shouldn’t — write its own policy. Science isn’t supposed to hand down dictates to policy makers who parrot them from podiums as if they have no other responsibility to the public but to eradicate virus. It’s no secret that one-track COVID measures cost lives in other ways and that a more balanced approached should be in order. Freedom, also, should be treated by our leaders with as much sanctity as life, since lives were given for that freedom not too long ago.

But evolving policies still tend towards new extremes and fewer freedoms, and there always seems to be just enough science to justify our slide into medical tyranny.

The blame, always, is ours, for not collectively following enough of the science. New measures are always justified because we haven’t isolated well enough, or masked often enough, or vaccinated fully enough. There seems not to be enough compliance in the world to satisfy the science, which is beginning to look like some unappeasable god who is never satisfied with the worshipfulness of his people.

Something doesn’t feel right. The science wants total compliance. It wants us to spare no force in achieving it. And yet we know that’s not in its role to ask.

It seems as though the idea of following the science, which is repeated ad nauseam like a religious mantra, has become a shield for imbalanced, reckless, and extreme policy. And it’s starting to look like that policy is bent towards delivering a very deliberate vision of the future.

It’s in the name of science that we yell down a lone unmasked patron at a grocery store, or that we demand to be made safe from any unvaccinated person in public. We want harder lockdowns and stricter systems for enforcing compliance. And we forget that the benefit of squeezing the last of us into obedience is not worth the cost of doing it, or that lives can be lost because of the extremes we go to save them. The science continues to narrow our viewpoint and widen our appetite for a darker world.

And it threatens us with worse if we don’t follow its lead.

We should ask whether science in the age of COVID has been commandeered. What can be gained from that and why are questions that are not for the scope of this article. But the concerning reality is the rate at which we are seeing dramatic and permanent changes to the fabric and structure of society with no end in sight.

Alarmingly, we continue to cheerlead the cause. We demand increasingly more radical compliance, believing that we can buy tomorrow’s freedom with today’s. We’re convinced that any change demanded by science no matter how radical is good and that enough of it in the long run can deliver us to safety.

It might be time to start working back towards the middle, hedging our bets in case we’re being misled and deciding individually where we draw the line before science leads us into a tomorrow we would’ve never thought possible.