November 1, 2020
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Conflicts of Interest Exposed by COVID19
COVID19 has exposed many hidden conflicts of interest in the scientific community. An ancient proverb holds that he who serves two masters has to lie to one. Public scientists have an interest in obtaining funds for research. Private scientists have an interest in holding gainful employment in organizations that may profit from exaggerated disease risks and public fear. Incentives matter.
For example, scientists who passed computer "models" off as "science" causing unwarranted public fear and hysteria were negligent. Flawed models created an illusion of reality causing policy-makers and leaders to panic. The result was bad governance and a lockdown strategy experiment that caused societal damage for little, if any, benefit.
Many public health scientists and medical practitioners subordinated high quality evidence and scientific truth to government, employer, political and ideological interests. Many who know better either ignored evidence and proven epidemiological standards or remained silent on pain of employment termination and ostracization. Prestigious medical journals funded by industry published sloppy studies with fraudulent data and censored studies that contradicted the party line. The result is suboptimal and harmful policy decisions. When policy is disproportionate to real disease risks the second and third order negative societal consequences are massive. Some say this constitutes crimes against humanity.
Those brave souls who offered hard data and different interpretations and alternative policy prescriptions were smeared, silenced and blackballed. Government and private tech platform censorship of different and minority scientific views is disconcerting. Scientific group think and lack of robust debate is antithetical to science and retards scientific progress and knowledge to help optimal policy decisions. The result is bad policy and a public loss of scientific credibility.
In the future we must examine the pernicious incentives and conflicts of interest for scientists and practitioners in both public and private sectors. The reliance of academic and public research on government taxpayer monies and private foundations is a minefield of conflicts of interest and must be reexamined and reformed. The fusion between big business and big government creates huge conflicts of interest, and has distorted and impeded scientific progress in many areas with few successes. What and who gets funded by what criteria and mechanism must be analyzed and improved.
Applied data scientists have a sacred duty to scientific truth and communicating objective reality to clients. The Data Science Code of Professional Conduct provides helpful guidelines and Rule 6 - Conflicts of Interest will help assure clients of loyalty and the public of scientific credibility.
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