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Science vs economics: We will win the battle when they work together

Prof Luke O'Neill


A battle is being fought between experts over the Covid-19 crisis - but the real solutions will come from compromise, writes Prof Luke O'Neill

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'Science says we must proceed with caution during the phased opening of our country. We should be led by the data'

'Science says we must proceed with caution during the phased opening of our country. We should be led by the data'

'Science says we must proceed with caution during the phased opening of our country. We should be led by the data'

The future of our country is being fought over by two types of expert. In the red corner, I give you the scientists. They're the ones with buck teeth, glasses and wild hair. In the blue corner, the economists. Soberly dressed, three pens in their breast pocket and dodgy haircuts. Scientists versus the Dismal Scientists. Who's winning, as we move to what the Taoiseach last Friday called 'Phase 2 Plus' of the opening up of the lockdown?

Some accuse scientists of not caring about the economy and the ''real world'' as they deliberate in their ivory towers and spout advice, deeming themselves infallible. They are blamed for having a fat paycheque every month and job security. I say to those accusers: not so fast. Scientists are well aware that their salary and the funding needed to carry out their now-essential research depends on a successful economy. No economy, no science. The doctors giving advice also know full well - no economy, no health service. And guess what? Some scientists against the odds (given their personal hygiene standards…) have fallen in love and had children, and they worry about their children getting jobs one day.

On the other hand, economists are sometimes accused of being prepared to let old people die to save the economy. Some of them say the effect of lockdown on overall health will outweigh the effect of Covid-19. There is as yet no evidence to support that. It's a grim comparison. In both cases, people die, it's just a matter of who and how many.


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