What “follow the science” has amounted to, ultimately, is a shifting of agency for decision-making onto scientific and bureaucratic bodies like the CDC and the WHO, while obscuring the fact that the decisions to be made remain fundamentally political. Whether schools or restaurants should be forced to close is not simply a question of epidemiology, but of politics, economics, and ethics. In the best case, scientific bodies can inform or suggest policy by supplying data and knowledge that politicians don’t typically possess, but government is in no way beholden to these suggestions. Even when government simply delegates decisions to scientists, the power to make the decisions still resides with elected leaders. The WHO may offer bad policy advice — say, against wearing masks or against imposing travel restrictions as a novel virus begins to spread around the world — but politicians still remain responsible for how they respond to this guidance.
The “science” that politicians have claimed to follow rarely resembles the centuries-old process of making informed guesses, testing hypotheses, assembling data, and asking new questions in an effort to teeter toward the truth. It is rather a void at the center of technocratic politics into which leaders cast their responsibility.