Sore Throat By: Sore Throat
Policy Person
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20 Aug 2020 : Ignoring actual humans

So I'm finally here.

A few words of introduction. I currently work within the Washington DC policy industrial complex, in a job in which it's better to remain formally pseudononymous. I'd prefer that what I say not be associated with my superiors (and they might think the same!), and while we have a organizational policy that allows blogging, I don't think folks would like seeing my name "out there."

One frustration that I often have here in the DC P.I.C. is that the experts you might want at the table to hep craft proposals are not the ones that might be most helpful, in that they don't necessarily "get" politics.

There's an example of one of these teams running around town right now. They gotten lots of press for their ideas, and they've fired up members of Congress, think-tankers, and the associated interest groups with their ideas on how to get to virtually universal testing multiple times per week. In looking over the paper from medArXiv and the op-eds, I'm less convinced, primarily because I don't think they take into account the realities of how actual humans behave.

And what annoys me is that while social scientists here in DC are often told that we are being too idealistic or perfectionist—mostly because our research about politics or society doesn't accord with the (often hefty) anecdotal experience of Hill staffers, campaign professionals, exec branch officials, or civil servants. We are too eggheaded, or seeking a world in a vacuum (something my direct line supervisor said the other day).

But when the biomed folks show up, all critical faculty about whether they are operating in a vacuum goes out the window. The popular model of the moment has an associated "Policy calculator" that in fact contains no actual policy in it. The closest it seems to come is in a choice of how often one gets tested and how long that test processing takes, which are at best indirectly linked to policy.

Having some social scientists in the mix who could tell you that there are several factors to think about here beyond how often testing occurs might be beneficial. Just off the top of my head:

  1. How many people actually choose to follow the policy?

  2. What are the incentives to follow the policy? And are they carrots or sticks?

  3. Who is the target population? Is this a population or individual level policy?

And on and on and on.

I'm not an expert on the biomed side of things, although I can read and get a glimmer of what's up. But I do know a few things about how people respond to biomedical interventions, and I'm just kinda tired of being dismissed because I'm "not a doctor" and because I'm supposedly thinking in a vacuum.

If anyone is thinking in a vacuum, it's the likes of all the biomed scientists writing op-eds about their panacea silver bullets to "solve" the pandemic that entirely ignore human complexity. What they don't know is what won't save us.

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