by Mirko Draca
The COVID pandemic will be noted for many things, but when it comes to the policy sphere there has never before been a time when the use of data and statistics has been so prominent. Political press conferences in last six months — including those featuring the centre-of-attention loving President Trump — have often had the added feature of graph-filled slide packs. This was very rare in the pre COVID-19 era. I’m also regularly reading wonkish and thoughtfully argued data-focused pieces in the popular press, which previously mainly served to inform me about the travails of celebrities.
But this data-focused debate over COVID-19 policy increasingly has a duelling quality to it. Statistical analysis is now being integrated into the disciplines of rhetoric and polemic. And then there is the simple matter that there is now just so much information and analysis available in 2020. ‘Data science’ boomed as a professional industry in the 2010s but now it is ever present in news debates, with lots and lots of ‘armchair’ contributions being fired off by the minute. To update a turn of phrase from Richard Nixon, ‘we are all Nate Silver now’.