A few decades ago, the crisis of COVID19 would be unthinkable. In the 2020s, we should have the tools to fight a virus, prevent it from spreading or cure it. It is fair to say that the COVID19 crisis is a result of what people have been calling as the major institutional failure of academic/scientific/policy and tech institutions in the past 3 decades.
In 2020 we have the biotechnology tools to do a lot of science-fictiony things. We have at our disposal highly advanced tools that can make very detailed interventions to organisms. Scientists can for example synthesize an artificial receptor that responds to an artificial substance, then implant that receptor in a virus, then deliver it to specific cells in the brains of mice, and then use the substance to artificially activate these cells in a time-limited manner. This kind of interventions would be considered science fiction 2 decades ago, but they are not even novel nowadays. Editing of DNA with CRISPR has become such an important and powerful tool, that one gets the impression that our tools are superior than the diseases themselves. Yet, we have a decades-long stagnation in developing newer successful cures for the most important diseases, and the gains in life expectancy have stalled to a halt.
The lack of replicability in psychology, and the major misuse of statistics in Medicine are facts known for more than a decade now, yet practically there was no fundamental change in the way scientists work. The regulatory framework has kept becoming increasingly impenetrable, leading researchers away from important research in primates and humans and generally back into rodents or less, where risk and rewards are both low. A wave of hostility to risky research directions and animal rights concerns have led at least a major researcher to completely abandon his non-invasive neuroscience research in primates and head to China, leaving vacant a field that is majorly important in an aging world which is being plagued by neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's. The failure of scientific progress to live up to the expectations of previous decades, and the inability to show substantial progress in a measurable way has many times lent the epithet "Stagnation" to our era.
Stagnation is not merely a state of paucity though, as time is harsh and unforgiving to those who, for any reason, stay behind. COVID-19 is highlighting the systematic, decades-long failure of multiple institutions to recognize their failures, admit the errors in their paths and correct their course towards the future. We have in many ways created an asymmetric world, in which progress has been unevenly distributed in ways that ended up being dangerous. Globalization delivered us a world that is rich, cosmopolitan, connected, and instant. We enjoy an unprecedented era as a species, where our physical coordinates don't really matter as long as we are not in a warzone, and where humans can flourish in ways that defy physical infrastructure, as the economy has moved to services. The physical world however has lagged behind, with infrastructure not catching up to progress in entertainment, media and the internet. While we tend to associate technology with the internet nowadays, we forget that communcation and media are only a small part of technology. In reality, considering the very advanced stage of communications, it should be obvious that for the two past decades, the most intensely invested field should be biotechnology and biomedicine not Facebook. We created a bubble in travel and tourism since the 2000s while our public health tech was unprepared, and we are now paying the price.
It's 2020 and we have a viral infection which is "like the flu" but can't be stopped by our technology. Our response to it is the most primitive one, one that worked even in 1917, containment. This is an admission of failure, systematic and long-lasting failure. We need to start the discussion about the day after.
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