“Yeah, but just imagine how bad it would have been if we hadn’t gone into Lockdown” – The problem of Unfalsifiable belief system…

When learning about The Philosophy of Science, a key principle is Falsifiability, defined as “the capacity for a statement, theory or hypothesis to be contradicted by evidence.”

In Critical Thinking, it is extremely useful to use this principle to shape one’s own ideas; Key questions to ask are, “What evidence could be presented that would cause me to change my mind?” and, “If all my assumptions are correct, what evidence would I expect to see?”. If the answer is that there is no evidence that would convince you otherwise, or you are constantly having to revert to post-hoc rationalizations and speculations to “explain away” unsupportive evidence for a particular hypothesis, there is a good chance you are holding an unfalsifiable belief or set of beliefs.

Unfalsifiable beliefs have no scientific value because they are incapable of making accurate predictions about the real world. It is important to understand that being unable to disprove a particular set of ideas is not a sign of their strength, it is quite the opposite — the set of ideas should not be accepted until it is, at least in principle, possible to prove them wrong.

Another important principle is The Burden of Proof. It is necessary for the person making the positive claim to substantiate it with sufficiently strong evidence (“Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”).

With the above in mind, we can assess the pro Lockdown case, with regards to falsifiability: The basic plausible mechanism for how lockdowns could work is as follows:

Covid-19 is spread by personal contact, Lockdown + NPI measures reduce interactions + contact between people, therefore Lockdown reduces spread of Covid-19 on a national level.”

However, the problem with this reasoning is that, whilst the premises are true, the overall claim is built on little real world data. Perhaps there are other factors that come into play on a national scale beyond the single input of “people spread it to each other”. It is also an extraordinary claim to suggest that airborne Winter pathogens can be stopped by shutting down a large section of the economy and limiting individual freedoms; this has never been attempted before, so requires very strong evidential support to justify it.

Up to this point, this claim is still falsifiable – one must simply examine the timing of implementation of lockdowns vs. cases / hospitilisations / deaths across multiple countries to test the hypothesis against the real world data.

The problem arises when you find many examples of contradictory evidence:

  • Countries / States where the timing of lockdown implementation does not correspond correctly to reductions in case numbers.
  • Countries / States where cases rise, despite implementation of new lockdown measures.
  • No correlation found between lockdown severity and mortality rates across compared countries / states
  • Countries / States where lockdown measures have ceased that have not then experienced surges in cases
  • Countries / States where lockdowns were ‘effective’ in Summer, maintained into Winter, and then cases surged

Examples of the post-hoc “explaining away” of this contradictory evidence are as follows:

  • “The lockdowns would have worked if they’d had stricter rules”
  • “The lockdowns would have worked if only people had followed the rules correctly”
  • “The lockdowns were effective, because they prevented a much worse spread that would have happened if we hadn’t implemented them”
  • “Although lockdowns weren’t actually implemented in _______, people acted like they were under lockdowns anyway, so really it’s lockdowns being effective”

Once you have resorted to the above you have now reached unfalsifiability — by this belief system, whether the cases reduce, stay the same or rise, the lockdowns were the correct measure. And to resort to speculations about what would have happened, knowing it is impossible to wind back the clock and re-run the experiment, shows a profound unwillingness to consider that the original assumptions might be in error.

I think it’s important to highlight this error in thinking – people are welcome to disregard it, but in so doing they reveal their inability to use Critical Thinking and their lack of interest in the pursuit of truth.

submitted by /u/Reasonable-World-154
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