Harper's Magazine Cover Features Professor Jason Blakely's Commentary on the COVID-19 Science Wars
“Doctor’s Orders: COVID-19 and the New Science Wars,” an article exploring science and culture written by Jason Blakely, associate professor of political science at Seaver College, was recently featured on the cover of the July 2023 issue of Harper’s Magazine, America’s oldest general interest publication.
“The biggest thing I hope people take from this article is that politics is always centrally a question about meanings,” says Blakely. “What is the meaning of our society? What do we value? What do we not value? These questions are not something science can resolve, and it is an abuse of scientific authority to take a set of meanings and declare them to be scientific.”
Blakely develops this argument throughout his 4,000-word essay, which evaluates the sociopolitical dilemmas faced amid the COVID-19 pandemic. By analyzing this global event from anthropological, social-scientific, and political perspectives, he calls attention to how objective data can be misconstrued and manipulated to enact specific social and political agendas.
“Invoking science and data to resolve ethical and ideological controversies obscures the values and interests of particular groups and policymakers,” he writes in the piece. “Anyone governing in the name of data is still making judgments.”
However, since data was touted as the driving force behind most pandemic policy decisions, Blakely claims that a sense of scientific mistrust has been cultivated within society. In the future, he calls for a more democratic process that, while heeding important objective statistics, also considers communal needs such as fellowship and religious freedom.
“Living through the pandemic, for most people, was a disorienting experience,” says Blakely. “This piece comes out of trying to make sense of what happened politically during this impactful moment in history.”
Blakely was invited to write a piece for Harper’s by the magazine’s executive editor, Chris Beha. Beha, an accomplished novelist, was introduced to Blakely’s work at the 2022 Catholic Imagination Conference at the University of Dallas in Texas. There, Paul Contino, professor of Great Books at Seaver College, suggested Beha might find sympathetic ideas in Blakely’s 2020 book, We Built Reality: How Social Science Infiltrated Culture, Politics, and Power.
By publishing in Harper’s, Blakely joins a prestigious cohort of writers including Winston Churchill, J. D. Sallinger, Marilynne Robinson, and Ralph Ellison to name a few.
“It is very humbling,” Blakely admits. “Some of the people who have been published by Harper’s are mind blowing. It’s a real institution in the writing world and the United States, and I am grateful for the efforts of my friend, Paul Contino, for initiating this opportunity.”
Read “Doctor’s Orders: COVID-19 and the New Science Wars” on the Harper’s Magazine website.