How can we be certain that we know the true numbers of people suffering from the coronavirus?
Like many people familiar with TOK, I find myself profoundly bemused when someone starts lamenting how difficult it is to “integrate” theory of knowledge within the DP curriculum.
In an age of increasing pressure to ensure that students learn the required material for their DP courses, I often hear, ruminating on “how we know what we know” is considered something like an intellectual luxury good – a good idea to indulge in in theory, but in the real world, who has the time to fit such philosophical speculations into a biology or mathematics course?
Well, sitting in my quarantined house in France, it’s pretty clear that “the real world” has suddenly caught up with all of us with a thud, and navigating the way forwards is going to be nigh on impossible without a clear understanding of core theory of knowledge principles.
For a good example of what I’m talking about, check out a particularly thoughtful article by Stanford University epidemiologist John Ioannidis called A fiasco in the making? As the coronavirus pandemic takes hold, we are making decisions without reliable data, where he details how major public policy decisions are currently being made in the absence of any solid evidence, warning us that “the data collected so far on how many people are infected and how the epidemic is evolving are utterly unreliable”.
This article has provoked considerable debate throughout the global health community, but the key point for us is not to directly address its implications for current government policy, but rather to stress that without a rigorous understanding of the true numbers involved it’s impossible to have any real faith in the models being unhesitatingly bandied about in today’s press – a point to most definitely bear in mind the next time you come across an article with eyebrow-raising specifics like, “UK coronavirus crisis to last until spring 2021 and could see 7.9m hospitalised.”
I have never met Dr Ioannidis, and it could well be that he has never heard of “TOK”, let alone the so-called “challenge” of integrating it in today’s Diploma Programme. But it’s hard to think of a stronger argument for its real-world relevance; and I would strongly urge any TOK, biology, business management, chemistry, geography, global politics, mathematics, philosophy, psychology or social and cultural anthropology teachers out there to use this article as a concrete discussion point in their current online teaching.
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