The global coronavirus pandemic has brought renewed interest and focus on scientific models as we try to get a handle on what the future will bring, how many people will fall sick and die, what the economic impacts will be, and what actions politicians should take. But confusion abounds about what these “models” say and how to reconcile their often seemingly conflicting visions of the future.
Much of the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic is due to its nonlinearity. In our highly connected and increasingly complex world, we can anticipate more of these kinds of events, which is why we’ve developed forward-looking scenarios that help decision-makers plan for, and hedge against, the worst effects.
The human tendency to impose a single interpretation in ambiguous situations carries huge dangers in addressing COVID-19. We need to search actively for multiple interpretations, and governments need to choose policies that are robust if their preferred theory turns out to be wrong, argues Nick Chater.