In this Article, I offer some preliminary ideas for how we might engage in a collective project to enable our government to improve its capacity to help us understand and respond to a future existential health threat. I first deconstruct the government informing process to analyze the points of information contestation based upon the realities we are experiencing. I then outline a project to create a space in which respected experts mediate knowledge claims and moderate contested opinions regarding the human risk of, and government response to, a public health threat. This idea embraces the ambitious goal of educating and engaging citizens as active consumers of probably correct information.
Our challenge is to design a government-sponsored space that is also maximally insulated from political influence. Through this project, the government can secure, share, and exchange accurate information to earn the public’s trust. For their part, citizens can engage as active participants in a dynamic information exchange process. This “communicative action” should promote informed decision-making that prioritizes protection of the public’s health.
At the outset, I concede that a public information space open to all voices, which is mediated and moderated by experts, is predicated upon the assumption that a sufficient proportion of Americans are willing to talk to each other without regard to their differences, be they race, age, gender, occupation, education, or income. Admittedly, given our current politics and social media environment, informed conversations may prove elusive. Nevertheless, I believe we can build public trust in a shared knowledge base that will improve the government’s capability to respond effectively when there is a serious threat to the public’s health. Citizens who learn to navigate the information space can make better decisions for their own health and that of our democracy. If the ambitious goal proves unattainable, we can settle for identifying the untruths and undermining their salience.
Leslie E. Gerwin,
Speaking Truth to Power and Power Speaking Truth: Accurate and Reliable Information in a Pandemic,
San Diego L. Rev.
Available at: https://digital.sandiego.edu/sdlr/vol57/iss4/7