Pandemics and the Problem of Social Knowledge

by  Alexander Kentikelenis

The Covid-19 pandemic took the world by surprise, and led countries to scramble to contain the spread of the virus and mitigate its health and socio-economic consequences. The pandemic also revealed large discrepancies in different countries’ preparedness infrastructures. Some of the world’s richest nations, like the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands, were slow to respond and evidently lacked appropriate public health guidelines, health system capacity, and reserves of necessary material. In contrast, other countries—including many at lower levels of economic development and purportedly limited state capacity—were successful at limiting the scale of the outbreak early on. These contrasts might have been wholly surprising to followers of recent, prominent attempts to rank countries preparedness for infectious disease outbreaks, where the U.S., the U.K. and the Netherlands were ranked as the three best prepared countries in the world. This project interrogates the construction of rankings and scientific indicators on pandemic preparedness: what kind of input is used, who is involved, and what is their impact.