Professor Hawking, a brilliant scientist, has accused the government of cherry-picking studies which support its view that there should be more medical cover in hospitals at weekends. He has also asserted that the Conservatives are proposing radically to change the funding of the NHS, to move from taxpayer funding to insurance funding. The Secretary of State for Health disagrees. Social media commenters have decided the professor is right and Mr Hunt is wrong.
Why does every contributor to the Twitter, Face Book etc. think Hawking is right and Hunt is wrong? The answer seems to be, and I have read hundreds of posts on this subject, that Hawking is brilliant and Hunt (despite his first class degree) is not. I have yet to see any other argument advanced. It goes further than that. Hawking is held out as being a sort of pagan god. He is constantly described as being a “national treasure”. To suggest he is capable of being wrong about anything at all is to be guilty of a sort of modern blasphemy.
As it happens, there are reasonable grounds for thinking both sides in the weekend medical cover debate may have been cherry-picking. There are respectable studies which support the government’s view that we should have more doctors on duty at weekends and there are respectable studies which conclude that the present arrangements are satisfactory. For my own part, and I concede I am not a brilliant scientist like Professor Hawking, I would rather err on the side of caution and have more doctors in hospitals at weekends. But I may be wrong and Hawking may be right. What I cannot accept is the prevailing social media view that no one is permitted to disagree with anything Hawking says on any subject because of his god-like status.
Hawking’s contention that the Conservatives are hell bent on making the NHS an insurance funded institution is slightly different. On that point he can cite no evidence at all to support his opinion. True, there are a few of us Conservatives who think a free-at-the-point-of-use health service could be more efficiently run and funded than the NHS is at present. But no Conservative government has ever gone along with that view, and I doubt any will in the next fifty years or so. All Conservative governments in my life time (only sixty five years I grant you) have been wholly committed to a taxpayer funded NHS with the provider being the state. What is more, on the whole, Conservative governments have given more taxpayers’ money to the NHS, in real terms, than have Labour governments. Hawking’s confident assertion that all is about to change is obvious nonsense.
But social media contributors disagree. If Professor Hawking says black is white, it follows as night follows day that black is white. The man is a genius, they proclaim with one voice. It is just not permissible for anyone to disagree with him. He is a god.
This idea that anyone who is a genius must be right in every opinion he expresses strikes me as being very dangerous. If it is correct we should, of course, discard democracy as soon as possible. We should have governments chosen by MENSA, not by voters. But it is plainly not correct. Those who have elevated Hawking to the deity would, for instance, have second thoughts about genius being the only attribute required of our governors if Enoch Powell had been selected, as he probably would have been, by MENSA.
I have referred to Professor Hawking as a pagan god advisedly. We may live in a secular world, but we still seem to need gods. All those social media commenters who are sure that Hawking can never be wrong about anything, even when he has no evidence to support his claims, are like religious fanatics. There is no need to consider the arguments or the evidence, they say. If Hawking says something it must be right.
I have to say that I find all this rather scary. But then I reflect that Hawking’s disciples are probably only going along with his political prejudices because they happen to share them. Should another genius turn up and say he likes Conservative policies they will happily consider the arguments and the evidence rather than accept the genius must be right.