Thursday 26th March, after four days the epidemiologic curve is rising again. More tests, more and more positives. It’s confirmed, many are the ones affected with COVID-19 who are unaware of it, carriers with few or no symptoms at all. The virus is everywhere and we can’t keep track of it.

Friday 27th March, the Pope grants plenary indulgence. His voice merges with ambulance sirens beyond a deserted piazza San Pietro, gashed by a heavy, incessant rain. Moving words, both for believers and unbelievers, resonating on a dreadful background.

Saturday 28th March, we wake up to headlines on newspapers about burglary in supermarkets and high alert for riots. The crisis is coming and Europe is still divided, on the brink of collapse.

We find ourselves once again in a reversed world, but in a different way every day. Occurrences and recurrences of history. Eternal Return. It is and it has always been an infinite cycle, but with no top or bottom, only an incessant going around always feeling, for a reason or another, upside-down.

Quarantine isn’t the same for everybody. The size of the house makes all the difference, and the air you can breathe from your windows, the risk faced by our older loved ones and most importantly the possibility of buying even food while not working. But if we read newspapers, watch television or just open the door of our home, we all find the same world that’s struggling to breathe.

What remains equal is the terror in front of the invisible, the visceral fear for a massacre that isn’t stopping.

The need for a handhold.

That’s how, day by day, we have seen a growing attention for our doctors and healthcare professionals, for researchers and experts.

The scientific approach isn’t the only one able to describe the terrifying context of our days, but it’s the only cognitive tool that can reach the roots of the outbreak, researching its origins and finding what everyone craves for, a cure and a vaccine. And now intellectuals are again at the centre of government action and everyone’s attention.

Science, we are now absolute witnesses of it, can be a social phenomenon. Science can contribute towards creating a better society, it can initiate deep transformations with its action, which becomes not only cognitive but also cultural.

Well, one of the most important contexts where science exerts this constructive role is politics, where intellectuals always present but, like every social reality, in permanent metamorphosis. They sometimes vanish and reappear, talking with or about them suddenly seems dutiful, and then tedious before long.

Mentioning Elena Cattaneo, professor at the University of Milan and senator for life, “In time of peace I see thousands of thoughts, critics, protests; after the first deaths for meningitis in Italy, everyone in front of the asl, asking for a vaccine. In time of peace death threats to researchers for testing on macaques, night raids in universities, sentences (like the most recent one from the State Council on the case of the macaques) that completely ignore basic experimental rules of research, national legislation putting Italian researchers in a position of minority if compared to our European colleagues; but with the epidemy spreading everyone is asking: how long for a vaccine?”

That knowledge that in this moment we all hold in high regard, that we desperately seek and from which we expect answers, it’s the same that’s taken for granted in peacetime, or worse debased in favour of the opinions of those setting themselves up as some kind of expert, with no knowledge on the matter.

The one of intellectuals is a recurrent issue. They are at first targeted and prosecuted, but then cyclically everyone invokes them and asks why they remain silent, why they don’t mobilise and direct public opinion, why they don’t give the answers everyone is craving for. They are part of society, but sometimes – and sometimes only – they are called to rise upon it, guide and protect it, just to go back to quietly obeying right after the emergency is overcome.

Similarly, there are some political transformations and social economic challenges that foster and, in some way, require expert consultation in the process of governance. But its also undeniable that this involvement brings significative benefits to the decisional process and to the quality of policies.

Then why don’t we recognise this role also when not strictly necessary? Why granting science the upper hand when we need a rational handhold, and inexorably, completely revoking it once stability is attained, as if we feared its power? Why don’t we search for a constant equilibrium?

The scientific method is clear and universally supported; what it produces can be understood by everybody if properly explained. We can use it to get through this war, but let’s be sure we remember this after the end.

Francesca Biglia