Varied information sources, and leaders with the humility to listen to outside voices, are crucial for successful pandemic response, Devi Sridhar, the Chair of Global Health at the University of Edinburgh Medical School, wrote in an op-ed in the British Medical Journal. “The only way to avoid ‘groupthink’ and blind spots is to ensure representatives with diverse backgrounds and expertise are at the table when major decisions are made,” she wrote.
Having a female leader is one signal that people of diverse backgrounds — and thus, hopefully, diverse perspectives on how to combat crises — are able to win seats at that table. In Germany, for instance, Ms. Merkel’s government considered a variety of different information sources in developing its coronavirus policy, including epidemiological models; data from medical providers; and evidence from South Korea’s successful program of testing and isolation. As a result, the country has achieved a coronavirus death rate that is dramatically lower than those of other Western European countries.
By contrast, the male-led governments of Sweden and Britain — both of which have high coronavirus death tolls — appear to have relied primarily on epidemiological modeling by their own advisers, with few channels for dissent from outside experts.
However, a signal is not proof. And the surrounding political system can trump the different perspectives that a diverse group might bring to the issue.