The 2008 financial crisis led the public to discover the limits of economics. The COVID-19 pandemic risks having the same effect on scientists and medical doctors.

Since the start of the outbreak, citizens have struggled to get clear answers to some basic questions. Consider masks, for example: The World Health Organization said early on that there was no point in encouraging healthy people to use them, but now most doctors agree that widespread mask-wearing is a good idea.

There was also confusion around lockdowns: In the United Kingdom, scientists argued for weeks over the merits of closing businesses and keeping people at home — a quarrel that may have cost the country lives. And now that the outbreak is fading in Italy, there is growing debate between the country’s public health experts and doctors over whether the virus has lost strength or remains just as deadly.