"Follow the science” — these are reassuring words in a pandemic like COVID-19, when widespread fear of a deadly virus can be exploited by unscrupulous politicians, snake-oil salesmen and cranks. Public trust in scientists has risen recently.

But we may be hitting the limits of this trust, just as many countries enter the crucial phase of reopening their economies with a raft of new social-distancing measures meant to ward off a second wave of infections. We’ve seen several confusing U-turns and unresolved debates on issues such as the effectiveness of cloth masks or the risks of reopening schools.

Faith in authority is ebbing globally, even in high-trust countries like Sweden, where a famously hands-off approach to lockdown is spreading ripples of doubt. And now the messy rush to find a treatment that works — even if it means throwing long-standing scientific standards out of the window — is veering from farce to tragedy.