Here we go again- typically British

The scientific evidence that has underpinned No 10’s response to Covid-19 will not be made public until the pandemic ends, the government chief science adviser has told MPs.

Sir Patrick Vallance said that the minutes of meetings of the Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (Sage) — the government’s most senior team of expert advisers — would only be released “once Sage stops convening on this emergency”.

 Sir Patrick has said that when the outbreak was under control the names of the scientists taking part in the meetings could also be released,  but only if those involved gave their permission.  The only members of Sage to have been officially acknowledged are Sir Patrick and Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, who co-chair the group.

The Conservative MP Mr Clark is among those calling for all members to be made public. “In order to have some visibility into what institutions and disciplines are represented, it would be extremely useful to have the membership known,” he said. Fears have meanwhile been expressed about “limiting ourselves when we need fresh thinking.”

The excuse is that Sage is following the rules about safeguarding members’ personal security and protecting them from lobbying and other forms of unwanted influence which may hinder their ability to give impartial advice.  About  80 scientists from more than 20 institutions are regularly being consulted on coronavirus,  according to Sir Patrick, but who they are is unknown. It seems, in fact, that the documents published during the Covid-19 crisis on the Sage website so far are authored by people producing mathematical models designed to predict the course of the pandemic.

Professor Glover has commented: “If Sage was a cybersecurity committee or a defence committee I could understand security concerns, but it isn’t. It’s an advisory group that should bring the best thinking that we have from every area, not just epidemiology, to bear on a significant crisis.”

Professor Sheila Bird, a former programme leader of the biostatistics unit at the University of Cambridge, said that longstanding calls to make Sage membership transparent has been ignored. “We should know who is among the core Sage group. It would provide reassurance that the correct disciplines are represented,” she said.

My take: This is typically British. At least Americans are told the names of the people advising their government, even if they are ignored. It’s not that the virus crisis and it’s handling is some national response to deep danger and international conspiracy.  The British especially get kudos and self-importance from being on influential committees, free of public criticism. This allows them, for instance, to peddle the  idea of “herd immunity” early in the crisis.  This was a stupidly timed idea, as it turns out, but could be made without the exponents  being identified. In any event, it is better to be open and thought stupid.  That is democracy.
Meanwhile, a chaotic government is trying to open up the economy amidst a rapidly growing death toll.

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