Leading scientist blasts government coronavirus 'secrecy'

Leading scientist blasts government coronavirus ‘secrecy’ and tells ministers to stop passing the buck to academics by saying they are ‘following the science’

  • Sir Adrian Smith called on ministers to stop claiming they are ‘following science’
  • He has called for greater transparency on how coronavirus decision are made 
  • The scientist warned ministers must stop passing the buck on their decisions
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

Ministers should stop claiming they are ‘following the science’ and stop passing the buck in the battle against coronavirus, a leading scientist has demanded. 

Sir Adrian Smith, 73, a statistician and the the incoming president of the Royal Society, said politicians are justifying their measures by saying they are following expert advice to appear decisive. 

He warned that blame should not be passed to scientists as the government are the ones implementing and making decisions in the battle against coronavirus. 

Sir Adrian also blasted the government’s decision to make decisions behind closed doors, adding ‘openness and transparency would have been a better option’. 

A full list of members of the government’s secretive SAGE committee, which has advised on tackling the virus, was only published two weeks ago and minutes from its meetings have still to be released. 

Furious MPs have previously demanded research papers underpinning the government’s coronavirus strategy are immediately released. 

Sir Adrian Smith, 73, a statistician and the the incoming president of the Royal Society, said politicians should be more transparent on their coronavirus strategy 

He criticised ministers for saying they are just ‘following the science’ and said Boris Johnson’s government should have been more open about the advice they’ve followed on coronavirus

Sir Adrian also believes his impending leadership of Britain’s most distinguished scientific society, which begins in November, is likely to be marked with an in-depth look at Britain’s response to the virus. 

He added that there is a risk that scientists may face anger for their role in the battle against the virus, but warned that, ultimately, it is politicians that make the decisions.

He told the Times: ‘The danger is if the politicians keep saying, ”We’re simply doing what the scientists tell us”. That could be awkward. 

‘Politicians ultimately must make the decisions.

‘There will be a post-mortem on this. But I think the use of science and the re-establishment of experts is something that won’t go away.’

Sir Adrian said the secrecy surrounded the SAGE body had also been counter-productive. 

He added: ‘Even if nothing terribly secretive and terrible is going on, you feed suspicion if you’re not transparent.’

It comes as an influential group of MPs yesterday demanded Boris Johnson immediately publishes research papers underpinning crucial coronavirus decisions.

The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee called for greater transparency on the material considered by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies.  

Chairman and Tory MP William Wragg also urged a change in the law to enforce mandatory recording of deaths within 24 hours, to improve tracking of the outbreak. 

Documents considered by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) are periodically made public, but there is a long delay.

The scientific papers underlying the advice are also not routinely released, despite many of the experts suggesting they should. 

Some of the SAGE documents released earlier this month included heavily redacted pages, including one on how to relax lockdown measures

According to a Government-supplied list more than 90 that remain secret after 16 were revealed today

After his committee took evidence from national statistician Professor Sir Ian Diamond, Mr Wragg said Parliament needs to see the data so they can scrutinise Government decisions. 

‘The national statistician, who attends Sage, told us that he believes Government should publish the papers discussed by Sage,’ Mr Wragg wrote to the PM. 

‘I am writing to ask you to start publishing those papers immediately. 

‘If for any reasons you are unable to publish a paper, I would like you to write outlining what the paper contains and why it cannot be published.’  

Earlier this month SAGE published another trance of papers along with the names of most of its members.

But according to a Government-supplied list it left more than 90 that remain secret.

They include advice for ministers on stopping flights from certain countries, on when to stop contact tracing, and another on the impact of school closures.

The list also includes unpublished documents on the use of face masks, the risk of pets passing on the virus, and advice on restricting flights from specific countries.  

These are all highly contentious issues as the death toll mounts and the Government seeks a way out of the current lockdown. 

Additionally, some of the documents released previously included heavily redacted pages, including one on how to relax lockdown measures. 

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