Group guiding British government on coronavirus is shrouded in secrecy — updated

Group guiding British government on coronavirus is shrouded in secrecy — updated

The New York Times reports:

As the British government comes under mounting criticism for its response to the coronavirus — one that has left Britain vying with Italy and Spain as the worst hit countries in Europe — Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his aides have defended themselves by saying they are “guided by the science.”

The trouble is, nobody knows what the science is.

The government’s influential Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies — known by its soothing acronym, SAGE — operates as a virtual black box. Its list of members is secret, its meetings are closed, its recommendations are private and the minutes of its deliberations are published much later, if at all.

Yet officials invoke SAGE’s name endlessly without ever explaining how it comes up with its advice — or even who these scientists are.

That lack of transparency has become a point of contention, as officials struggle to explain why they waited until late March to shift from a laissez-faire approach to the virus to the stricter measures adopted by other European countries. Critics say the delay may have worsened a death toll now surging past 20,000, and they fault the government for leaving people in the dark about why it first chose this riskier path.

With all the secrecy, even some of Britain’s top scientists say they don’t know whether they can trust the government’s approach.

“Is the science being followed by the government on coronavirus?” said David King, a former chief scientific adviser to the government. “I don’t know, because I don’t know what the advice is, and there isn’t the freedom for the scientists to tell the public what their advice is.” [Continue reading…]

On Friday, The Guardian revealed the names of the 21 scientists and two Downing Street political advisers who attend the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage).

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