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Lack of transparency within SAGE

(65 Posts)
Greeneyedgirl Mon 04-May-20 09:15:41

An independent group of 12 distinguished experts, convened by Sir David King (ex Govt Chief Scientific Advisor) has been formed, and will broadcast information daily on YouTube.
There has been unease about the opacity of the SAGE group for some time and I think it can only be a good thing that this independent group will share with the public some of the robust science which may be influencing the government's decision making.
It is at present not even possible for us to find out who attends the SAGE group meetings.

silverlining48 Mon 04-May-20 09:26:01

I think the SAGE group have recently been named by the Guardian but heard today that some members work for the government which if correct is surely the opposite of independent.

suziewoozie Mon 04-May-20 10:27:03

David King is always worth a listen - I’m pleased he’s done this. We need to be disabused of the idea that there is something called ‘the science’ . Hearing a group of scientists discuss issues and the range of (probably) conflicting evidence available might help. I listened to Jeremy Farrar ( SAGE member) being ‘interviewed’ on R4 this morning - some of what he said was shocking ( and completely unchallenged of course) especially his assertion that the only way the Government could find out what was being said at the meetings was for Cummins to attend and report back to them. What? That’s why we need to know exactly what is said.

Rosalyn69 Mon 04-May-20 10:31:38

I lost faith when I heard Dominic Cummings attended.

Greeneyedgirl Mon 04-May-20 11:57:58

I would be more inclined to trust that the government if they were more open about what the scientists are actually advising, and that political decisions are not hiding behind the science.

It will be interesting to hear what this new group, who are drawn from a cross section of leading scientists working across public health, computer modelling, behavioural science and intensive care medicine, have to say.

MaizieD Mon 04-May-20 12:23:03

especially his assertion that the only way the Government could find out what was being said at the meetings was for Cummins to attend and report back to them.

The Scientific Advisory Group is not a new group, it has been in existence for at least a decade.

According to the initial report in the Guardian a search of minutes of previous meetings showed that political advisers have not attended SAGE meetings in the past. Which makes me think that there will be a well established mechanism for reporting SAGE proceedings to the the government which doesn't involve political advisers. It is, after all, an advisory group so there would be absolutely no point in them not reporting to the government.

Sir Jeremy Farrar is a director of the Wellcome Trust and has had a distinguished career.

He really should know better than to make such silly statements.

Daisymae Mon 04-May-20 12:32:31

The government has lost a lot of credibility. How the government interprets advice is political. The advice is just that, not a set of instructions. How could Sage be advising just about the opposite of what every other country has chosen to do? Even the lockdown is half hearted. The mortality rate speaks for itself. I look forward to seeing what this group comes out with. I wish they had acted sooner.

growstuff Mon 04-May-20 13:03:14

It's not just Dominic Cummings who concerns me. His sidekick, Ben Warner, also attended some SAGE meetings. Ben Warner's brother, Marc, won the contract for the NHS tracking app. Allegedly, it wasn't put out to tender and he's been paid £250,000 for it.

That sounds more than a bit dodgy to me and must be a conflict of interest (IMO). hmm

I'm glad another, hopefully truly independent, group has been set up.

growstuff Mon 04-May-20 13:08:15

suzie Did you see Prof Brian Cox's video about "the science"? As he said, there is no such thing as "the science" - he was fuming about the language currently being used.

Romola Mon 04-May-20 13:17:29

Has anyone else found the YouTube livestream of the "alternative SAGE" meeting?

growstuff Mon 04-May-20 13:20:30

This is the link to the introductory YouTube broadcast:

growstuff Mon 04-May-20 13:20:53

Just posted it Romola.

growstuff Mon 04-May-20 13:23:01

It hasn't been broadcast yet, but that link tells you about it.

Oopsminty Mon 04-May-20 13:26:21

I'm no fan but according to many news outlets Cummings was asking why we weren't going into lockdown sooner

Nannee49 Mon 04-May-20 13:32:09

I too think 'the science' is just a fudging term to cover all sorts of cock ups and inaccuracies. Honesty and transparency would be much preferred as we are old enough and, hopefully, wise enough to make our own evaluations but then when did honesty and transparency play much of a part in politics?

growstuff Mon 04-May-20 13:38:42

That could be the case Oopsminty. What bothers me (and other scientists, so it would appear) is the lack of transparency and independence. The government is forever claiming to be following "the science", but apparently at least 16 members of SAGE are government employees. It's not a group of independent scientists, which is what the government claims it is.

I'm also very concerned about Marc Warner's tracking app. Apparently, Singapore had something similar, but even in Singapore (where the population is very tech savvy) there was only a 20% take up and it wasn't really effective. Given Cummings' history with dodgy use of data, I am extremely reluctant to let anybody to do with him know anything more about me than is already in the public domain. There's a very strong smell of fish about the whole thing - apart from the £250,000!

NfkDumpling Mon 04-May-20 13:50:58

Just heard on Radio 4 that list of SAGE members has just been published. Fifty of them? I think there’s been many more contributors called in for advice but not actually members.

Jane10 Mon 04-May-20 14:03:36

Just because a scientist happens to be paid directly or indirectly by government doesn't stop them being good at their jobs, independent thinkers and contributors.

Greeneyedgirl Mon 04-May-20 14:09:26

Thanks for the link growstuff. The chap (didn't catch his name) who was doing the YouTube intro was describing why the new group was formed, but didn't yet have a link to the actual broadcast, which will take place later today.

I expect we will hear when it does, and hopefully link will be publicised. I am so pleased that we will hear a group of other renowned scientists views and evidence, some of which seems to be at odds with the government's, and we may be more able to make a reasoned judgement.

I have been concerned since the beginning of this pandemic about lack of transparency, and totally endorse your concerns growstuff.

It's about time the government stopped patronising us.

maddyone Mon 04-May-20 14:10:56

I’m also worried about this. I would like more transparency about both who the members of SAGE are, and what they are advising. As Daisymae has said, SAGE has appeared to advise the exact opposite of what other scientists have advised.

suziewoozie Mon 04-May-20 14:26:25

Jane it’s much more complicated than that - for one thing! Cummins is not a scientist and apart from that, if you are independent, then prove it - attendees, minutes of meetings, research papers which informed the discussion, and most of all, refuse admittance to SPADS.

Yes Maizie I was extremely disappointed with JF. Anyone who hasn’t heard the interview, should do so and then reflect on whether you’d change your behaviour at the moment based on anything that SAGE ‘apparently’ advised.

Greeneyedgirl Mon 04-May-20 14:27:14

I think it is very positive that names of some members of SAGE have been published. Two members apparently refused. It is a pity that this has only been done under pressure.

I agree Jane10 that scientists on SAGE may be independent thinkers, but my concern has been why wasnt the government more open about the evidence upon which they were decision making, which would have given members of the public more confidence that there hasn't been political interference.

Why does it have to be squeezed out of them?

maddyone Mon 04-May-20 14:40:33

I agree suzie.
There is an apparent rush to get back to normal life, if the headlines are to be believed. Who is pushing this? Is it being suggested by SAGE? I’m certain there will be another spike in deaths if we rush into this, not that I’m a scientist, so I would like to know who is pushing this agenda and what SAGE are saying about it. I’m really concerned about this and who is behind it.

Blinko Mon 04-May-20 15:16:52

There is an apparent rush to get back to normal life..... Who is pushing this?

My guess would be the business sector and financiers.

Jane10 Mon 04-May-20 15:19:52

Chris Whitty was unequivocal that we won't be back to normal any time soon. He is highly respected and so are the various chief scientific officers, public health chiefs etc. It's pretty insulting to imply that they are cynically political.
Of course there is a massive economic aspect to it all. I really don't understand how you lot don't get what a complicated situation it all is trying to meld all the issues into an integrated outcome or the series of outcomes that is required.
Of course you can't please everyone ?