We’re following The Science. It’s been the constant and repeated mantra of the British Government ever since the Coronavirus epidemic started. Any criticism or question about the wisdom of the British Government’s policy has been batted away with The Science. No politics here, oh no, this is The Science, with a capital letter and everything. The Government’s daily press briefing has turned into one of those expensive cosmetics commercials. You know, where a beautiful model who clearly has no need of the nostrum on offer waxes lyrical about the benefits of the product, and then talks about The Science, which is the cue to descend into nonsensical gobbledygook about which serves no purpose other than to throw up a smokescreen of pseudo-scientific respectability and justify the extremely high price.
We already know that the British Government’s snake oil is going to cost us dearly. Matt Hancock is to be fair a very good model – if we are talking about the plastic variety which is a diminutive copy of the real thing but without any appreciable signs of life. He’d be just as well telling us that the UK Government is basing its policy on its Advanced Borisfnaughfinol Complex and OCULAQUA™, a unique lubricating complex formulated from 18 essential elements found naturally in Conservatives with radiant, healthy hedge funds.
Science is above all an open process. That’s what allows science to be science. Data must be checked independently, conclusions debated openly. Findings are presented to the wider scientific community which can then openly discuss, debate, and investigate the conclusions arrived at. It’s through this rigorous process of peer review by other scientists that hypotheses which do not stand up can be winnowed out and rejected. Where there is secrecy and opacity, science dies. Which makes it alarming that the British Government, seemingly uniquely amongst Western governments, has been so secretive about the scientific advice that it has been given by SAGE, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies. SAGE operates in secret, its membership list is a secret, its meetings are closed, any recommendations that it makes are kept secret, and the minutes of its meetings and its conclusions are not published. This is not a government which is treating the public like grown ups.
The truth is that governments of any hue do not “do science”. Scientists give advice, and the government formulates a policy by making political decisions based upon that advice. It is up to the politicians to decide how to act or not to act upon that advice and they do so refracted through the prism of their own political imperatives. This current British government is the most ideologically driven for generations. It beggars belief that this bunch of swivel eyed Brexiteer ideologues have put their obsessions to one side for the duration. All the more so because we know that they are refusing to delay Brexit negotiations in the interim. Governments most certainly do not follow the science by keeping that science a secret.
There are plenty of respected and respectable scientists on SAGE, men and women who are experts in their fields. However the concern about SAGE is that the British Government is using SAGE not primarily to obtain independent scientific advice, but rather to provide itself with a veneer of scienciness to cover up its political decisions. To formulate some Borisfnaughfinol rather than to formulate a science based strategy for dealing with the crisis. These suspicions are only worsened by the secrecy which the British Government surrounds SAGE advice, their refusal to publish that advice in full, and the revelation that Dominic Cummings and a data scientist prominent in the Vote Leave campaign are participants in SAGE meetings. So we’ve got the UK’s leading political supervillain and one of his little henchpersons on the government’s scientific committee. You can see now why they wanted to keep the membership list quiet.
Dominic Cummings is no scientist. He has neither been trained in science nor gained any recognised scientific qualification. He has a degree in Ancient and Modern History. This is not a scientific qualification. Since leaving university he has spent his career working on one right wing political project or campaign after another. His primary concerns are political and the promotion of a right wing agenda. No meeting which contains Dominic Cummings as one of its participants can claim that the consensus it arrives at is independent, neutral, and based solely in science. It’s hard to understand what qualifies him to sit on a scientific committee. Is it his interest in eugenics perhaps? Isn’t this the guy who embraced herd immunity and quipped that it was too bad if some pensioners had to die?
The opinions of those real and genuine scientists who sit on the committee have been compromised by the views of Dominic Cummings. It means that we cannot be sure of the extent which the decisions of the committee are based on a dispassionate view of the data, or of the extent to which they are based on political considerations. It means that there is a real risk that the politics are leading the science, instead of science informing the politics. The Government tells us that it’s following the science, but that science is being influenced by Dominic Cummings.
The truth that has come out about SAGE also put to bed any claim that the UK operates as a family of nations where the different countries of the UK have a voice and a say. The chief medical officers and scientific advisors of the Scottish, Welsh, and Northern Irish governments have not been allowed to participate fully in SAGE meetings. Their role is restricted to that of observer status. If they want to ask a question they must submit it in writing in advance. This makes it unlikely that any decisions made by SAGE are fully informed by the situations in the devolved nations.
In turn this makes a mockery of the insistence of Jackson Carlaw and Richard Leonard that Scotland must not diverge from the rest of the UK in how it manages its response to the virus. They want Scotland to adhere to a policy which was formed with only limited input from the leading Scottish scientists and medical officers who inform the Scottish Government. If they still adhere to their insistence after these revelations, we can be confident that their first priority is not what is good for Scotland, but rather what is good for preventing Scotland diverging from the UK. They stand revealed as using the coronavirus as a weapon to fend off the rising tide of independence.
Science dies in the darkness. The public cannot have confidence in the science of a committee which operates in secret and which contains such a controversial political figure amongst its members. The British government must remove Cummings from SAGE immediately, and make the minutes of meetings public. It needs to do what Nicola Sturgeon has done, and to treat the public as grown ups. Scientific advice that is formulated in consultation with Dominic Cummings is neither scientific nor advisable.
And finally, because we could all do with some cheering up during these difficult times…
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