Former chief scientist David King says the government seems to be listening to secrecy concerns
The chair of an unofficial advisory group set up to rival the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies says his group is making the government more open.
Former chief scientific adviser David King launched Independent Sage earlier this month as the official Sage faced growing complaints over secrecy.
King’s group held its first meeting in public on 4 May, during which a dozen researchers dialled in via Zoom with others contributing via Twitter.
On the same day, the official government Sage group revealed the names of most of its members, and the next day it published a second tranche of papers it has been using, after the first set of its ‘inputs’ was published on 20 March.
Later, when the rival group held its second meeting on 22 May, during which it warned that it was “too soon” to open schools in the UK, the government published 12 papers looking at the effect of coronavirus on children and how schools could safely reopen.
According to King, this is no coincidence.
“I think we are seeing signs that government is listening,” he told Research Professional News. “We’ve had some effect in that we are pushing the people who run Sage to understand that it is really important to put information into the public domain.”
While he welcomed the government’s increased openness about the scientific advice it receives, King said he was concerned about the “mixed messages” being given to the general public.
“What we [Independent Sage] are all afraid of is that the pressure to lift the lockdown is now so severe from many different directions—firstly from a group of Conservative Party members who would like to see us come out of lockdown almost immediately, and also from the public who are feeling that they are getting mixed messages.”
He described the current three-part slogan “stay alert, control the virus, save lives” as “unclear”.
“What do they mean? We are not clear what actions they mean,” said King. “If it is left to people’s instincts to decide what is good then maybe crowds will flock to beaches. The behaviour that follows could well mean that we are stimulating a second peak.”