David King says the group aims to provide government with ‘robust, unbiased advice’
Former chief scientific adviser David King has announced an “independent” Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies as the official group faces growing complaints over secrecy.
King—who served as chief scientific adviser to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown between 2000 and 2007 and has been a vocal critic of the government’s handling of the pandemic—told the Sunday Times newspaper that the group aims to provide the government with “robust, unbiased advice” and evidence-based policies to tackle the pandemic.
“Science is a discipline based on peer review, therefore it is critical scientific advice is transparent,” King said. “We are convening this meeting not to criticise the scientists on Sage but to ensure that what we believe is the best science is available and in the public domain.”
However, King insisted that he was “not at all critical of the scientists who are putting advice before the government…but because there is no transparency the government can say they are following scientific advice but we don’t know that they are”.
The group is set to broadcast its first meeting live on YouTube on 4 May, followed by a news conference.
Over the past few weeks, numerous politicians and researchers have criticised the government for refusing to publish documents relating to the advisory group, and for refusing to reveal all the names of the group’s participants.
Concern over the secrecy of Sage’s membership reached a new pitch after the government confirmed that Dominic Cummings, the most senior adviser to prime minister Boris Johnson, had attended meetings. However, Number 10 denied political special advisers were influencing Sage.
A government spokesperson said: “Sage is providing advice to government and it is comprised of pre-eminent experts from across the worlds of academia, with diverse expertise covering everything from vaccinology and epidemiology, to behavioural science and serology.
“The cast list for each meeting rotates depending on the subject being discussed to ensure the right people are present, for the right discussions.
“This is a new virus and the science is emerging, so Sage is happy to receive scientific input from any group, as it already does.”