Scientists to form new group in response to lack of transparency from SAGE

PUBLISHED: 10:30 03 May 2020 | UPDATED: 12:50 03 May 2020

Dr Jenny Harries, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, speaking at a media briefing in Downing Street on coronavirus. Photograph: PA Video.

Dr Jenny Harries, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, speaking at a media briefing in Downing Street on coronavirus. Photograph: PA Video.

PA Wire/PA Images

A former government chief scientific adviser is to form a new group of experts to act as an alternative to the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE).

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Sir David King, who worked under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, intends for the group to look at ways out of the coronavirus lockdown.

The new 12-strong committee of academics is keen to investigate seven key points, including how can successful test and trace be achieved, and what social distancing measures will be needed in the future.

The new committee’s first press conference will be held on Monday at 4pm, ahead of the Downing Street briefings.

The Sunday Times reports the new group would broadcast on YouTube and aim to provide “robust, unbiased advice” to the government.


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Concerns have been raised about a lack of transparency within SAGE, with only a partial membership list of the group, which informs the government’s coronavirus response, to be published.

Last week, the current chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said a partial list of Sage members would be issued “shortly” after the presence of Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s controversial aide, at some of the meetings was revealed.

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Sir David has previously said he would never have allowed political advisers to attend the scientific meetings.

The Guardian reported him as saying: “Dominic Cummings has the ear of the prime minister, so who is informing the prime minister about scientific advice?”

“Is it Cummings or is it the chief scientific adviser? Suddenly you get a confusion.

“There must be a single voice taking the view of the scientific community to the prime minister, that is the most important thing.”

Sir David told the Sunday Times: “I am 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.”

On Cummings’ attendance at the meetings, he said: “Cummings is an adviser to the prime minister and the chief scientific adviser is an adviser to the prime minister.

“So there are two voices from the scientific advisory group and I think that’s very dangerous because only one of the two understands the science.”

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