Downing St briefings are not trustworthy and just number theatre – expert
The UK Government’s method of giving out numbers on Covid-19 deaths and testing is “not the trustworthy communication of statistics”, an expert has claimed.
Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter, chairman of the Winton Centre for Risk and Evidence Communication at the University of Cambridge, criticised the Government’s daily briefings. He said that while members of the public were hungry for “genuine information”, they were being fed “number theatre”.
Inaninterviewwiththebbc’s Andrew Marr Show yesterday, Sir David said he wished data was being presented by people who know its “strengths and limitations” and could “treat the audience with respect”. The eminent statistician said it was “extraordinary” that it is not known how many people have had Covid-19.
Asked about the Government’s communication to the public about coronavirus through its daily televised briefings, Sir David said he watched Saturday’s forum, adding: “Frankly, I found it completely embarrassing.
“We get told lots of big numbers, precise numbers of tests being done – 96,878. Well, that’s not how many were done yesterday; it includes tests that were posted out.
“We’re told 31,587 people have died. No, they haven’t, it’s far more than that.
“I think this is actually not the trustworthy communication of statistics.
“It’s such a missed opportunity. The public out there who are broadly very supportive of the measures, they’re hungry for details, for facts, for genuine information, and yet they get fed this what I call ‘number theatre’, which seems to be coordinated really much more by a Number 10 communications team rather than genuinely trying to inform people about what’s going on.
“I just wish the data was being brought together and presented by people who really knew its strengths and limitations and could treat the audience with some respect.”
Sir David also raised concerns about a lack of information on how many people have had the virus.
He told the programme that some say the infection fatality rate – the proportion of people infected with the virus who go on to die – is around 1 per cent.
Putting the number of deaths around 35,000, if this is multiplied up, it would mean around 3.5 million people have been infected. But others put the infection fatality rate at a different percentage, with some saying the infection fatality rate is half of 1 per cent.
Asked by Marr how scared we should be of Covid-19, Sir David said it was “very important that we are aware of what the risks are”.