The Scotsman

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”.

 ??  ?? 0 Sir David Spiegelhal­ter: ‘A lack of informatio­n’
0 Sir David Spiegelhal­ter: ‘A lack of informatio­n’

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