Western Morning News

‘Expert’ advice may not always be best


SAGE (the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencie­s) is the government’s principal source of advice on the handling of the coronaviru­s pandemic.

You will not be told who serves on the group. Nor will you be entitled to see its advice, the basis of the advice given or the minutes of meetings. In other words, it’s ‘top secret’.

The problem with groups comprising experts, is that, often, they do not agree with one another. In addition, other experts have views which differ. Furthermor­e, the advice the group gives can have profound implicatio­ns for the health and prosperity of every person in the UK.

There is, though, one individual who has confirmed that he is indeed a member of SAGE. His name is Professor Neil Ferguson.

He works in the Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis at Imperial College in London. It was Professor Ferguson’s report which was published in March and which advised Boris Johnson that unless he took stringent measures, the coronaviru­s pandemic could claim the lives of between 250,000 and 500,000 people here in the UK. Almost immediatel­y, the Prime Minister imposed the lockdown, which continues.

Professor Ferguson’s name may not be familiar to readers of the Western Morning News.

But 19 years ago, his name was very familiar indeed. It was Professor Ferguson’s computer models that suggested that the Blair government’s policy of containing the foot and mouth crisis, namely culling animals on farms infected, was insufficie­nt.

He said that it was essential that the culling programme be extended to adjacent farms. Mr Blair accepted the advice and contiguous culling was introduced.

This led to the killing in all of six million sheep, cattle and pigs and cost the economy £10bn, quite apart from the farmers who took their own lives in despair at what they believed to be the unnecessar­y slaughter of their livestock.

Ten years later, a paper was published by two eminent scientists. They argued that Professor Ferguson’s computer modelling was severely flawed and had made a serious error. They said that Professor Ferguson’s models were at best crude estimation­s and at worst, inaccurate representa­tions of the epidemiolo­gy of the foot and mouth disease.

Would someone please explain to me why Professor Ferguson is still advising the government and, worse still, why the government seems intent on accepting his advice, yet again?

Chris Cope Kings Nympton

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