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Role Of SAGE To Be Reviewed

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duncanp

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I know this topic has been mentioned in the Support Conversation, but I thought it would be worth posting a new thread here for the benefit of those who are not included in the Support Conversation.

An article in The Telegraph this morning says that the role of SAGE is to be reviewed after the pandemic, "..over fears scientists hold too much power...".

Well not before time I say.

I have just about had it up to here with "SAGE scientists" pontificating on all the media channels with their scaremongering and lockdown enthusiasm, which takes no account of the mental suffering and economic damage caused by the measures they are advocating.

A more balanced approach to dealing with issues like this in the future is to have a taskforce made of scientists with the appropriate skills, doctors, representatives from the NHS, economists and people from the business community.

The effects of the various measures can be debated from all points of view, and the government should be the arbitrator that makes the final decision and is accountable to parliament and the people for the consequences.

Members of this taskforce should have the same status as civil servants. They should be politically neutral, accept that their job is to advise the government, and be forbidden from speaking to the media.

I have noticed in recent weeks that there have been slightly fewer "SAGE scientists" infesting the media lately. Perhaps they realise that their time in the spotlight is coming to an end.


Panel that set the course for some of the pandemic’s most controversial policies may hold ‘too much sway’ over ministers

The role of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) is likely to be reviewed when the Covid pandemic is over, government sources have said.

A future independent inquiry into the handling of coronavirus is expected to scrutinise Sage and consider whether such a monolithic body should hold so much power. Members of Sage have themselves expressed concern that the group holds too much sway over ministerial thinking and prevents alternative views being given equal weight.

One possibility is that the Government sets up a so-called “red team” structure to challenge and check Sage’s advice and the evidence behind it. Ministers could also demand more say over membership of the largely autonomous body, which changes with almost every meeting depending on who is invited by Sir Patrick Vallance, the Chief Scientific Adviser.

Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, has made it clear during the pandemic that Sage’s role is kept “under review”. Formed under the last Labour government, Sage had, until the Covid crisis, been a largely obscure committee of scientists that was convened a handful of times each year. It was first called into action to advise on the 2009 swine flu pandemic, and went on to advise the Government on the 2014 Ebola outbreak, the 2016 zika virus outbreak and the 2018 Salisbury poisonings.

In 2019, Sage met just once, to discuss the feared collapse of the Toddbrook Reservoir dam in Derbyshire. However, over the course of 2020, it met 74 times.

The first of those meetings took place on Jan 22, a fortnight after reports of a cluster of illnesses in China being identified as a new strain of coronavirus first appeared in the UK press. During Sage’s “precautionary meeting on Wuhan Coronavirus”, the attendees set the course for many government policies that were later criticised.

The minutes of that meeting note that the Sage sub-committee on New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats (Nervtag) “does not advise port of entry screening, irrespective of the current limited understanding of the epidemiology”. Temperature checks on people arriving in the UK and other forms of screening were “unlikely to be of value”, the scientists decided.

The scientists agreed to review their response if there was “a severe confirmed case in the UK”, adding: “Sage is unable to say at this stage whether it might be required to reconvene.”

Six days later, they did reconvene, with Covid spreading at an alarming rate in China, and they continued to meet at least once a week for the rest of the year.

Ministers admit: we ‘bowed to Sage’ too often

Government insiders have admitted that they “bowed to” Sage too often, rather than appointing a so-called “red team” to challenge its advice.

Sage’s official remit is to provide Cabinet Office Briefing Room (Cobra) meetings with “coherent, coordinated advice and to interpret complex or uncertain scientific evidence in non-technical language”.

The Sage representative at Cobra meetings is Sir Patrick Vallance, the Chief Scientific Adviser, who is often accompanied by Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer.

The two men also decide who attends each meeting, inviting experts from different fields depending on the nature of the emergency. Until the Covid crisis, participants’ names were not divulged, but Sage agreed that the exceptional nature of Covid warranted greater transparency.

To date, 87 experts have attended the Sage meetings at various times. They include the two deputy chief medical officers, Jonathan Van-Tam and Jenny Harries; Dido Harding, head of NHS Test and Trace; Neil Ferguson, the Imperial College modelling expert who became known as “professor lockdown” before stepping down for breaking lockdown rules; Sir Ian Diamond, the national statistician, and Dr David Halpern, head of the Cabinet’s Behavioural Insights Team, or “nudge unit”.

Others work in the fields of epidemiology, vaccines, data, tropical medicines and other disciplines.

More than 20 institutions are represented among the membership of Sage, which meets in a conference room at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in central London.

Around 20 government officials attend meetings on an ad hoc basis to report back to ministers on what has been discussed. They have in the past year included Dominic Cummings, the prime minister’s former chief adviser, and representatives from almost every Whitehall department.
 
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21C101

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I know this topic has been mentioned in the Support Conversation, but I thought it would be worth posting a new thread here for the benefit of those who are not included in the Support Conversation.

An article in The Telegraph this morning says that the role of SAGE is to be reviewed after the pandemic, "..over fears scientists hold too much power...".

Well not before time I say.

I have just about had it up to here with "SAGE scientists" pontificating on all the media channels with their scaremongering and lockdown enthusiasm, which takes no account of the mental suffering and economic damage caused by the measures they are advocating.

A more balanced approach to dealing with issues like this in the future is to have a taskforce made of scientists with the appropriate skills, doctors, representatives from the NHS, economists and people from the business community.

The effects of the various measures can be debated from all points of view, and the government should be the arbitrator that makes the final decision and is accountable to parliament and the people for the consequences.

Members of this taskforce should have the same status as civil servants. They should be politically neutral, accept that their job is to advise the government, and be forbidden from speaking to the media.

I have noticed in recent weeks that there have been slightly fewer "SAGE scientists" infesting the media lately. Perhaps they realise that their time in the spotlight is coming to an end.

Thrown under the bus now that the politicians no longer need to hide behind them and events at Clapham are rather belatedly opening their eyes to the nature of the laws they voted to impose?
 

Bantamzen

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I really do hope this review does happen. This is not to say that SAGE experts shouldn't have a seat at the table, but they have been given too much say over policy (though this is really more to do with a weak cabinet). However future decision making needs to be far more balanced, and more accountable because the damage done is huge & hasn't necessarily even helped all that much with the spread. The advisors and experts need to be in the back rooms whilst ministers alone justify their decisions to the public instead of hiding behind "the sceince".
 

Yew

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I really do hope this review does happen. This is not to say that SAGE experts shouldn't have a seat at the table, but they have been given too much say over policy (though this is really more to do with a weak cabinet). However future decision making needs to be far more balanced, and more accountable because the damage done is huge & hasn't necessarily even helped all that much with the spread. The advisors and experts need to be in the back rooms whilst ministers alone justify their decisions to the public instead of hiding behind "the sceince".
Indeed, there does seem to be an over-reliance on clinicians, and the epidemiologists we do have seem to be Neil Fergurson, rather than Sunepta Gupta.
 

PHILIPE

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A problem is that SAGE don't speak as one voice as too many "experts" keep on spouting different opinions.
 

duncanp

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A problem is that SAGE don't speak as one voice as too many "experts" keep on spouting different opinions.

This is part of the problem, and why SAGE needs to be abolished or reformed.

The government needs unbiased scientific advice from appropriately qualified experts, not a load of shouty people pushing their own agenda, who throw their toys out of the pram if they don't get their own way.
 

Hawkwood Junc

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This is part of the problem, and why SAGE needs to be abolished or reformed.

The government needs unbiased scientific advice from appropriately qualified experts, not a load of shouty people pushing their own agenda, who throw their toys out of the pram if they don't get their own way.

That's exactly how I see it. There is always a role for scientific experts, but there needs to be a practical balance between the single issue experts and those from other disciplines.

There also needs to be clear, concise rules as to how members of SAGE can communicate at times like these. Not incessant leaking to journalists etc. Same applies to politicians.
 

brad465

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Thrown under the bus now that the politicians no longer need to hide behind them and events at Clapham are rather belatedly opening their eyes to the nature of the laws they voted to impose?
I like many here agree with the need for a review of their over influence, but if this is being realised now it has to be asked why the Government isn't just accelerating the reopening now (unless they plan to announce they will do that in the coming weeks)? Apparently SAGE had convinced them to go slower than was the Government's original intention as well.

I should add I do think SAGE having too much influence is only half the story, other being the Government is too weak to take a balanced view and resist some of the more extreme things they propose, as well as failing to resist scaremongering in the media.
 
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duncanp

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I like many here agree with the need for a review of their over influence, but if this is being realised now it has to be asked why the Government isn't just accelerating the reopening now (unless they plan to announce they will do that in the coming weeks)? Apparently SAGE had convinced them to go slower than was the Government's original intention as well.

I think the government are waiting for data on the effect of reopening schools, and also for vaccination of priority groups 1 - 9 to finish, which could be as early as the end of March, one month ahead of the original target date of 30th April.

Then they will have sufficient information to be able to tell SAGE, Whitty and Vallance to go and Foxtrot Oscar.

If they can have indoor hospitality open, or at least have a confirmed date for the opening of indoor hospitality, before the elections on 6th May, it could prove to the government's electoral advantage
 

WelshBluebird

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I really do hope this review does happen. This is not to say that SAGE experts shouldn't have a seat at the table, but they have been given too much say over policy (though this is really more to do with a weak cabinet). However future decision making needs to be far more balanced, and more accountable because the damage done is huge & hasn't necessarily even helped all that much with the spread. The advisors and experts need to be in the back rooms whilst ministers alone justify their decisions to the public instead of hiding behind "the sceince".

But given the things you are saying needs to happen only didn't because of the government in the first place, why on earth is there going to be a review of SAGE? Surely it should be a review of the government and how they made decisions? Nothing really to do with SAGE at all. And actually it doesn't even need a review. It just needs the government to actually make the difficult decisions.

hrown under the bus now that the politicians no longer need to hide behind them

That is what it feels like to me
 

Bantamzen

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But given the things you are saying needs to happen only didn't because of the government in the first place, why on earth is there going to be a review of SAGE? Surely it should be a review of the government and how they made decisions? Nothing really to do with SAGE at all. And actually it doesn't even need a review. It just needs the government to actually make the difficult decisions.
Perhaps SAGE's modelling, or advice has come under question? And frankly, if you are part of a major decision making team, especially where your advice is at the fore of decision making, why shouldn't they come under scrutiny?
 

Dent

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But given the things you are saying needs to happen only didn't because of the government in the first place, why on earth is there going to be a review of SAGE? Surely it should be a review of the government and how they made decisions? Nothing really to do with SAGE at all. And actually it doesn't even need a review. It just needs the government to actually make the difficult decisions.

It doesn't say a review of SAGE, it says a review of the role of SAGE. That is exactly what needs to be reviewed - their role should have been as advisers whose advise is balanced against other considerations, but their role has actually been as policy makers whose policies are blindly followed with no consideration of anything else.
 

John Luxton

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It doesn't say a review of SAGE, it says a review of the role of SAGE. That is exactly what needs to be reviewed - their role should have been as advisers whose advise is balanced against other considerations, but their role has actually been as policy makers whose policies are blindly followed with no consideration of anything else.

Well said. To be honest I feel as though during the past year there has not been any challenge to the limited view of a few so called experts. There have been other scientists and lawyers UK and overseas who have had different opinions. As they are not part of SAGE they have been ignored by virtually all the media, actively censored by social media, and in the case of one UK consultant actually suspended by the GMC for expressing his views on Covid on YouTube last May.

I expect open debate on any issues facing this country. There was plenty of debate on Brexit - and people could see both sides of the argument.

Unfortunately Covid has been used as an excuse / experiment to see if a government can behave like tin-pot dictators. Sadly around 80% of the population through fear, propaganda etc have come to trust the state narrative which has been foisted on us by MPs who cannot think differently with the exception of a few members of the conservative party and Democratic Unionists. Not even Labour live up to their description and act as an opposition.

I feel we are being ruled by an unelected cabal of scientists who are pulling government strings. If I can see this why can't so many others?

John
 

Spamcan81

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Given that the Johnson wasn't/isn't bound by the recommendations of SAGE, why blame SAGE if you disagree with how the Tories have handled Covid? They have been free to ignore the advice from the outset.
 

John Luxton

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Given that the Johnson wasn't/isn't bound by the recommendations of SAGE, why blame SAGE if you disagree with how the Tories have handled Covid? They have been free to ignore the advice from the outset.
True but he and along with virtually all of the party except a notable few have all gone along as well. Trouble is he is a populist I wonder if Mrs T would have done things differently? Anyone one thing is for sure the conservatives have lost my vote. I will be looking to Reform or Reclaim in the local elections as both appear much less in favour of all the restriction rubbish.
 

Dent

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Given that the Johnson wasn't/isn't bound by the recommendations of SAGE, why blame SAGE if you disagree with how the Tories have handled Covid? They have been free to ignore the advice from the outset.

Who is blaming SAGE for anything? The point is that the role of SAGE needs to be reviewed as they have been allowed to become de-facto policy makers when they are supposed to be advisers.
 

Bantamzen

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Who is blaming SAGE for anything? The point is that the role of SAGE needs to be reviewed as they have been allowed to become de-facto policy makers when they are supposed to be advisers.
Indeed, at the end of the day SAGE should be under no illusion that if they have been a driver in decision making, and they must have known that they were, then they also have to be prepared to have their roles & advice scrutinised. Its the same for the rest of the public sector, so its should be so for SAGE. If they don't like it, they would be perfectly welcome to seek other roles.
 

Horizon22

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Who is blaming SAGE for anything? The point is that the role of SAGE needs to be reviewed as they have been allowed to become de-facto policy makers when they are supposed to be advisers.

Yes this is fair, SAGE are meant to advise. It is a failure of the system or the politicians involved to then hide behind that advice / blame the scientists. Ultimately it is presented and the politicans can decide to disregard it. Obviously it won't work exactly like that but there's a balance to be had. I think this government have said they've "listened to the scientists" when people claim they are making unpopular decisions, but "have decided" to make ones they know will play out well in the media. Can't have it both ways.
 

Yew

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It does seem peculiar that we're taking the advice of clinicians on epidemiology, whilst Prof Gupta, professor of Epidemiology at the University of Oxford, is sitting around twiddling her thumbs.

Regardless of what you think of an individual approach, a balanced cross section of the epidemiological community seems likely to provide a better overall decision than a small number of epidemiologists and clinicians with vested interests.
 

packermac

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Science is not exact. The whole current vaccine thing proves that. You have a group of scientists you will have various opinions.
They may want to make changes to SAGE or rebrand it, but if we had another pandemic you would still get the same issue. Differing opinions from government advisors and other scientists holding differing opinions spouting their views as well (a la Gupta).
 

Dent

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It does seem peculiar that we're taking the advice of clinicians on epidemiology, whilst Prof Gupta, professor of Epidemiology at the University of Oxford, is sitting around twiddling her thumbs.

Regardless of what you think of an individual approach, a balanced cross section of the epidemiological community seems likely to provide a better overall decision than a small number of epidemiologists and clinicians with vested interests.

It really shouldn't just be the epidemiological community, they also need to consider economics, mental health, human rights and other issues.
 

scotrail158713

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Science is not exact. The whole current vaccine thing proves that. You have a group of scientists you will have various opinions.
They may want to make changes to SAGE or rebrand it, but if we had another pandemic you would still get the same issue. Differing opinions from government advisors and other scientists holding differing opinions spouting their views as well (a la Gupta).
Spot on. Right from the start of this I’ve never agreed with “following the science”. Science is subjective - there is no, one definitive view as to what is correct.
 

DB

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Yes this is fair, SAGE are meant to advise. It is a failure of the system or the politicians involved to then hide behind that advice / blame the scientists. Ultimately it is presented and the politicans can decide to disregard it. Obviously it won't work exactly like that but there's a balance to be had. I think this government have said they've "listened to the scientists" when people claim they are making unpopular decisions, but "have decided" to make ones they know will play out well in the media. Can't have it both ways.

It also needs to be noticed that SAGE have on occasions gone and stirred things up with the media to try to put pressure on the government - this is absolutely not acceptable and they should be banned from talking directly to the media. While a lot of the issue is undoubtedly a weak government who have been poor at balancing the competing issues, it's also true that SAGE are far from blameless in this situation.
 

duncanp

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It also needs to be noticed that SAGE have on occasions gone and stirred things up with the media to try to put pressure on the government - this is absolutely not acceptable and they should be banned from talking directly to the media. While a lot of the issue is undoubtedly a weak government who have been poor at balancing the competing issues, it's also true that SAGE are far from blameless in this situation.

It doesn't help the reputation of SAGE either when people like Professor Pantsdown go and break the very lockdown rules that they are pushing for other people to follow.

Professor Pantsdown resigned from his position as a government scientific adviser, but was still listed as a member of SAGE last time I looked.
 

Eyersey468

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It doesn't say a review of SAGE, it says a review of the role of SAGE. That is exactly what needs to be reviewed - their role should have been as advisers whose advise is balanced against other considerations, but their role has actually been as policy makers whose policies are blindly followed with no consideration of anything else.
Well said

It doesn't help the reputation of SAGE either when people like Professor Pantsdown go and break the very lockdown rules that they are pushing for other people to follow.

Professor Pantsdown resigned from his position as a government scientific adviser, but was still listed as a member of SAGE last time I looked.
I agree with this as well, both the government ministers and SAGE should have led by example and instead broke whichever lockdown rule they wanted.
 

John Luxton

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It does seem peculiar that we're taking the advice of clinicians on epidemiology, whilst Prof Gupta, professor of Epidemiology at the University of Oxford, is sitting around twiddling her thumbs.

Regardless of what you think of an individual approach, a balanced cross section of the epidemiological community seems likely to provide a better overall decision than a small number of epidemiologists and clinicians with vested interests.
What about Dr Iqbal Adil? An NHS consultant and whistle blower who posted to YouTube and was then suspended by the GMC for not towing the line? He was also to be seen taking part in some of the London protests. Then there is Dr Mike Yeaden - former head of respiratory medicine at Pfizer - again effectively silenced. Latest person to speak out appears to be Dr Geert Vanden Bosche who has written on the vaccine in the past few days. https://www.deblauwetijger.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/Geert-vanden-Bossche-2.pdf

What I find VERY worrying is there has never been an open debate on Covid. We are made to accept the government's decisions based on SAGE. It should be a mix of SAGE, the general scientific community, the legal community and then general public.

All solutions should be advice only and not dictatorial and all we have seen is the majority of the government and opposition parties (with a few notable exceptions) behaving like the soviet communist party and supressing dissent and people who will not obey the rules, as I won't being treated as dissidents.

Just not acceptable. I will be 62 this year and never in my lifetime have I ever come across such a divisive issue as the approach to Covod.
 

43096

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It doesn't say a review of SAGE, it says a review of the role of SAGE. That is exactly what needs to be reviewed - their role should have been as advisers whose advise is balanced against other considerations, but their role has actually been as policy makers whose policies are blindly followed with no consideration of anything else.
The change to SAGE also needs to ban SAGE members from talking to the media. Many of them have used their presence on SAGE as a way of getting airtime in the media and presumably as a result making some money out of the pandemic. That of course means that they have a financial benefit in prolonging lockdowns as long as possible, which will likely cloud their judgement.
 

Eyersey468

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What about Dr Iqbal Adil? An NHS consultant and whistle blower who posted to YouTube and was then suspended by the GMC for not towing the line? He was also to be seen taking part in some of the London protests. Then there is Dr Mike Yeaden - former head of respiratory medicine at Pfizer - again effectively silenced. Latest person to speak out appears to be Dr Geert Vanden Bosche who has written on the vaccine in the past few days. https://www.deblauwetijger.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/Geert-vanden-Bossche-2.pdf

What I find VERY worrying is there has never been an open debate on Covid. We are made to accept the government's decisions based on SAGE. It should be a mix of SAGE, the general scientific community, the legal community and then general public.

All solutions should be advice only and not dictatorial and all we have seen is the majority of the government and opposition parties (with a few notable exceptions) behaving like the soviet communist party and supressing dissent and people who will not obey the rules, as I won't being treated as dissidents.

Just not acceptable. I will be 62 this year and never in my lifetime have I ever come across such a divisive issue as the approach to Covod.
The lack of an open debate on Covid concerns me too.
 

yorksrob

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I do wonder whether by having an entity called SAGE, you're setting up an organisation which can develop a collective viewpoint that carries a considerable amount of weight with the public. The effect of this may be to create a very visible, immovable force of opinion - almost a competing cabinet, which makes it difficult for the Government to juggle the competing viewpoints and positions of expertise that it needs to.

Obviously the Government still needs to call on that expertise, however I wonder whether this wouldn't be better done using smaller, more ad-hoc groups of experts assembled as and when the need arises.
 
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