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“without trust we cannot stand” —Confucius

The UK is now entering its seventh week of lockdown, with no immediate signs of respite. At his first briefing since recovering from his illness, Boris Johnson the UK’s prime minister made it clear that the nation should “contain your impatience” as we approach “the end of the first phase of this conflict.” The prime minister spoke of the need to meet five tests before moving to a “second phase”—whatever that may be.

At the daily Coronavirus briefings, the UK government’s advisors have, thus far, confirmed that the vast majority of the public is listening, citing the rapid fall and continued lower level of daily use of transport as a surrogate for public adherence to social distancing.

The high adherence is probably influenced by several factors, including fear of catching or spreading the virus, law abidance and trust that the government is acting in the best interests of the nation. In return, the government has often justified its actions on the basis that they are being “led by the science”—a phrase we have become accustomed to hearing from politicians in recent weeks. And who could argue with this approach? Science, by its very nature, is built on systematic methods, objectivity, transparency, reproducibility, and critical review—all trustworthy characteristics.

However, the “led by the science” rhetoric has not been without criticism. Some of the criticisms include concern over a lack of transparency about who makes up the membership of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), which provides independent scientific and technical advice to support Government decision-making during emergencies. The membership of this group has now been revealed. Others have criticised what they see as narrow views from the membership, with a lack of involvement from broader public health expertise, as well as over-dependence on modelling studies, which may not yet have been subject to critical review and have known limitations. In some cases, “rival” groups of scientific experts are coming together to offer advice on easing the lockdown.

Read full article here:


Kamal R. Mahtani is a practising NHS GP, Associate Professor and Co-Director of the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine, Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences.

Sean Heneghan is a Chartered Organisational Psychologist and Senior Tutor at the University of Oxford.

Both authors lead the University of Oxford Evidence-Based Healthcare Leadership Programme.

Acknowledgements: The authors are grateful to Jeffrey Aronson and Meena Mahtani for helpful comments on an earlier draft.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this commentary represent the views of the authors and not necessarily those of the host institution, the NHS, the NIHR, or the Department of Health and Social Care. The views are not a substitute for professional medical advice.

Competing interests: None declared