Putting a bionic cat among the catatonic pigeons, the much publicised only 17k deaths from covid figure has led to some of the most acrimonious splats Dr No has ever seen on squitter, the social media platform on which participants dump on each other from great heights. Joining the general opprobrium, Tim Harford used the first slot on this week’s More or Less programme on Radio 4 to apply ‘tireless debunkery’ to the claim, with more or less help from a molecular biologist who got her ONS numbers mixed up, claiming (at about 3:12) that the 17k deaths were covid–19 deaths where “no other health condition was mentioned on the death certificate”, which is not true: the actual number of deaths where no other condition was mentioned — that is, deaths where covid–19 was the only cause mentioned — is even smaller, at 6,183. The 17k figure, on the other hand, represents covid–19 deaths with no pre-existing conditions, or as ONS also calls them, deaths from covid-19 with no other underlying causes; but that is not to say there were no other causes mentioned. Other causes may have been present, but they were not deemed by ONS to be pre-existing, or underlying causes.
It’s not often that Dr No’s flabber gets well and truly ghasted. An extraordinary exchange on twitter (scroll down a page or so to get to the start of the substance, and click here to see the above tweet) has revealed what many have long suspected: SAGE purposely cook the books in its modelling reports. Graham Medley, professor of infectious disease modelling at LSHTM, and chief pongo for the time being of SAGE’s modelling group SPI-M, defends the group’s practice of ‘giving the decision makers the information they ask for’. Read that again, and let it sink in. The scientists give the politicians the information they ask for. Being on twitter, the discussion quickly becomes scrambled into incoherent fragments, making it almost, but not entirely, impossible to get to the heart of the matter. The crux, however, is simple enough: is SAGE told, one way or another, what to tell the government — which, in effect, soon becomes here’s the policy, now where’s the evidence — or does it provide, as its name, the Scientific Advisory Group, might suggest, independent and impartial scientific advice?