Thursday, December 14, 2023

Vallance vs Vallance vs SAGE: Edmunds’ view

I’ve mainly focussed on Vallance, partly because he was the Govt’s Chief Scientific Advisor and also co-Chair of SAGE (along with Whitty) but also because he’s had the most to say, and been the most clearly wrong in what he did say. But it’s also interesting to compare and contrast with other prominent members of SAGE. Prof John Edmunds is one such, I probably don’t need to show his horrendous TV interview of the 13th of March again but will do so anyway. It’s so endearing to see him sneering at Tomas Pueyo after the latter informs him correctly that the doubling time of the pandemic is about 3 days and a catastrophe is unfolding under out noses. No, he replies, you just don’t understand the data, the doubling time is really 5 days, and we mustn’t act too soon (go to 23:15 in the video):

In his recent testimony to the Inquiry, Edmunds says:

the surveillance system was poor, with the data being delayed and hard to interpret – so much so, that estimating the growth rate of the epidemic was difficult (estimates of the doubling time varied from about 3 days to about 5-7 days, depending on what method and data sources were used) and getting an accurate assessment of the overall size of the epidemic was also difficult. The delays and under-reporting (partly due to a lack of testing) might well have led decision-makers to conclude that they had more time to act than was the case.

It would have been more honest of him to say that his interpretation of the data was poor (along with the rest of SAGE) and this lead decision makers to believe they had more time to act. Furthermore, including the estimate of 3 day doubling in that comment above is particularly misleading, as SAGE was not acknowledging the legitimacy of such estimates at the time. Indeed he ridiculed the number when Pueyo suggested in on the evening of 13th March. But this post isn’t really about SAGE’s competence, it is just about establishing what SAGE actually did say at the time.

Edmunds then goes on to say:

Surveillance started to improve after the CHESS (‘COVID-19 Hospitalisation in England Surveillance System’) system was launched in hospitals on around 14-15th March, but it took a little while for the new data-stream to stabilise.

Here we see clear blue water between his testimony and that of Vallance. Remember, Vallance talks of SAGE members having a Road to Damascus conversion over the weekend of 14-15 March due to this new data becoming available. Edmunds does not repeat that claim, presumably because he knows it to be false. Perhaps he does not, however, contradict Vallance quite clearly enough for this contradiction to be obvious to a casual reader – or even those undertaking the Inquiry. He then rapidly passes on to the responsibility decision-makers had for deciding what to do. He admits that “It is certainly possible that had SAGE been earlier, clearer and more urgent in its advice then lockdown could have been introduced earlier.” “Earlier, clearer and more urgent” indeed. He could have added “correct“. But he didn’t.

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