Katy Balls

Professor Sunetra Gupta interview: There’s not enough diversity of opinion on Sage

Professor Sunetra Gupta interview: There’s not enough diversity of opinion on Sage
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This week, the government has come under criticism from a number of its scientific advisers for easing the lockdown too quickly. Meanwhile, both chief medical officer Chris Whitty and chief scientific officer Patrick Vallance have emphasised the need to move cautiously at this point in the lockdown easing. However, not every scientist takes this view. On the latest Women with Balls podcast, I'm joined by professor Sunetra Gupta to discuss her career – and her assessment of coronavirus. 

The professor of theoretical epidemiology at the University of Oxford is the lead scientist behind the Oxford study, which in March that offered an alternative view to Imperial College's dire coronavirus predictions. It suggested that the virus could have infected as much as half of the UK’s population. She tells me that in her view – and from the data currently available – is that 'it’s definitely nowhere near as lethal as the Imperial College model suggests' and there's a good chance it’s on its way out.

On the lack of diversity of opinion on SAGE, she said:

I don’t think there is enough of a diversity of opinion because they all seem to look for a consensus. Rightfully, when people try and pin the blame on the Imperial model, the reaction that one gets is "Well, it wasn’t just the Imperial model, scientists are agreed that this is what’s going on" and I don’t understand it, I don’t understand how scientists can be agreed in the absence of data, sufficient data, that the Imperial model was the most likely eventuality so no, I don't think there’s enough of a diversity of opinion.

On the argument against lockdown:

The whole reason I entered into all of this is because I felt responsible for those people whose livelihoods and lives were under serious threat from the possibility of economic lockdown both here, both in the developed world and in the developing world, so it caused me a lot – and continues to cause me – a lot of distress that my having this apparently heterodox opinion is seen as irresponsible.

And then of course, very unfortunately, it is an opinion which is held by people who, from a libertarian viewpoint, think it is an infringement of their entitlement to be locked down and I have absolutely no sympathies with that. I think the reason to not enter lockdown is to make the sacrifice of potentially getting infected in order to save the people who are economically vulnerable.

The full episode is available here:

Written byKaty Balls

Katy Balls is The Spectator's deputy political editor. She is also a columnist for the i paper.

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