John Lee

John Lee

Dr John Lee is a former professor of pathology and NHS consultant pathologist.

The dangers of a Covid ‘elimination’ policy

It’s understandable that, in a crisis, politicians reach for wartime metaphors – but they don’t always fit. There was the ‘war on terror’. Now we have politicians talking about the need to vanquish Covid-19. This is about more than language. There’s a big difference between a Covid-19 eradication strategy and one that seeks to find

Our immune system is the pandemic’s biggest mystery

What have we been witnessing these past few months? A worldwide crisis caused by the arrival of a new virus of exceptional virulence — or a crisis of awareness, in which incomplete information led to a wildly disproportionate reaction? Have lockdowns, face coverings and the rest saved millions of lives worldwide? Or have they had

The fatal mistakes which led to lockdown

Over the past few weeks, my sense of the surreal has been increasing. At a time when rational interpretation of the Covid data indicates that we should be getting back to normal, we instead see an elaboration of arbitrary responses. These are invariably explained as being ‘guided by science’. In fact, they are doing something

Science, doubt and the ‘second wave’ of Covid

In taking a position on an issue, most of us like to think that we accumulate evidence, consider the pros and cons, and then rationally come to a view that we’ll be willing to change if and when the evidence demands it. But it turns out that this is very much a minority way of

What the Dominic Cummings saga tells us about lockdown

Remember ‘following the science’ on Covid? It feels like a while. That was supposed to be about how we responded to a new virus posing an existential threat to society. But we now seem to have moved on to a purely political phase, focussed on rules written in the early phase of the epidemic (based

Ten reasons to end the lockdown now

Writing in this magazine a month ago, I applauded the government’s stated aim of trying to follow the science in dealing with Covid. Such promises are easier made than kept. Following science means understanding science. It means engaging with rival interpretations of the limited data in order to tease out what is most important in

Covid’s metamorphosis: has lockdown made the virus more deadly?

‘Nothing makes sense in biology, except in the light of evolution,’ the splendidly named biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky wrote in 1973. It’s a good rule of thumb. Despite near-miraculous advances in medical science we remain biological beings, subject to biological laws. None is more central to our understanding of disease than evolution. Yet this theory remains

Do face masks work? A note on the evidence

Should we, or should we not be compelled to wear face masks during a virus epidemic? It sounds a simple enough question. Indeed the answer seems so obvious to many, including the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, that they are questioning why this measure is not already mandatory. Surgeons wear them; they filter the air

Where is the vigorous debate about our response to Covid?

After a career as a scientist and clinical academic, I have been struck by how often they (we!) have very complicated and exceedingly well-reasoned ways of getting things quite wrong. That’s why I have always thought it best for the recommendations of experts to have ‘advisory’ status only. Experts’ roles are to examine the minutiae

How to understand – and report – figures for ‘Covid deaths’

Every day, now, we are seeing figures for ‘Covid deaths’. These numbers are often expressed on graphs showing an exponential rise. But care must be taken when reading (and reporting) these figures. Given the extraordinary response to the emergence of this virus, it’s vital to have a clear-eyed view of its progress and what the

How deadly is the coronavirus? It’s still far from clear

In announcing the most far-reaching restrictions on personal freedom in the history of our nation, Boris Johnson resolutely followed the scientific advice that he had been given. The advisers to the government seem calm and collected, with a solid consensus among them. In the face of a new viral threat, with numbers of cases surging