No 10 accused of dismissing behavior experts on the latest Covid measures | Health policy


Senior science advisers have publicly accused the government of sidelining behavioral experts and not wanting to listen to the “uncomfortable truths” about passports and vaccine masks during the pandemic.

Scientists told the Guardian that their contribution to the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) was apparently no longer in demand due to the expansion of internal expertise.

They also cautioned against the lack of independent advice at a time when the spread of the virus depends largely on individual behavior and social norms rather than laws.

The intervention comes as ministers come under fire for mixed public health messages on face covers – including the new maskless cabinet meeting in a packed house on Friday – and a U-turn on vaccine passports in England, while Scotland and Wales are moving forward.

Professor Robert West, a behavior specialist at University College London who participates in Sage’s behavioral sciences subgroup, SPI-B, said that although the committee had not been formally removed from office, it had the “strong impression that it was no longer functioning”. “The feeling I have is that there is just no interest in the evidence or the science on the behavioral side,” he said.

Professor Stephen Reicher, also an SPI-B participant and a psychologist at the University of St Andrews, said: “I very much welcome the expansion of in-house behavioral science counseling, but… you want people who can say uncomfortable truths and it’s very difficult to do that when your job depends on it.

Reicher said expert input appeared to have been phased out at a critical time, when the trajectory of hospitalizations and deaths largely depends on individual behaviors.

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