Professor Carl Heneghan and Dr Tom Jefferson from the Oxford Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine have penned a searing piece in the Telegraph excoriating the Government’s abysmal failures in presenting clear, honest, reliable data to justify its decisions.
The data failures in this pandemic have been considerable: continually they have overestimated the numbers going to die, mis-categorised COVID-19 deaths, exaggerated the impact on hospitals, and missed some 16,000 cases because of an Excel blunder.
Perhaps even worse, these failings do not come to light because of Government transparency – but rather when painstaking analysis, eagle eyes, and sometimes even the simplest of questions are enough to expose major faults.
Tellingly, the errors and misrepresentations only ever skew in one direction.
This week has seen death estimates invalidated; statements on case numbers from the chief medical officer to the Science Technology committee requiring “clarification to avoid any misinterpretation”; and significant errors in medium term projections that seemingly do not affect interpretations.
To understand and interpret the current Covid-19 data is proving nigh on impossible. The publication and presentation of data is confusing, and at times it is unsound.
The methods and data underlying the models used to generate “scenarios based on assumptions” are inscrutable and decisions taken on their basis are unaccountable. While the fog of a pandemic – with events taking place in real time – can justify or at least excuse some of these mistakes, nothing can justify the lack of transparency and humility.
Former Prime Minister Theresa May stated this week that: “For many people, it looks as if the figures are chosen to support the policy rather than the policy being based on the figures.”
The growing number of errors seem to occur in only one direction (the worst case scenario) which underpins the point.
Worth reading in full.
Stop Press: The UK Statistics Authority, the OSR, has given the Government a firm wrist slap.
In the context of the pandemic there are three things which governments should consistently do to support transparency:
– where data are used publicly, the sources of these data or the data themselves should be published alongside any press briefing and associated slides to allow people to understand their strengths and limitations
– where models are referred to publicly, particularly to inform significant policy decisions, the model outputs, methodologies and key assumptions should be published at the same time
– where key decisions are justified by reference to statistics or management information, the underlying data should be made available
When data and associated information are made available it should be done in an orderly way, and in a way that is equally accessible to all.
It is clear that those working on the pandemic face significant pressures. But full transparency is vital to public understanding and public confidence in statistics and those who use them.
Stop Press 2: The Government has been forced to reissue key charts used to justify the second lockdown after admitting projected fatalities were overstated. The Telegraph has the details.
Official projections which pushed the country into a second lockdown have been quietly revised to no longer suggest deaths could soon overtake those at the peak of the first wave, The Telegraph has learned.
Graphs presented at a televised Downing Street press conference on Saturday suggested that the UK would see up to 1,500 Covid deaths a day by early December, far beyond the numbers seen in the first wave.
But documents released by Government show that the figures were far too high and have been “amended after an error was found”. The forecast has been revised, reducing the upper end of the scale to around 1,000 deaths a day by December 8th – on a par with the peak of the pandemic in April.