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Advice to government in the coronavirus crisis: how to balance scientific and economic evidence

How should science advice be combined with other kinds of evidence and presented to ministers?

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The announcement of a second England lockdown came following repeated warnings from the UK government’s scientific advisers about the spread of coronavirus. Throughout the Covid-19 crisis, scientific advice to the government has been highly visible, with Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, repeatedly sharing a platform with Boris Johnson. Members of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) continue to feature prominently across broadcast outlets and in coverage of the government’s handling of the crisis.

Other forms of advice, including economic advice from the Treasury, have been far less transparent, often creating the impression that SAGE is the government’s main and most influential advisory body. And yet economic arguments have also featured prominently in the debate about whether and when to lockdown again.

How should science advice be combined with other kinds of evidence and presented to ministers? Does there need to be more transparency about the type of advice government is receiving and how it is using it? Does the prominence of SAGE undermine public understanding of other forms of evidence?

To discuss these questions, the IfG was delighted to welcome:

  • Professor John Edmunds, Professor of Infectious Disease Modelling at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and participant in SAGE
  • Professor Susan Michie, Professor of Health Psychology at UCL and participant in SAGE and Independent SAGE
  • Lord Macpherson of Earl’s Court, former Treasury Permanent Secretary (2005–16)
  • Nancy Hey, Executive Director of What Works Wellbeing

This event was chaired by Dr Catherine Haddon, Senior Fellow at the Institute for Government.



Johnson government
Public figures
Matt Hancock
Institute for Government

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