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“Flouting the science!” Sage expert slams Events Research Programme

Professor Steve Reicher, a member of the Sage subcommittee advising on behavioural science, has called the Government’s Events Research Programme “a scandalous misuse of science as a cover for political decisions”.

Writing on Twitter, Professor Reicher said that the research wasn’t designed to draw any conclusions about the effects of events on transmission and mustn’t be used to do so.

He pointed to the low levels of community prevalence during the pilot events, which took place before the recent spike due to the Delta variant and hence can’t tell us about transmission risks under present circumstances.

He also highlighted the very low rates of return of PCR tests of just 15 per cent (one in seven), which he says is likely to be an unrepresentative and atypically compliant sub-sample. In addition, there was no comparison group of matched groups who didn’t go to the event, which would have allowed scientists to assess the effects of attendance.

“These studies were not designed to address effects of mass events on transmission and can’t be used to draw conclusions about it,” he said. “This is a classic case where absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”

He went on to say that the decision on which events would be part of the tests was not made by the scientists, but by the government.

“For them, the research isn’t about making things safer in the future, it is a device to open events that are politically expedient, safe or not, here and now,” he said.

“Whether it is the Euros, or Wimbledon, or Silverstone, the Government want them open and do so by calling them test events. Now, if they believe that the benefits of opening outweigh the risks (and there are benefits both economic and social), fine. Let them be open about it.

“But to pretend this is about science is dishonest, undemocratic (it avoids any public debate) and discredits science and scientists – misusing our good faith. Moreover, by politicising the choice of events it stops any proper comparative research into how to make events safer.

“All in all, the Events Research Programme is a profound act of bad faith by this Government. Following the science? More like flouting the science!”

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