Covid-19: Benefits of restrictions are 'questionable' says GP
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Members of the scientific community have called out the broadcaster for going to Professor Susan Michie, a behavioural scientist and reportedly longstanding member of the Communist Party. Another professor said: “The BBC knows perfectly well what angle she is likely to take and should balance it out far more.”
Professor Michie is a member of the Government’s behavioural advisory group SPI-B, which is part of SAGE.
She also participates in Independent SAGE, which was established by other scientists to offer different views to that of SAGE.
In the interview, following a Downing Street press conference on Saturday, Professor Michie attacked the Government for not making masks mandatory in all public buildings and not reintroducing social distancing.
Scientists accused the BBC of lacking objectivity, questioning why a behavioural scientist was interviewed on an issue concerning microbiology.
Raghib Ali, senior clinical research associate at the University of Cambridge, told the Times: “I think it would have been helpful to say to the viewers there may have been a conflict of interest.
“I also think scientists’ track record should be taken into account.
“For example, Professor Michie’s organisation Independent SAGE has repeatedly made inaccurate forecasts overestimating infections since July.”
In July, Sir David King, chair of Independent SAGE, claimed that 27,000 people would die in the nine months to April next year – a claim which was widely reported.
Full Fact found that this figure “does not seem to be a realistic estimate” of what might happen.
Meanwhile, Professor Simon Clarke, associate professor in cellular microbiology at Reading University, said: “I see nothing wrong with Professor Michie being given air time, but it should be in a more balanced way.
“But that’s not her responsibility to ensure, it’s the BBC’s.
“The BBC knows perfectly well what angle she is likely to take and should balance it out far more.
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“I’m actually more concerned about a specialist in behavioural science, which is very important, regularly being asked views on matters microbiological.
“It would be entirely inappropriate for me to comment on behavioural matters and I try not to despite having been cornered occasionally.”
He added: “I have to say that I don’t think the BBC are the only news outlet that go to Independent Sage members routinely because they know they’ll get a knee-jerk antagonistic quote.
“I don’t think someone’s politics should preclude them from commentary on the pandemic.
“I do however think the BBC needs far more balance.”
A BBC News spokesperson said: “Professor Michie is a member of the government’s SAGE advisory group.
“BBC News included a range of contributors with different views on the announcements across the day.”
Professor Michie was contacted for comment.
According to the Telegraph, in April Professor Richie co-authored an article which called for further restrictions within the UK and “maximum suppression” of the virus globally.
Her views were described as “nonsense” by geneticist Antony Brooks, a Leicester University professor who called for an end to lockdown.
He said that “if we continue with such stringent lockdown and suppression measures, the really nasty mutations” of Covid-19 “will be selected over regular strains.”
Professor Brooks added: “Instead of keeping us safe, her plan could help these strains to emerge and spread into dominance.”
At the time, Professor Michie said she did not support lockdowns “unless absolutely necessary”, but said that the aim of maximum suppression was “to get Covid-19 down to a low enough level that local outbreaks can be dealt with”.
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