Monday, May 27, 2024
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Vallance and Whitty, kings of bad science


SINCE the beginning of the Covid outbreak we have been told by our political leaders that they are following ‘the science’, and that the science that they are following is ‘public health’.

It seems a lifetime ago that it was commonplace to take the wisdom of ‘experts’ lightly. In 2016 BC (Before Covid), Michael Gove declared that ‘people in this country have had enough of experts’. Now it seems that we are desperate to hear from them, and they are ubiquitous.   

More than a year into the ‘pandemic’, our known world has been shattered. Great Britain is now a country where people, apart from a few anarchist types, wait to be told when and if they may leave their homes, whether they may embrace their relatives, who they may invite into their own homes, and what they must do with their bodies.

All this disruption and uncertainty has been inflicted by politicians and ‘public health experts’. But what is a public health expert and who gave them such power over our lives? Let us start by better understanding what public healthis: not as easy a task as you might think given its extraordinary political influence and impact.

Public Health is an applied ‘social science’, a discipline which uses sociologyeconomics and political science, and to a lesser extent psychology and anthropology, to ‘make an impact on the daily life of communities, organisations and persons’. So, a lot of ‘ologies’, as Maureen Lipman might have said.

Public Health England (PHE) were responsible for looking after our wellbeing until August 2020, when Matt Hancock, the ‘Health’ Secretary, displeased with their performance, decided that they should form part of a ‘new dynamic’ National Institute for Health Protection, under the leadership of Baroness Diana Mary ‘Dido’ Harding. The ex-CEO of the telecoms group TalkTalk is the calamitous leader of the useless ‘Test and Trace’ which is working its way through a two-year budget of £37billion. Made a Conservative life peer in 2014 by David Cameron, with whom she was at Oxford, she is married to the Conservative MP John Penrose. He is a board member of the 1828 think tank which has called for the NHS to be replaced by a social insurance system – no conflicts there, then.

The most public of our unelected ‘public health’ experts is arguably, Sir Patrick John Thompson Vallance FRS FMedSci FRCP, the government’s Chief Scientific Adviser.

A pharmacologist, Vallance provides ‘independent advice on scientific issues at the highest levels of government and tries to ensure that that policy making is underpinned by science and engineering’. 

Half of the double act of Vallance and Whitty, who deliver regular dismal prognostications on Covid 19, he is ‘a TV celebrity now’. He cuts a debonair figure and is said to be a bon viveur. 

When not on the TV screen, Vallance chairs Sage, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, a group of ‘experts’, many of whom have questionable impartiality, having longstanding funding dependencies on ‘Big Pharma’ and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Vallance studied medicine at St George’s Hospital in Tooting. He taught there until 1992, when he moved to University College London (UCL), to become Head of Medicine.

Having written ‘quite a lot of negative things about the industry not really delivering what it needed to for patients and being too focused on profit’, he shocked his students and colleagues when he quit UCL in 2006 for a job at GlaxoSmithKline, the British pharmaceutical giant and the ‘world’s largest vaccines company by revenue, delivering vaccines  . . . that combine high medical need and strong market potential’. 

Overcoming his moral doubts, Vallance rose quickly to become president of research and development and a member of the board. In 2017, his last full year with GSK, he received pay and bonuses of £4.4million.

He sold most of his GSK shares before joining the government in spring 2018, when he was appointed Chief Scientific Adviser by then Science Minister Jo Johnson, formerly an FT journalist and investment banker at Deutsche Bank. In September 2020 it was discovered that Vallance still held GSK shares worth about £600,000. Downing Street and Matt Hancock insisted that there was no conflict of interest. 

Vallance’s government salary is a mere £185,000, but that, together with the money he made at GSK, has led him to be described as ‘the wealthiest civil servant in the history of Whitehall’. 

Wherever Vallance goes, so too does Professor Christopher Whitty, Ginger Rogers to his Fred Astaire. Whitty is England’s Chief Medical Officer (CMO) and head of the public health profession.

Whitty has several medical degrees and first specialised in infectious diseases and tropical medicine. He was Professor of Public and International Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine when it received a $40million grant to research malaria from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2000. He represents the UK on the Executive Board of the World Health Organisation.

Appointed CMO in October 2019, Whitty certainly knows his way around government, having held multiple previous positions including DFID Chief Scientific Adviser from 2009 to 2015, and Interim Government Chief Scientific Adviser from 2017 to 2018, prior to Vallance. His government salary is higher than Vallance’s, at between £205,000 and £210,000 (2020).

In public, he seems intense and introverted, and is said to be ‘very private’. Nonetheless, perhaps due to the British penchant for eccentricity, Whitty has gone from obscurity to media stardom. Bizarrely, he was voted Person of the Year on a UK gossip site, The Handbook.

Above all others, these two men have shaped our political leaders’ reactions to the Covid virus. Regrettably, despite their obvious talents, they have revealed public health science to be bad science.

Public health delivered by diktat, without direct accountability for its political, economic and social impact, is a grievous wrong. Public health science is to the individual as totalitarianism is to liberty. As a free people we should not be so easily captured by it.

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Kate Dunlop
Kate Dunlop
Kate Dunlop is a mediator.

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