POLITICS
10/05/2020 11:49 BST | Updated 11/05/2020 08:16 BST

No.10 Coronavirus Press Conferences 'Not Trustworthy', Says Leading Statistician

Professor David Spiegelhalter accuses ministers of "embarrassing" and misleading "number theatre".

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The daily Downing Street coronavirus press conferences led by ministers including Boris Johnson are “not trustworthy” and “completely embarrassing”, a leading statistician has warned.

Professor David Spiegelhalter, who has in the past been invited to take part in meetings of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) which advises government on how to respond to the pandemic, said ministers were not treating the public with “respect”.

Speaking to the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday morning, Spiegelhalter said the UK death total was “far more” than being announced at the briefings.

And he said the figures given on the number of tests being carried out each day were also misleading.

“The public, who are broadly very supportive of the measure, they are hungry for details, for facts, for genuine information yet they get fed what I call number theatre,” he said. “Frankly I found it completely embarrassing.”

“I just wish the data was being brought together and presented by people who really knew its strengths and limitations and could treat the audience with some respect.”

Spiegelhalter, the Winton professor of the public understanding of risk in the statistical laboratory at the University of Cambridge, said the daily televised events were “not trustworthy communication of statistics”.

The press conferences are each day led by a minister including health secretary Matt Hancock, foreign secretary Dominic Raab, and the prime minister.

They are usually joined by two scientists such as chief medical officer Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance.

Spiegelhalter earlier this week rebuked the prime minister for citing an article he wrote for The Guardian to claim it was not possible to yet make international comparisons on how coronavirus has been dealt with.

Spiegelhalter said while it was hard to compare countries on a similar path such as the UK and Itlay, it was perfectly reasonable to compare countries that had fared much differently, such as the UK and Germany. 

Johnson will tell the country on Sunday evening to “stay alert, control the virus and save lives” when he outlines his “road map” to a new normality with a warning system to track the outbreak.