A person who has special skill or knowledge in some particular field. An authority in a given field.
The UK government ordered a national lockdown in response to advice from experts in pandemic modelling. Some politicians are now blaming the experts for providing misleading advice, using flawed models and being guided by one-sided assumptions. However, it is the politicians who are responsible for picking the right expertise, weighing up the options and using their judgement. They are the ones to be held to account for any decisions taken.
The Covid outbreak took Government Ministers by surprise. But for many years politicians have launched waves of initiatives which are ‘evidence-based’ or ‘follow the science’. Is there anything that we can learn from the times immediately BC (Before Covid)?
- Pick your favourite expert
Politicians recognise that ‘evidence-led’ policy is difficult when there is such a range of evidence, that leads us in different directions. For example, some evidence shows that alcohol consumption is relatively stable and low by historical standards. Other evidence indicates that there is an ‘epidemic in binge drinking’. When dealing with contradictory evidence, it is important to ensure that any policy is evidence-led, by carefully selecting experts who will produce the required evidence in support of a proposed policy. For example, Sheffield University have been repeatedly commissioned for their expertise in producing evidence in support of policies to reduce alcohol consumption. The careful selection of experts enables policy-led evidence to be produced in support of evidence-led policies
2. Produce a number
In modern times, experts use computer programmes to produce numbers that inform policy. Computer models can generate a series of forecasts and predictions on demand, by applying the appropriate assumptions. Some programs randomly produce numbers until an appropriately large number is generated. This can then be used to provide the evidence required to justify a radical policy. Although Public Health England may not have developed an effective defence plan against a Coronavirus outbreak, they did manage to commission the number ‘£5 billion’. This was the estimated cost of the ‘obesity epidemic’ that faced the health service. PHE used this number to campaign against calories in food and, thus, protect us against excessive pizza consumption while we are locked down during the Covid pandemic.
3. Introduce variety
In the olden days, health experts focussed on curing and treating diseases. Modern health experts focus on nutrition and lifestyle. Because the relationship between individual lifestyle and health outcomes is complex and contested, public health experts have focussed their efforts. One year, experts campaign against saturated fats. In another year, salt was identified as a major cause of ill-health. Now, it is sugar. Government Ministers have successfully responded to experts at every stage, launching campaigns against fats, carbohydrates and salt. It is feared that experts will identify food itself as a major cause of death.
It is believed that Boris Johnson thinks that his broad girth may be responsible for his recent near-death experience. As a new convert to the cause, it is anticipated that he will launch a zealous campaign against obesity. Experts in the manufacture of statistics will be in hot demand. Jobs in the ‘Report Producing’ sector will be created. Although the economy will be in tatters, significant growth is expected in the nutrition and lifestyle expertise industry.
“We are following the science which shows that experts produce the best evidence when they are commissioned by politicians, to produce it.”