Boris Johnson, the former British prime minister, faced criticism from his chief scientific advisor for his lack of understanding of science during the coronavirus pandemic. Patrick Vallance, who testified at the country’s public inquiry into the COVID-19 pandemic, revealed that Johnson struggled to comprehend scientific concepts and required repeated explanations.
Vallance shared excerpts from his diary with the inquiry, highlighting Johnson’s difficulties with graphs and data. He described the prime minister as being “bamboozled” by the information and expressed his frustration at watching Johnson attempt to grasp statistical concepts.
However, Vallance emphasized that Johnson’s struggles were not unique, as many leaders across Europe had similar difficulties in understanding scientific evidence and advice, particularly in the early stages of the pandemic in 2020. He recalled a meeting with advisers from different European countries, where one leader’s challenges with exponential curves sparked laughter among the participants.
Despite the criticism, Vallance acknowledged that it was not necessarily a unique inability for leaders to comprehend these concepts. He stated that ensuring Johnson’s understanding of graphs and data was sometimes a challenging task.
The United Kingdom has one of the highest COVID-19 death tolls in Europe, with over 232,000 people recorded as having died from the virus. Boris Johnson, who resigned as prime minister in September 2022 following revelations of rule-breaking parties at his residence during the pandemic, is expected to address the inquiry before Christmas.
The public inquiry, led by retired Judge Heather Hallett, is anticipated to take three years to complete. Johnson agreed to hold the inquiry in late 2021 after facing immense pressure from bereaved families, who have criticized his actions during the pandemic.