Presented as an independent voice for “unbiased” scientific advice, iSAGE provided a channel for media spinmeisters, spies and psy-op specialists to influence Britain’s pandemic policy without accountability. Leaked internal emails show members fretting over its unethical methods.
Throughout Britain’s response to the COVID-19 crisis, a lobbying group known as the Independent Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (iSAGE) served as a key driving force behind the government’s most draconian lockdown policies.
While it presented itself as a non-governmental organization composed of forward-thinking health experts, The Grayzone can reveal iSAGE not only maintains an array of ties to the British security state, while relying largely on political, rather than scientific, considerations when crafting policy recommendations.
With Winter ahead in Europe and calls for the reimposition of COVID-19 restrictions growing once again — not least from iSAGE itself — the outfit’s endeavors provide a disturbing look at the role of the security state and mainstream media in corrupting British public health policy.
Nearly three years since the world first heard of COVID-19, societies across the globe are still reeling from prolonged lockdowns and harsh social restrictions, which many governments implemented in order to supposedly “stop the spread” of the virus. Britain is no exception, and while the full long-term impact of such measures remains unknown, some grueling effects are already painfully apparent.
Patients receiving care for cancer, cardiovascular, and respiratory disease were prevented from accessing routine treatment; rates of clinical depression and mobile phone addiction among university students skyrocketed; adults of all ages reported worsening mental health conditions; and the number of Britons seeking help for drug addiction increased by 81% between 2020 and 2021.
Meanwhile, school closures exposed Britain’s youth to food insecurity and increased likelihood of falling victim to domestic abuse, while the rapid digitization of education further widened learning gaps between wealthy and low-income students in the country.
“We were mesmerized by the once-in-a-century scale of the emergency and succeeded only in making a crisis even worse. In short, we panicked,” lamented Professor Mark Woolhouse, an Edinburgh University epidemiologist, in January 2022.
As with many contemporary critics of the British government’s initial “Zero COVID” strategy, Woolhouse argued a targeted response to protect the most vulnerable members of society, such as the elderly, would have done more to curb Britain’s death toll than blanket, nationwide lockdowns.
“This was an epidemic crying out for a precision public health approach and it got the opposite,” he explained.
Behind some of the most socially destructive pandemic policies implemented by the British government was iSAGE, a shady organization founded by a Russia-obsessed Guardian pundit and advised by spies, behavioral psychologists and media influencers without backgrounds in science or medicine.
Founded in May 2020 by David King, former chief scientific adviser to Labour Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, iSAGE initially set out to agitate for greater transparency around state health policy, while providing “robust, unbiased advice” to the public and government. Yet it rapidly transformed into a powerful, wholly unaccountable lobbying group, aggressively pushing for “Zero COVID” measures.
For almost two years, iSAGE members were a fixture in both British and international media. Senior politicians and pundits effusively endorsed the group’s pronouncements on the pandemic, and its weekly YouTube briefings racked up tens of thousands of views. Its representatives used their popular platforms to call for extensive control and suppression measures, including contact tracing, mass testing, border quarantines, lockdowns, and the implementation of mitigation software in order to stop the transmission of COVID-19.
Confusion regarding iSAGE’s name, given its obvious similarity to the British government’s official Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), only increased the group’s prominence. Very quickly after its launch, iSAGE began to not only work in parallel with its government namesake, but supplant it in the public mind.
Despite its enormous influence, iSAGE and its members have largely avoided public scrutiny. Little is known about the forces guiding and shaping its activities, or whether its representatives are advancing an ulterior agenda at odds with their stated commitment to providing “unbiased” scientific advice.
iSAGE pushes lockdowns “without sufficient scientific expertise or scientific evidence to inform it”
It was on iSAGE’s official launch date in May 2020 that its founding objective of securing publication of the identities of SAGE, and its papers, was achieved. Previously, the body’s composition and the evidence underpinning its decisions was entirely hidden from public view, which stoked significant controversy, particularly given its initial heel-dragging over the implementation of protective COVID-19 measures.
Emboldened by this immediate success, former iSAGE member Allyson Pollock claims the group “rapidly moved away” from its initial transparency agenda “to wanting to make policy” itself. Unknown to the public at the time, iSAGE’s transformation from government watchdog project into premier public health policy-making activist group prompted an internal revolt.
“Often, [iSAGE] ended up advocating things when it hadn’t sufficiently thought through the uncertainties in the evidence and the potential for harm,” Pollock, who worked as a clinical professor of public health at Newcastle University, alleges. She cites “prolonged lockdowns, school closures, and mass testing,” as examples of iSAGE’s misguided recommendations.
According to Pollock, the group offered policy advice “sometimes without sufficient scientific expertise or scientific evidence to inform it.” She expressed vehement opposition when the group officially adopted its “Zero COVID” position in July 2020, believing it lacked any basis in science. Two months later, the group declined to renew her membership.
iSAGE’s push for Zero COVID appeared oddly timed, and the group itself acknowledged total eradication of a disease had only ever been achieved once in history, in the case of smallpox. Britain was at that point beginning to reopen after a four-month lockdown, in line with SAGE advice. In theory though, as iSAGE was an entirely separate entity from SAGE, it was free to advocate for whatever mitigation strategies it deemed appropriate.
In practice though, an overlap in the membership of both bodies as well as their virtually identical names blurred lines between the two groups. British government chief scientific advisor Patrick Vallance claims he explicitly warned iSAGE founder David King against using any derivation of “SAGE” for the title of his new group, believing it would puzzle and mislead the public.
Despite apparently pledging to not emulate the name, King did so anyway. The “Independent” prefix was even more problematic, as it clearly implied that SAGE was not a trustworthy, autonomous organization, while iSAGE issued impartial, more credible advice by contrast.
iSAGE gathers influence by fueling confusion
As predicted, the two groups’ duplicate names muddied the waters on public and government messaging around COVID-19, leading to numerous troubling — if not outright dangerous — blunders on the part of journalists, pundits, and elected lawmakers alike.
SAGE member Ian Boyd claims such chaos was intentional. In October 2021, he told The British Medical Journal the two groups’ names “created confusion and was a device used by those organising [iSAGE] to set up unnecessary friction.” In the same article, another academic suggested iSAGE’s title implied the body was “somehow more authoritative than it actually is.”
Public disorientation was compounded by the fact that several members of SAGE also moonlighted as iSAGE experts. Take the example of Susan Michie, a left-wing political activist and self-styled “behavioural change” expert who served with both iSAGE and SAGE, advising the secretive governmental SPI-B council of behavioral psychologists that fear-mongered the public into compliance with official pandemic policy. Media reports on Michie almost universally referred to her simply as a “SAGE scientist,” creating the impression that her comments represented the British government’s official position.
Michie became a symbol of iSAGE’s advocacy for a permanent biomedical security state. During a June 2021 interview, she argued that social distancing and mask mandates should “continue forever.”…