Examination of Witnesses (Questions 340
WEDNESDAY 24 OCTOBER 2007
BOURNE CBE, PROFESSOR
Q340 Chairman: Did you just sit there
with a cup of tea?
Professor Bourne: Pretty well.
I listened to his anecdotes about his career movements and visits
to farms at home and in Ireland and about official reports in
Ireland. The one thing I did glean was the importance that he
will attach to your findings.
Q341 Chairman: I am delighted about
that but clearly the rigorous exchange between yourself and current
Ministers is yet to take place.
Professor Bourne: I did have a
letter or an email from the Secretary of State on Monday morning
saying, among other things: "Thank you. David King's report
will be released later today. You will receive a copy and it would
be nice to meet up some time."
Q342 Mr Gray: Can I pick up one point
first of all? You mentioned a moment ago that civil servants in
Defra had instructed you that you were not to release particular
documents to this committee. Could you tell us, please, which
documents they were; secondly, which civil servants gave you that
instruction; and, thirdly, what was the result? I think it is
completely out of order for civil servants to give instructions.
We as a committee of Parliament can ask for any documents. If
a civil servant has indeed done that then they have been acting
in a very curious way and there must be a very strong reason for
wanting to do so. One is very suspicious about what those documents
are. Who was it, what documents were they, and why?
Professor Bourne: I cannot answer
the question as to who specifically it was because of course this
was all handled through the secretary of the group.
Q343 Mr Gray: That is quite an important
point from the point of view of procedure. Perhaps you could kindly
write to the committee and tell us three things. This is a very
important point on which I feel very strongly. We need to know
in detail: first, which documents you were instructed not to give
the committee; second, which civil servants it was who gave that
instruction; and, third, what their reasoning was. Would you kindly
give us that in writing?
Professor Bourne: I can give it
now. Here are the documents.
Q344 Mr Gray: Would you kindly give
that to us in writing, Professor Bourne. These are frightfully
important points. We really need to know in very precise detail
so that we can follow it up. It completely breaches all rules
of this great Parliament of ours to have done so. Perhaps you
could very kindly write to the committee on that point.
Professor Bourne: Could you ask
your Clerk to remind me what you want of the three points that
are being made?
Q345 Chairman: We will put that in
writing. Let us move on to your reaction to Sir David King's report.
I will ask David Drew to open up with more detailed questions,
but I just want to ask you one specific one. You made a lot of
play in your response to the fact that all of your work was peer-reviewed,
some of it in the very best journals. Professor Denis Mollison
has been in touch by email with the committee to reaffirm that
situation. Can I ask you: in terms of the peer review that your
work had, did anybody raise any of the criticisms of a statistical
nature which reflect the comments in Sir David's report when he
queries some of the approaches that you took?
Professor Bourne: No. Can I go
through some of how we got to this position? I have not had the
opportunity of discussing the report with all of the group. We
only saw this on Monday afternoon just before it was released
into the public domain. A couple of the group were away. I have
discussed it with my colleagues here of course and with Sir David
Cox. I think it is fair to say that we anticipated at the outset
that our work would be thoroughly debated. We expected this because
of the emotive issue, the size of the project we were doing and
the political importance of it. We did work to very strict protocols,
all of which have subsequently been published and are in the public
domain. This included the analytical technology and methodology
that we would use. I find it interesting that it is only in the
last few weeks that I have heard that the NFBG for instance at
that time hired statisticians to try to rubbish our statistical
approaches. They were then the National Federation of Badger Groups,
now the Badger Trust. They were unable to find any fault with
the experimental approach that we had adopted. So these were the
sorts of pressures we were under. We anticipated that. We asked
Defra to appoint independent auditors and we are extremely grateful
to them for this. They have been very helpful to us. You mentioned
Denis Mollison, who in fact was a statistical auditor appointed
by Defra. The auditors reported not to us but to Defra. Again,
all those reports are in the public domain. We also endeavoured
to get all our work published as we went along and as the results
came through and as we had permission to release these, in high
quality, peer reviewed journals. That is the only way you are
going to get science out in the public domain without it being
questioned or rubbished. Peer review is absolutely critical. You
are aware that we had major publications in major international
scientific journals. These journals do present the opportunity
for feedbackletters and commentarywhich is subsequently
peer reviewed. No peer-reviewed criticism has appeared in any
of the journals. We have seen of course, as you will have, letters
and commentary in journals which have been non-peer-reviewed.
There is a commentary, you will recall, criticising the reactive
cull that appeared in The Veterinary Record recently. We
did see that commentary in March, so you must draw your own conclusions.
It commented on our paper in Nature but there was no subsequent
publication in Nature of that commentary. Those are the
steps that we have taken. The other point I would make is that
throughout this period all our papers have been considered and
approved by Defra prior to publication.
Q346 Mr Williams: The criticism,
though, that was made of the report was not that the science was
questionable or that it was not secure and un-peer-reviewed but
that the conclusions that were drawn from it and then the recommendations
that a cull would not be financially effective were the basis
of the criticism. Would you reflect on that because while the
science was peer-reviewed, the taking forward of the results and
making the recommendations was the key issue and the one that
did not have exactly the same substance.
Professor Bourne: The point you
make is very critical and pertinent. We wrote a scientific document
and the interpretation was our interpretation of the scientific
data. That is the whole point of it. It was the scientific data
that was interpreted by us and this is the scientific data and
the presentation of that is now being questioned in the King report.
Clearly, we will respond to that. That is the critical point that
you have made. We were interpreting scientific data. We put it
in the report in a way so that if others wished to criticise that
data, as indeed in the publications they are able to do, there
were channels for those criticisms which required scientific peer
review for it to be meaningful. Without scientific peer review,
it becomes gossip.
Q347 Mr Drew: There are particular
issues which I wish to address with you rather than ask you what
your reaction to the King report is, which I imagine is largely
Professor Bourne: That is not
true, if I may say so. We do have a reaction but it is very repeatable.
Q348 Mr Drew: I do not know if you
have the King report in front of you. I would like to look very
quickly at paragraph 24. I will try to paraphrase it and you will
tell me if you think that my paraphrase is a reasonable appraisal.
This pours scorn on your methodology with regard to the proactive
cull and what you were able to deem from that. Basically, it is
alleging that in a sense the four badger removal periods or the
four occasions you removed badgers was the very minimum and if
more removals had been possible, that intimates there could have
been a different set of results. You have always been very robust
with us by saying that although foot and mouth did interfere with
what you were doing, you would stand by the methodology, the statistical
analysis, that you took from that set of results you had from
that methodology. What is your reaction to paragraph 24?
Professor Bourne: There was a
variation in the number of culls that took place across trial
areas which varies from seven to four, but nonetheless there was
a consistency in the results and the data from these culled areas.
Perhaps Christl would like to comment on that.
Q349 Mr Drew: I will try again. Do
you think that is a fair criticism of your results or do you think
that is a very unfair criticism?
Professor Donnelly: There is
certainly a fair point that it would have been very interesting
to see what could have happened with more culls. On the basis
of what data we had available, we have been able to estimate here
and we estimated an 11.2% increase with each removal. In terms
of mathematical modelling, it would be very difficult to go beyond
estimating something like that, an increase with each cull, on
the basis of a mathematical model unless we knew more about the
transmission mechanisms. While it would be possible to construct
mathematical models to extrapolate to further culls they would
have to have information on whether perturbation was happening,
what its impacts were, how the risks related to the number of
badgers per square kilometre and what the immigration was, all
these things would be extremely difficult to know. My guess is
that you could construct mathematical models that could give you
different effects based on parameters that you do not know. They
would be highly sensitive to this. We did not extrapolate beyond
Q350 Mr Drew: Is that from another
group of scientists a perfectly fair criticism in terms of the
methodology you applied or is it unfair in the sense that this
is something that is trying to interpret from opinion rather than
a scientific basis?
Professor Woodroffe: I want to
make two points on this issue. The first is that the statement
that in practice most of the areas had only four removal operations
over five or six years is factually incorrect. The average was
5.1 removals. To say there were four removals is inaccurate. It
is unfortunate that small mistakes like that pervade this document.
I also want to draw attention to the fact that although the whole
report sets great store by extrapolating from these trends a temporal
trend, they also extrapolate from trends in space. As I say, it
is of borderline statistical significance. It is not quite a significant
effect and yet great credence is given to this, whereas there
are other aspects of the studyI am thinking especially
of the ecological evidence providing the mechanism whereby we
are now convinced on the basis of a great wealth of highly consistent
ecological datathat provide a mechanism whereby these sorts
of detrimental effects that we observed did occur. All of that
is dismissed as unconvincing; they do not even cite any of the
peer-reviewed scientific papers that present that body of information.
That is the reason I have brought for the committee copies of
those papers to allow you to see them. It is useful to think about
this particular issue in the context of what I think in this report
is a highly inconsistent standard against which effects are being
judged. This temporal trend is used and interpreted and taken
as a good convincing effect, and yet other aspects of our work,
which in many ways have greater reason to be convincing, have
been dismissed. Personally, I do not think that this is a terribly
fair judgment of our work, but it is a lot less unfair than some
other parts of the report which have dismissed very strong pieces
of science that have been published in internationally acclaimed
Professor Bourne: I think there
is a real difficulty here, David, with this report in that it
was clearly hastily written and because of that it is very superficial;
it is also very selective. What is so important is that you do
not just cherry pick bits of data from the report but that you
look at the totality of the data that we presented as a result
of gathering this over 10 years to draw your conclusions. One
can select bits and pieces of data as they have done here, but
it gives a very superficial sound bite, which is totally inappropriate
to considering the data in its totality. That could be done, of
course. Another group would have to spend an awful lot of time
doing it if they wished to do so but this document brings no new
science to the table. I identified no areas that had not been
considered by us and highlighted in our report or in the various
papers and supplementary evidence that we have provided associated
with those papers.
Chairman: I am going to stop our questioning
of your good self and your colleagues for the time being. I am
conscious that Sir David King has a longstanding engagement, a
lecture, and he cannot keep an audience of thousands waiting.
I do not want to lose a minute of our opportunity to talk to him
about his findings. I hope, John, that you and your colleagues
will stay on because we want to ask you further questions. There
may be things that you would like to put before the committee
in the light of what Sir David has to say. Sir David, I know you
are not yet on the witness stand. I do not know if Professor Woolhouse,
who is with you, is able to remain as well because it would be
good from your side if you heard what was being said. We always
like to be fair and balanced in what we are doing. It would be
helpful if he could remain.