News this morning about the government’s ‘illegal’ databases: http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2009/mar/23/dna-database-idcards-children-index and http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7955205.stm. I suspect the story is not quite as exciting as the headlines have suggested. But two things come to mind. One of the examples used to illustrate the problems caused by the misuse of data is that mothers suffering from post natal depression might be reluctant to go to their doctor for fear of the information being passed to social workers. Only a few weeks ago, we were being told, in connection with the Baby P case, that doctors and social workers need to talk to each other more and share data. Which way do we want the government to be pulled next week?
But the second thing is slightly more comical. If you heard the minister being interviewed on the Today programme on Radio 4 this morning, it was almost a classic episode of Yes Minister. I am thinking of the episode, ‘The Greasy Pole’, in which the minister undermines scientific advice by following Sir Humphrey’s checklist. All reports can be criticised on the following lines:
- it leaves important questions unanswered;
- the evidence is inconclusive;
- figures are open to other interpretations;
- certain findings are contradictory; and
- some of the main conclusions have been questionned.
This is almost exactly what was done this morning. And to finish it off, the minister also ‘played the man and not the ball’ – he questionned the author’s ability to speak on legal matters when he has no legal qualifications.
Further proof, if any were needed, that Yes Minister has much to teach us about Whitehall.