World-renowned physicist Stephen Hawking is criticizing the conservative British government for what he described as the selective use of scientific studies to support several changes in the National Health Service (NHS).

Hawking wrote a piece in the Guardian newspaper on Saturday, in which he called out the government’s health secretary Jeremy Hunt for “cherry-picking” scientific evidence to justify changes in the NHS.

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The British cosmologist, who was diagnosed with motor neuron disease in 1962, addressed the measures taken by the current administration, which has resulted in dozens of doctors resigning from their jobs. Hunt took Twitter to say that Hawking was wrong to make such allegations.

Stephen Hawking denounces Conservative govt. cherry-picked scientific evidence

Hawking argues changes in the NHS could end up being harmful to people in the country. In fact, he even noted that if not for the NHS he “would not be here today.”

“For a scientist, cherry-picking evidence is unacceptable,” wrote Hawking in an opinion piece in The Guardian on Friday. “When public figures abuse scientific argument, citing some studies but suppressing others to justify policies they want to implement for other reasons, it debases scientific culture.”

The physicist referred to some measures that have affected the NHS, including Hunt’s decision to create a “seven-day NHS” as a justification for reforming junior doctors’ contracts – which led to dozens of doctors resigning, the highest walk out in NHS history.

Hunt made that call citing research that claims over 11,000 patients a year died because of understaffing of hospitals at weekends. However, Hawking said that Hunt just took pieces of that paper to justify the new measures. Plus, the physicist criticized multinational corporations, “driven by their profit motive,” which are looking to have a greater presence in the country. To illustrate that point, he compared multinational companies to those in the United States, which earn millions of dollars from the healthcare system.

“In the U.S., where they are dominant in the healthcare system, these corporations make enormous profits, healthcare is not universal, and it is hugely more expensive for the outcomes patients receive than in the UK,” wrote Hawking. “We see the balance of power in the UK is with private healthcare companies, and the direction of change is towards a U.S.-style insurance system.”

British health secretary says Hawking is ‘wrong.’

After the release of Hawking’s opinion piece, Hunt took Twitter to respond to the physicist.

“Stephen Hawking is brilliant physicist but wrong on lack of evidence 4 [sic] weekend effect,” tweeted Britain’s Health Secretary.

Hunt also noted that Fremantle study –the research he relied on for making the seven-day NHS—was the most comprehensive ever, and that “whatever entrenched opposition,” no responsible health secretary could ignore the results if they want the NHS to be the safest health service in the world as he does.

Jeremy Hunt, who has been accused of lying about stroke death rates recorded by the NHS. Source: Huffington Post
Jeremy Hunt, who has been accused of lying about stroke death rates recorded by the NHS. Source: Huffington Post

The exchange between Hunt and Hawking was widely covered in the media, and the health secretary received heavy criticism. Hawking, who is a supporter of the opposition’s Labour Party, was praised for his remarks. Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party’s leader, said Hawking was a brilliant scientist, with a brilliant mind, and a brilliant thought process which should be listened to.

Justin Madders from the Labour Party, said that it didn’t take a genius to work out the “Tories are wrecking the NHS,” and noted that while Professor Hawking has given us answers to many of the universe’s questions, even he can’t work out why Hunt is still in his job.

Hunt calls Hawking’s remarks ‘pernicious falsehood.’

The NHS was founded in 1948, and since then it has allowed millions of British citizens to access free care from birth until death. However, in recent years the system has suffered due to tight budgets, an aging population, and more expensive treatments, which have put the NHS under financial strain. Hawking noted the NHS is a “cornerstone of our society” but that it was in crisis because of political changes.

Hunt took to Twitter –once again—on Saturday to defend himself against other allegations made by Hawking in his opinion piece. Despite calling Hawking a “brilliant physicist” on Friday, he described his claims on Saturday as a “pernicious falsehood.”

The health secretary said the most pernicious lie from the physicist was the idea that the government wants a U.S.-style insurance system, and asked if it was too much to look at the evidence. Plus, he added the NHS under Conservatives has seen “more money, more docs, and more nurses than ever in history.”

Dr. Lauren Gavaghan, a consultant psychiatrist, told the Guardian that Hunt had purposefully misinterpreted statistics from a “faulty” paper with NHS weekend deaths when the very authors had warned that using the figures would be “rash and misleading.” Gavaghan also called for the health secretary to debate with Hawking on live television.

Source: The Guardian