Wednesday, May 06, 2020

Neil "lockdown fucking" Ferguson finished on the face of her it

Neil Ferguson, the useless Imperial College charlatan whose ridiculous modelling—which predicted 500,000 deaths from COVID-19 in the UK—led to the lockdown, has resigned from the shadowy Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) government advisory committee after inviting his married lover over for a good seeing-to on a couple of occasions.
Prof Neil Ferguson has quit as a government adviser on coronavirus after admitting an "error of judgement".

Prof Ferguson, whose advice to the prime minister led to the UK lockdown, said he regretted "undermining" the messages on social distancing.

It comes after the Daily Telegraph reported a woman had visited his home twice during lockdown.
Aaaaahahahahaha! Hahahahaha...
His modelling of the virus's transmission suggested 250,000 people could die without drastic action.
No, it didn't: his modelling estimated that 510,000 people would die without drastic action, and he doubled down on this figure very clearly.

Neil's past successes


Okay—enough hilarity. On a serious note, and as usual, it's one rule for Neil and his mates, and another for us. So, I am thoroughly glad that he has resigned from SAGE: the downside here is that this scare-mongering fuckwit is causing huge amounts of damage—as neatly outlined some time ago by Steerpike in The Spectator (£)...
In 2005, Ferguson said that up to 200 million people could be killed from bird flu. He told the Guardian that ‘around 40 million people died in 1918 Spanish flu outbreak… There are six times more people on the planet now so you could scale it up to around 200 million people probably.’ In the end, only 282 people died worldwide from the disease between 2003 and 2009.
Well, look, epidemiological modelling is quite difficult, and computer models were in their infancy. Neil will learn next time though, right?

In 2009, Ferguson and his Imperial team predicted that swine flu had a case fatality rate 0.3 per cent to 1.5 per cent. His most likely estimate was that the mortality rate was 0.4 per cent. A government estimate, based on Ferguson’s advice, said a ‘reasonable worst-case scenario’ was that the disease would lead to 65,000 UK deaths.

In the end swine flu killed 457 people in the UK and had a death rate of just 0.026 per cent in those infected.
Anyone can make a mistake though. I mean, despite the similarity of bird flu and swine flu, these were completely different circumstances and a chap can't be asked to get it right every time, eh?
In 2001 the Imperial team produced modelling on foot and mouth disease that suggested that animals in neighbouring farms should be culled, even if there was no evidence of infection. This influenced government policy and led to the total culling of more than six million cattle, sheep and pigs – with a cost to the UK economy estimated at £10 billion.

It has been claimed by experts such as Michael Thrusfield, professor of veterinary epidemiology at Edinburgh University, that Ferguson’s modelling on foot and mouth was ‘severely flawed’ and made a ‘serious error’ by ‘ignoring the species composition of farms,’ and the fact that the disease spread faster between different species.
Pffft. Look, Neil was an epidemiologist not a bloody farmer, for god's sake—how could he be expected to know that there are different species of cattle, or that the infection rates might be different.

Besides, it was really difficult for Neil to code that. His research student would have had kittens trying to make that work in his Python script.

Neil will get it right next time—just you see if he doesn't.
In 2002, Ferguson predicted that between 50 and 50,000 people would likely die from exposure to BSE (mad cow disease) in beef. He also predicted that number could rise to 150,000 if there was a sheep epidemic as well. In the UK, there have only been 177 deaths from BSE.
Oh. Right. He doesn't.

Ah, well, surely—with everything that he has learned, Neil will get it right this time...
Ferguson’s disease modelling for Covid-19 has been criticised by experts such as John Ioannidis, professor in disease prevention at Stanford University, who has said that: ‘The Imperial College study has been done by a highly competent team of modellers. However, some of the major assumptions and estimates that are built in the calculations seem to be substantially inflated.’
[...]
On 22 March, Ferguson said that Imperial College London’s model of the Covid-19 disease is based on undocumented, 13-year-old computer code, that was intended to be used for a feared influenza pandemic, rather than a coronavirus.
I mean... I guess that 510,000 does seem quite high. But who really knows...?
Has the Imperial team’s Covid-19 model been subject to outside scrutiny from other experts, and are the team questioning their own assumptions used?
Well that is a good question. As a matter of fact, some weeks after releasing their models, Imperial College London did, indeed, Open Source their COVID-19 modelling code on GitHub—which is a decent step towards transparency.

The trouble is, what they did not release were the configuration variables—the assumptions that they made when they ran the model. Which means that no one can properly replicate and validate their outcomes. Which seems to be par for the course in the scientific community these days.

So, what to do?

The Swedish model


Well, as we know, Sweden has not been following the same lockdown model as ever other country: they have introduced social distancing measures (along similar lines adopted by the UK government—before Neil came along with his Doomsday predictions) and their outcomes are... well... pretty good. Now, they are a sparsely populated country, for sure, but even in cities such as Stockholm, the death rate is comparatively low and herd immunity is predicted within a couple of weeks.

So, the University of Uppsala, in Sweden, came up with a good wheeze: into Neil Ferguson and team's model, they fed in variables that applied to Sweden—to see if the outcome matched reality. Can you guess what comes next...?
The Uppsala team’s presentation appears to closely follow the ICL approach. They presented a projection for an “unmitigated” response (also known as the “do nothing” scenario in the ICL paper), then modeled the predicted effects of a variety of policy interventions. These included staying the course on the government’s alternative approach of remaining open with milder social distancing guidelines, as well as implementing varying degrees of a lockdown.
So far, so good.
The model stressed its own urgency as well. Sweden would have to adopt a lockdown policy similar to the rest of Europe immediately if it wished to avert catastrophe. As the authors explained, under “conservative” estimates using their model “the current Swedish public-health strategy will result in a peak intensive-care load in May that exceeds pre-pandemic capacity by over 40-fold, with a median mortality of 96,000 (95% CI 52,000 to 183,000)” being realized by the end of June.

Their proposed mitigation scenarios, which followed lockdown strategies similar to those recommended in the ICL paper and adopted elsewhere in Europe, were “predicted to reduce mortality by approximately three-fold” while also averting a catastrophic failure of the Swedish healthcare system.
So, according to the modelling, Sweden should also have locked down in order to "avert catastrophe"—what could be clearer?
The Swedish model laid out its predicted death and hospitalization rates for competing policy scenarios in a series of graphs. According to their projections [...], the current Swedish government’s response – if permitted to continue – would pass 40,000 deaths shortly after May 1, 2020 and continue to rise to almost 100,000 deaths by June.
Oh my god—the poor Swedes! Quick, quick, lock down every bloody thing and... Wait, what?
So how is the model’s projection performing? Sweden’s government stayed the course with its milder mitigation strategy. As of April 29th, Sweden’s death toll from COVID-19 stands at 2,462, and its hospitals are nowhere near the projected collapse.
Oh. Right.

So, Neil and co's model over-projects the terrible consequences, and has an in-built bias towards a particular course of political action? Gosh.

How incredibly surprising.

(For a special gold star, can we think of any other poorly documented, immensely flawed computer models that behave in a similar way, children...?)

Let's be fair


On the other hand, Neil and his cronies did predict that a full-on lockdown might reduce deaths to around 20,000; this is, in the UK, proving to be on the low side (with COVID-19 deaths standing at 29,427, at time of publication)—although there are complications in reporting, which I shall discuss another time.

But, was the 510,000 figure ever credible? Well... Your humble Devil did call this crisis wrong, thinking that it would blow over: however, given the profile of the vast majority of deaths, I think that half a million plus deaths remains a gross over-estimation.

A summary of Neil's career


I think that it is fair to say that Neil Ferguson's most high profile epidemiological models have been failures—and hugely expensive failures at that.

Or, at least, hugely expensive for the taxpayer—no doubt incredibly lucrative for Neil and his buddies at Imperial College London. It is certainly true that, despite his very public fuck-ups, Neil remains employed.

And whilst it is amusing to see any arsehole brought down by personal malefactions—especially one so hypocritical and hubristic as this—it is hugely unsatisfying to see Neil resign for opportunistic personal fucking rather than being sacked, in disgrace, for his many eye-wateringly expensive professional fuck-ups.

There is, of course, still time.

The BBC on Ferguson


The BBC's summary of Neil Ferguson's career (or "Analysis" as it is hilariously entitled) is written by "health and science correspondent", James Gallagher—who, unusually for a BBC science journalist, actually has a science degree (biology).

I reproduce it in full, below.
Prof Neil Ferguson is one of the world's most influential disease modellers.

He is director of the MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis.

The centre's mathematical predictions advise governments and the World Health Organization on outbreaks from Ebola in West Africa to the current pandemic.
It was that group's work, in early January, that alerted the world to the threat of coronavirus.

It showed hundreds if not thousands of people were likely to have been infected in Wuhan, at a time when Chinese officials said there were only a few dozen cases.

But he shot to public attention as "Professor Lockdown".

In mid-March, the maths showed the UK needed to change course or a quarter of a million people would die in a "catastrophic epidemic".

Those calculations helped transform government policy and all lives.
I think that you will agree that this is most certainly not "analysis"—and nor is it in any way impartial.

Does anyone else reckon that James Gallagher and Neil Ferguson are good friends...?

DK's final word


Ferguson is a proven failure—he certainly does not deserve the encomium delivered by Gallagher.

The eventual outcome of this pandemic is unknown; plus, of course, it is difficult to "prove" a counter-factual. Nonetheless, the Swedish experiment seems to suggest that, once again, the UK government has been persuaded into taking hugely expensive and illiberal measures based on wildly pessimistic models supplied by a man who has a history of producing wildly pessimistic models.

The decision to believe Ferguson, of course, must lie with the government: however, I believe that said government should release the minutes of all meetings concerning these models, and whether there were dissenting voices—perhaps from those who knew of Ferguson's past fuck-ups. If there were no dissenting voices, then we must ask "why not?"

In the meantime, Ferguson sexual peccadilloes may have tarnished his personal probity—but his professional reputation remains inexplicably intact.

One can only wonder as to why.

10 comments:

Nigel Sedgwick said...

Concerning the different effects of government policy in Sweden and the UK, there is another potential explanation from that which DK seems to favour.

There is an argument to be made that smoking - or more specifically nicotine intake - is (somewhat significantly) protective against infection by the coronavirus. Normally we would use this to compare the lockdown policies of otherwise similar nation states in similar geographical zones (eg UK and Sweden, northern hemisphere temperate zone, population density with London somewhat disadvantaging the UK). So, under this plan, we have:
- Sweden smoking proportions: male 17.5%; female 17.6%
- UK smoking proportions: male 17.3%; female 15.9%


But actually there is this stuff called snus (a wet smokeless tobacco product, sucked on in the front of the mouth - well I don't know for certain, but that seems to be the case), of which the Swedes are inordinately fond. So for that (and any UK smokeless equivalence) we find in Table 2 and Figure 1:
- Sweden smokeless intake population proportions: male 24.0%; female 7.0%
- UK smokeless intake population proportions: male 1.6%; female 0.5%

Combining all this, including the boys and the girls, and ignoring overlap, which other statistics support, gives:
- Sweden tobacco nicotine takers: 33.1%
- UK tobacco nicotine takers: 17.7%

So, by rather simple but probably OK modelling, the Swedish 'herd protection level' is around 1.87 times that of the UK (and not the smoking only ratio of 1.06), and the Rt/R0 ratio is the reciprocal, so around 0.53 times. This is just from the nicotine intake, and a very useful counterweight to the UK's more stringent lockdown policy - whatever that might contribute.

I don't know whether the nicotine effect is true at all, or has the full effect assumed above, or has some partial effect inbetween - with the rest covered by other causes including potentially optional protective measures. However, it strikes me as being a plausible hypothesis. Note that Norway too has a high level of smokeless tobacco consumption.

Keep safe and best regards

IP Freely said...


The target of his lack of #socialdistancing etiquette is worthy of a posting in her own right.

The level of class driven #woke virtue signaling entitlement is right up there.

She does not have to worry about where the next pay cheque is coming from.


JT said...

Enjoyable read, though as you admit, he does on this occasion have the veneer of an excuse that his recommendations for action have been followed by substantially fewer deaths, so we won’t know for sure whether his original predictions would have come true. Though, of course I don’t believe they would have and was saying back in February/early March I didn’t believe th3 500k number would come to pass based on prior failure of doomsday scenarios to materialise.

ps You reference the position in Sweden and then refer to Oslo (in Norway). Was that intentional?

Anonymous said...

This is another demonstration that 'important' people disrespect, despise and even hate the ordinary population.

We have to do as we are fucking well told and they can do whatever the fuck they want.

Now Ferguson, earlier that bitch medical adviser in Scotland and that turd of a Cabinet Minister who went to his 'main' home in Herefordshire when working in London.

Also let's not forget Cressida 'I don't like dick' attending the group clap on that London bridge while the rest of us have to stay 2 metres apart.

It is probably not news to you, Mr. Devil, that our establishment are scum.

James Strong

Anonymous said...

The 'Today' programme on R4 is now presenting it as Ferguson having done the right thing by resigning now rather than dragging iy out.

No, the right thing would have been to follow the rules in the first place.

They've also led someone into saying that Ferguson's absence will be a loss for the fight against Covid 19.

They haven't looked at the notiuceable inaccuracy of his previous predictions.


James Strong

Sam Duncan said...

I'm prepared to believe that a general lockdown in the face of a novel, little-known, virus, is a good strategy, at least in the short term. But the very fact that it's coming from Ferguson raises doubts. And now it appears he's not so sure himself. A bit like the former CMO in Scotland, who resigned a few weeks ago in astonishingly similar circumstances (she didn't have a bit on the side, but she had been visiting her family's holiday home in Fife at the weekends).

It amazes me that he still had his job at all after the F&M fustercluck, quite honestly. But then, we were all supposed to pretend that it was a roaring success. A bit like... heeeey...

Tim Worstall said...

"such as Oslo"

Which is in Norway.....

Doesn't change that Ferguson should be being toasted right now but....

Devil's Kitchen said...

@JT and @Tim Worstall,

Whoops! I have been reading too much Jo Nesbo recently—I have corrected that.

@Nigel,

Yes, the nicotine link in an interesting one, and well worth exploring further, I think. Oh, and snus is like a round tea-bag filled with tobacco, which one presses between gum and lip. Odd stuff.

DK

Nigel Sedgwick said...

Concerning my above point on the possible linking of nicotine consumption with the COVID-19 herd immunity differences between the UK and Sweden, I realised overnight that I had made an algebraic error. This is in the paragraph beginning "So, by rather simple but probably OK modelling,..." The correction is to factor 0.53, which should be 0.81. If the herb immunity proportions (range 0 to 1) are Huk and Hsw, the herd effect Rt/R0 is given by (1-Huk) and by (1-Hsw). Thus the better herd protection of Sweden over the UK is (1-0.331)/(1-0.177); not what I wrote previously which was (0.177/0.331). This reduction in Rt by 81% is still very much worth having, but obviously not as high as that incorrectly reported in my comment above.

Don't forget this all depends on nicotine consumption providing herd immunity, on which we are still IIUC awaiting better confirmation.

Note that there is (with the same caveats) a similar benefit for Germany over the UK. They smoke a lot, and take smokeless only a bit more than the UK and a lot less than Sweden:
- Germany smoking proportions: male 30.7%; female 27.7%
- Germany smokeless intake population proportions: male 3.4%; female 3.4%
So Germany's potential herd immunity around is 32.6%, which gives an Rt/R0 advantage over the UK from the potential nicotine effect of scaling by (1-0.326)/(1-0.177) which is 0.82.

I do hope I have got the algebra right this time, for my simple model of herd immunity effects.

Keep safe and best regards

Lord Blagger said...

What if Ferguson was managing your money. Lets say in 2002 you gave him a trillion to invest?

Invest 1,000,000,000,000


Year Event Prediction Reality Value
2002 BSE 50,000 177 3,540,000,000
2005 Bird Flu 200,000,000 282 4,991.40
2009 Swine Flu 65,000 457 35.09
2020 Covid-19 510,000 30615 2.11

Why would you trust someone who would turn a trillion pounds into £2.11?

NHS Fail Wail

I think that we can all agree that the UK's response to coronavirus has been somewhat lacking. In fact, many people asserted that our de...