Should We Have Trusted Expert Epidemiological Models?

Should We Have Trusted Expert Epidemiological Models?

Neil Ferguson and his Imperial College COVID-19 Response Team colleagues scared the world silly in mid-March. They announced they ran a sophisticated epidemiological model which said Doom was on the way.

They said that if we did nothing to stop the coronavirus, that “In total, in an unmitigated epidemic, we would predict approximately 510,000 deaths in GB [Great Britain] and 2.2 million in the US, not accounting for the potential negative effects of health systems being overwhelmed on mortality.”

If there were negative effects, and if we did nothing, the totals would soar even higher. To avoid this apocalypse the authors recommended two possible strategies.

They were: “(a) mitigation, which focuses on slowing but not necessarily stopping epidemic spread–reducing peak healthcare demand while protecting those most at risk of severe disease from infection, and (b) suppression, which aims to reverse epidemic growth, reducing case numbers to low levels and maintaining that situation indefinitely.”

Relying on their model, they insisted that “optimal mitigation policies…might reduce peak healthcare demand by 2/3 and deaths by half. However, the resulting mitigated epidemic would still likely result in hundreds of thousands of deaths and health systems…being overwhelmed many times over”. By mitigation they meant such things as “combining home isolation of suspect cases, home quarantine of those living in the same household as suspect cases, and social distancing of the elderly and others at most risk of severe disease.”

The team went on to suggest suppression rather than mitigation. Suppression meant a “combination of social distancing of the entire population, home isolation of cases and household quarantine of their family members”, “school and university closures,” and other similar policies, many of which were adopted. Authorities would need to enforce suppression, they insisted, for “potentially 18 months or more,” until a vaccine could be discovered.

Even if the range of measures they suggested were to be adopted, and “In the most effective mitigation strategy examined, which leads to a single, relatively short epidemic…[and] even if all patients were able to be treated, we predict there would still be in the order of 250,000 deaths in GB, and 1.1-1.2 million in the US.”

On the other hand, the model also suggested that if a full suite of rigorous suppression strategies were implemented and enforced very early on, deaths in Great Britain (GB) could be anywhere from 5,600 to 48,000, depending on the disease transmissibility and ICU use. They said numbers would be proportional for the US, but did not quote any figures.

Reported deaths of this writing in the whole United Kingdom are 11,329.

The model itself is from a class of epidemiological tools, used by Imperial College and organizations like the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, that mathematically represent several aspects of human behavior, the supply and use of hospital resources, virulence and theoretical transmissibility of diseases, and the like. These models are hideously complex. But then so is the subject, or subjects, being modeled.

Human behavior in practice is so difficult to predict that nobody has yet claimed to have mastered it. If somebody has, think of the killing he could make in the stock market. Yet these models claim to foretell what a country of 66.7 million souls would do under the circumstances of a novel pandemic under a range of posited government behavioral suppression tactics.

Besides the expertise of the model creators, what evidence had we to believe the Imperial College model?

Again, their model predicted that if government did nothing, about 510,000 would die in Great Britain (GB) and 2.2 million in the US. These are staggering numbers. There are about 66.7 million people in the UK and 328.2 million in the US.

The model predicted that deaths per day per 100,000 population would peak at about 21 in GB (around June 1st) and 17 in the US (around June 20th).

These figures translate into about 14,000 deaths per day in GB and 56,000 per day in the US at the peak. Per day! These numbers are astounding, and it’s shocking anybody swallowed them. Perhaps those that did, did so because the predictions were presented in terms of so-many deaths per 100,000, and not in plain numbers.

There is, of course, no way to measure whether the model would have got these morbid predictions right. This is because both countries suppressed and mitigated in various ways. Just how much can be debated.

The business-as-usual projections are so far removed from experience, though, that anyone not invested in the model should have doubted it instantly. Here’s why.

The Spanish flu of 1918 was a horrific event. It befell a world fresh from a global war, one with poor medical care, aspirin poisoning, shortages of every kind. Between 17 and 58 million were killed worldwide.

The CDC estimated that about 675,000 Americans died, when the population in the US was about 106 million. This makes 637 per 100,000 dead of Spanish flu in the US.

Imperial college predicted 670 per 100,000 would die of coronavirus.

When the COVID-19 Response team constructed their model on 16 March there were only “6,470 deaths confirmed worldwide” and 97 in the US. Yet, somehow, in the presence of modern medicine and these low figures, coronavirus was predicted to be deadlier than the Spanish flu.

This is idiotic. The model should have been strapped to a ventilator, not used to form the basis of global policy.

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  1. HarryG

    In answer to your question Briggs
    An Emphatic NO NO No NO
    But who is listening?

  2. Dene Bebbington

    Not only are is Neil Ferguson’s model hideously, it’s programmed in thousands of lines of undocumented C. That should worry us all about whether the code is working as expected, regardless of whether the model itself is good.

  3. pK

    Should we have trusted expert models in setting policies? No. And, not just because the models are most always wrong.

    Each illness and death is caused by something. People are individuals. It is wrong to rely on some non-existent curves to set policies that might save someone and might ruin the life of another. That other person may never have gotten sick. We need to deal with what is actually happening. Put up extra hospital beds, isolate the sick, and expect others get on with life.

    It’s clear that these models and associated hysteria are being used to further a very evil agenda.

  4. Sheri

    If we strapped the model to a ventilator, it might survive to rise again in the future. I suggest a mercy killing of the model, the computer and a burning to the ground of the institute that created said Frankenstein. The creators of the model can work as aids in hospitals for the rest of their lives, living in the basement of the hospital until they depart this world.

    A simple answer to “Should we trust the models”? ARE YOU AN IDIOT?????? Models are today’s very expensive Tarot cards that the increasingly stupid believe. Clue one that the model is WRONG: It involves the government. Clue two that the model is wrong: It has the apocalyptic nature of a meteor strike. All “good” models do. Clue three: All models can produce whatever the modelers wants (this may be too complex for most). So the modeler wanted to terrify people and create a dictatorship. Someone should have paid attention…. Clue four: That weather forecast for sunny and warm is now raining on you and is freezing. Trust models, do you?

    My answer to this modeling crap: HIRE A PSYCHIC. Most are unemployed, and most are more, or at least equally, successful as models. Sure, it smacks of the Dark Ages and superstition, while that shiney billion dollar computer looks scientific, but predicting the future IS dark ages and superstitious, no matter how you pretend to do it.

    If you must know the future, call California Psychics. Their commercial says they are great and at sixty bucks an hour, you get a bargain. Oh, and they never say the “government can help you”.

  5. View from the Solent

    Neil Ferguson has consistent form in the UK prediction world.

    BSE forecast deaths 100,000+
    actual 178 CJD deaths in 20 yrs, none specifically tied to BSE

    Bird Flu forecast up to 75,00. actual – zero

    Swine Flu forecast 31,000-65,000. actual- 138

    SARS forecast ‘thousands. actual-zero

    He ranks alongside Erlichman.

  6. If 2 million had died in the US, the remaining 330,000,000 of us here would have found some way to carry on.

    My estimates for Civil War 2.0 involve scores of megadeaths.

  7. Phoenix44

    One of the issues is we are getting lost in the wrong numbers. 20,000 deaths sounds a lot, 200,000 a huge number. But in the UK there are 66 million people. If 20,000 die, that’s a risk to each of us of 0.03%. Frankly I’d take the risk. 200,000 is a risk of 0.3%. Again, I’m taking that risk. Now the real issue is that the risk for me (not so young, but still well under 65) is much lower than that. For my mother, at 83, it’s much higher. Her day to day risk is already much higher – around 10% in a year now but if all the 200,000 falls into the 5 million who are over 80, then the risk is 4%, which isn’t trivial, either stand-alone or in addition to her existing risk. But if its actually only 80,000, because Ferguson is wrong and lots of his deaths would have died anyway (i.e. are in the 10% risk already), then we are talking about a risk of 1.6%. Is that worth shutting down the entire country for 2-3 months? No, because that comes with significant risks too, and because it actually doesn’t make that much difference to the elderly in terms of additional years of life.

    This should be about risk, not how many might die, and it should be about risk to the groups who might have an increased risk.

  8. Jim Fedako

    Sheri –

    I suggest the model should be quarantined with Chris Cuomo. Fourteen days in a basement with that bozo is a fate worse than death.

  9. Uncle Mike

    Ferguson is an academic clot from a decadent and decaying ancient empire now reduced to beggary and food riots.

    We are upstanding members of the greatest and most successful free nation in history. Why would or should we listen to puffed up rats from a sinking ship?

    A better question is which models is Dr. “Greta” Birx using? She’s our model babe. She’s has the ear of the President, and possibly some other body parts. She’s a ninny, but she’s our ninny.

    If Greta says “logarithmic” again somebody should whack her upside the head with a 2×4. Or do it now for payback purposes. The pathetic dip “science” gal doesn’t know an epidemic model from a milk cow.

    And poor Fowchi is still fighting AIDS. I heard him say mournfully that for the first 8 years of his medical practice every single one of his patients died. That didn’t instill much confidence. Maybe we need a different doctor, one that doesn’t have a neurotic failure complex.

    Speaking of which, how much of this lockdown is due to AIDS? Is this vengeance from the gays who want everybody else to suffer “behavioral modification” so they will know what it feels like? Is this a science lockdown or a emotional transference lockdown? What kind of Ruling Class psychopathology are we dealing with?

  10. Fredo

    The only question, and most ominous in it’s implications, is was the release of this ‘MAN MADE VIRUS’ accidental or deliberate?

    That’s it all the other dazzling speculation only serves to obscure this question.
    Their own published papers especially on enhanced capability research are out
    there in plain sight. Nothing is hidden and their work is in every sense of the
    term ‘collaborative’, funded, disseminated, and shared internationally with
    that buzzing hive of global entities that are now guiding us through this ‘end
    of the world as we know it’ scenario. Once again a scenario hidden in plain
    sight in the marvelously choreographed Event 201. It’s almost like Magick.

    “Magick, in the context of Aleister Crowley’s Thelema, is a term used to show and differentiate the occult from performance magic and is defined as “the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will”, including “mundane” acts of will as well as ritual magic. Wikipedia”

    Here’s a bit of Magick I stumbled on early in this episode. This is the
    cover to the Economist magazine in 2017. Look at the Judgment card;
    and what I see is Donald Trump sitting on top of a rolled up US flag
    much like a roll of toilet paper taking a crap on the world. In one hand
    he holds the corona virus in the other a medical scepter. Feel free to call
    me crazy but this magazine cover carries many magical messages for the
    future someone sees; forecast magic can be as simple as a cartoon just
    as effective on adults as on children who are subjected to it pretty much continuously.

  11. Yawrate

    Remember that any vaccine will be delayed until it’s known to cause autism.

  12. Sheri

    Jim F: Sounds good to me! Better than my idea.

  13. laffo

    “Speaking of which, how much of this lockdown is due to AIDS? Is this vengeance from the gays” Uncle Mike

    “For it is in giving that we receive,
    It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
    and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.” St Francis

  14. C-Marie

    “…….about 14,000 deaths per day in GB and 56,000 per day in the US at the peak. Per day! These numbers are astounding, and it’s shocking anybody swallowed them.”

    And shocking also are the daily figures of the nearly 3,000, that is three thousand living babies in their mothers’ wombs….. being murdered in the United States every day…… which works out to about 90,000 babies a month in the U.S. alone. And these deaths are not based on models, but are real in fact. I have the hardest time even thinking about the reality of those figures.

    The virus will die down, things will appear to return to normal, to almost normal, for a while. But let us each pay attention. God is calling us to His Son, yes, even the unbelievers.

    God bless, C-Marie

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