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Did anyone predict coronavirus? Hindsight makes it easy to blame the Government for listening to the wrong people, not the right ones

We should have been better prepared. Credit: GLYN KIRK/AFP via Getty Images

We should have been better prepared. Credit: GLYN KIRK/AFP via Getty Images


April 22, 2020   9 mins

How much of all this should we have seen coming? How much did we see coming? When? What should we have done about it?

A major Sunday Times Insight piece had a stab at answering some of those questions at the weekend, specifically talking about the Government. Some of its points seem fair; others less so. But one key implication was that the Government should have realised earlier what was coming, and acted accordingly. 

The Government, naturally, was displeased and issued a response: it was a lengthy and fairly detailed document pointing out various things that it said the Insight team had got wrong. One point that particularly intrigued me was about scientific consensus. 

The Sunday Times piece stated that a Lancet study came out on 24 January comparing the outbreak with the 1918 “Spanish flu” influenza epidemic, and implied that it should have spurred the Government to swifter action. The Government response says that the World Health Organisation hadn’t declared it a “public health emergency of international concern” by that stage, and that indeed on the same day the Lancet’s own editor, Richard Horton, was warning on Twitter of media overreaction and saying “from what we currently know, 2019-nCoV has moderate transmissibility and relatively low pathogenicity”. (For the record, Horton himself now says that the government is “rewriting history” by using his tweet in this context.)

So who’s right? Did anyone see this coming? Should it have been obvious that it was going to be terrible? And what should the Government (and the media) have been doing about it?

I want to argue two things. One, predictions are amazingly hard. It doesn’t feel that way after the fact — we assume that whatever happened was always obviously going to happen, a phenomenon called hindsight bias. But actually it was not obvious in January or February that the outbreak in Wuhan would end up like this. Some people were saying it would; some that it wouldn’t. Suggesting in hindsight that the Government should have listened to the right people and not the wrong people isn’t much use. 

But two, I want to argue that this shouldn’t let the Government off the hook — and, actually, it shouldn’t let the media off the hook, either. Just because you can’t foresee some outcomes doesn’t mean you shouldn’t act to avoid them.

So here goes. First: as mentioned, predictions are hard. Philip Tetlock, a professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania, has spent a career trying to understand forecasting. He watched pundits in the Cold War arguing over whether to be more or less confrontational with Russia, and then whenever something happened, saying that it proved they were right all along. 

So he asked a bunch of them to make hard, falsifiable predictions — will the dollar be higher or lower than it is now against the yen in one month’s time? Will a war on the Korean peninsula kill more than 100 people in the next 18 months? — with their degree of confidence: 60%, 40%, 83%, whatever. 

To do well, your 60% confident predictions should come in 60% of the time, your 30% ones 30%, and so on, and you get bonus marks for being confident and right (and you get punished extra hard for being confident and wrong). If someone’s probability estimates are accurate over hundreds of guesses, then they’re almost certainly genuinely good at it. 

The average pundit — and remember, these were experts in geopolitics, advisers to the government, well-known journalists and academics — was not good at it. In fact, the average pundit was about as good as “a dart-throwing chimpanzee”, in Tetlock’s memorable phrase.

But a few were more impressive; they were able to predict the future better than chance. The top 2% of performers in Tetlock’s studies or his spin-off Good Judgment Project are known as “superforecasters”. I’ve written about them at some length here. 

I spoke to a couple of the most highly rated superforecasters in the world, Mike Story and Tom Liptay (you can read their essay about forecasting Covid here), formerly of the Good Judgment Project but now of their own company, Maby. And they say that experts’ predictions about the progression of Covid-19 seem to have struggled just as much as anyone else’s. It’s hard to be sure, because not many people are actually making these really strict, falsifiable predictions. But one place, admirably, is.

The University of Massachusetts is running a really good, worthwhile programme in which they do the sort of forecast Tetlock would recognise; they had 18 experts (virologists, epidemiologists) make explicit predictions about various things, and then compared them to reality.

The first such set of forecasts was taken on 16-17 March, and included a prediction of how many confirmed cases there would be in the US by 29 March. The average guess was 20,000; the correct answer was rather higher, 122,653. Only three experts even included that number in their worst-case-scenario estimates.

This isn’t meant to criticise those experts. As I said: no one else was even making the falsifiable predictions. They had the courage to put their money where their mouth was (and their later forecasts have been much less wide of the mark). But the point is that these sorts of forecasts are amazingly difficult, the situation has moved astonishingly fast, and even the top researchers in relevant fields are getting the spread of Covid-19 wrong.

One group that has done better, for the record, is superforecasters. Liptay and Story have started to get involved with the UMass project; it’s early days, but their forecasts seem to be doing better at this stage. (They’d only done three questions when I spoke to them. “It’s important to stress that there’s very little signal in three questions,” says Liptay, modestly. “It’s mainly statistical noise. I’m not crowing yet; let’s see if I’m still doing well after 20 questions.”) But a lot of how they’ve done better, I think it’s fair to say, is by acknowledging the uncertainty more: admitting that they can’t be sure, and giving wide uncertainty intervals as a result.

“I think [early in the outbreak] you should have had an extremely wide range of outcomes,” says Liptay, “from very little death [in the US] to millions of dead.” His own forecasts on Twitter follow this rule: on March 25, when the US announced its 1,000th death, his 80%-likely prediction for the number of deaths in the US on April 13 was a very wide spread, between 3,000 and 50,000 with a best estimate of 12,000. The correct answer was 22,108.

So I don’t blame the Government (or the media) for not saying in January “This will probably be a global pandemic,” or “there will be 16,060 confirmed deaths in the UK by April 19th,” or whatever. I think it would have been impossible to say that. 

But this is where we get to my second point. They might not have been able to say with confidence that it was coming. But they should have been able to say with confidence that it might.

Sure, you might think it’s 90% sure that we’re not going to see a global pandemic. But that means you think there’s a 10% chance that there will be! We don’t play Russian roulette, even though there’s an 83% chance we’d be fine: a small-but-not-that-small chance of a terrible outcome is a serious thing that needs to be taken seriously.

“I think if I was in the government,” says Liptay, “I’d say ‘you don’t prepare for your 50% outcome, you prepare for the 95% outcome in the hope of avoiding it’. It’s not that they should have seen it coming, it’s that they should have taken action on it anyway.”

Scott Alexander of Slate Star Codex wrote a piece on exactly this topic the other day, a damning critique of the media headlined “A failure, but not of prediction”, and it’s really had me thinking about my own work. Again: you should take small chances of terrible outcomes very seriously. The simple equation is: likelihood multiplied by impact. A 10% chance of 10 deaths is as worrying as a 100% chance of one death.

I don’t know whether, inside Whitehall and Downing Street, people were doing this sort of calculation. That will hopefully come out in the inevitable public inquiries that will follow the pandemic. But I can look at the media’s role, since that was more public; and I can look at my own. 

You can see a whole array of people writing things in January and February like “don’t worry about coronavirus, worry about the flu”; see Alexander’s piece, or this Real Clear Politics roundup, for a list. But I don’t want to single anyone else out; instead, I want to look at my own work. 

The first piece I wrote about Covid-19 was a January post headlined “China’s coronavirus will not be the next Black Death”. While I’m pretty sure that headline claim will turn out to be true (it’s hardly a bold prediction: “will be less terrible than the worst plague in history”), and I think the piece itself largely stands up to scrutiny, it’s not as if I was far-sightedly warning of what was to come.

Did I believe, back then, that there was a real, non-negligible chance of the sort of outcome we’re seeing now? If so, why wasn’t I saying “it won’t be the next Black Death BUT BY GOD WE OUGHT TO BE STOCKING UP ON PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT”?

Part of the trouble — and I blame myself as much as any other member of the media; more, because I’ve written a book about this stuff and should know better — is that most of the time, when we write things like this, we are not actually committing to anything.

“Will not be the next Black Death,” well, sure: I guess if Covid-19 kills 30% of the world population you can say that I was off the mark, but other than that, I didn’t actually say anything which could make me right or wrong. Articles saying “Don’t panic — yet” or “be alert, not afraid” are the same. It’s what Tetlock calls “vague verbiage”: writing that avoids pinning yourself to a specific likelihood of any particular outcome.

So who did get it right? Who did make the case that we don’t know if things will be bad, but that we should prepare for it as though they will be? As I say, I don’t know if people in the government did. But some people who definitely did are the sort of nerdy Bay Area tech-rationalist people I follow online and who I talk about in my book

Blogs like Put A Num On It and Slate Star Codex were saying things like “it’s OK to stockpile” and “maybe masks are a good idea” weeks before the rest of us. The biotech entrepreneur Balaji Srivanasan was calling out the media for downplaying it in early February (even as Vox and others mocked tech workers for saying “no handshakes please”). 

As the quantum computing scientist Scott Aaronson says, in an impassioned post in which he blames himself for downplaying the risk to a friend, he was being sensible and listening to the CDC, when he should have been listening to “contrarian rationalist nerds and tech tycoons on Twitter”. They (not all of them, but more of them than the rest of us) did the sensible thing: not thinking “This is definitely going to happen”, but thinking “this probably won’t happen, but it might, and if it does, it will be terrible — so we should be prepared.” 

There’s an irony here. Dominic Cummings, the government adviser, is sometimes accused of pushing the Government towards the much-criticised “herd immunity” approach. He’s also linked to the Bay Area tech-rationalist people. If it turns out that the UK Government got it wrong, the problem may have been that Cummings didn’t listen hard enough to the nerds he admires so much.

Why did they get it right, then? It may be survivorship bias, to an extent; I’m just picking out people who got it right after the fact, and ignoring the ones who got it wrong. But I don’t think that’s the whole story. I was watching these arguments in real time.

Partly, I think it’s that (as Alexander says) these are people who are comfortable with cost-benefit analyses and probabilistic reasoning: not saying “this will happen” or “this won’t happen”, but multiplying likelihood by impact. 

But I think the main thing is that governments and the media are set up badly for these things. People in them have bosses to please and reputations to protect. If we go on about those 10% chances, then if we’re correct about the odds, nine times out of 10 nothing will happen, and we’ll look stupid. We’ll get slaughtered as the boys who cried wolf; so it’s in our interests to stay quiet, or say the sensible things that everyone else is saying. As the saying goes, no one ever got fired for buying IBM. But sometimes they should.

So maybe it’s unfair to say that anyone should have “seen this coming”, in that they should have known that it was going to be terrible. But they (and we) should have known that it could realistically be, and that the worst possible outcome was very bad indeed.

So the question is, instead, if they took the appropriate steps to avoid that worst outcome. I don’t think I did the best I could; I guess in a few years, when the inquiry reaches its conclusions, we’ll find out if the government did.

*

ADDENDUM: I want to do better in future. There are ways to improve your forecasting, some of which I discuss in my superforecasting piece. But the really crucial one, say Liptay and Story, is keeping score.

That means making falsifiable predictions. I’m going to make three, here. And I’m going to try to get in the habit of making them more often.

One: by April 1 2023, the best estimate for infection fatality rate (IFR) of Covid-19 (as recorded by the WHO) will be between 0.1% and 0.5%. Confidence: 65%.

Two: by April 1 2021, there will have been fewer than 50,000 confirmed Covid-19 deaths in the UK. Confidence: 65%.

Three: schools will reopen in the UK for the children of non-key workers before the start of the May half term (Monday 31 May). Confidence: 65%.

Let’s see how I do. Liptay tells me I ought to write down my reasoning and do a “pre-mortem” on why I might be wrong, but I think this piece is too long already.


Tom Chivers is a science writer. His second book, How to Read Numbers, is out now.

TomChivers

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Michael Dawson
Michael Dawson
4 years ago

It’s a shame that after Tom writes a typically interesting and honest piece about the difficlties and complexity of forecasting, the first two posts here come from people who have all the characteristics of very bad forecasters, notably a disrespect for the facts and/or an obsessive mentality that looks at the world from only one perspective.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
4 years ago

One of the main reasons I stopped funding the mass/legacy media in any way was the fact that it was always full of people making predictions that never came true. This factor is often allied to a groupthink in which they all predict, at the same time, that the new Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia is a great reformer, or that Elizabeth Warren is the person to take down Wall St. Or that WWIII will follow because the US killed an Iranian general. Etc etc. They are always, always wrong.

One of the books that woke me up to this, some years ago now, was ‘The Hugo Young Papers’. In many of the Guardian writer’s famed interviews with leading (and supposedly intelligent) politicians, the politicians would make all sorts of predictions – many of them utterly nuts. Reading these interviews long after the fact, it quickly became obvious that none of these predictions had come true. So if the people in, or close to. power don’t know anything, what chance does the media or the rest of us have?

Another incident that woke me up was the BBC studio panel prior to England’s game against Italy in the quarter finals of the 2012 European Championships. Everyone on the panel predicted an England victory, even though England had never beaten Italy in a tournament match, and only very rarely in a competitive match. Needless to say, the entire panel was wrong and England lost. The experts will always be wrong.

Anto Coates
Anto Coates
4 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

If you read Jonathan Haidt’s book The Righteous Mind, he explains this very well (though not specifically about predictions). To summarise (violently), the human mind makes decisions mainly on subconscious emotion, and then sends its “press secretary”, the rational mind, out searching for facts that can be seen as supporting the emotional response. That’s why it’s a bad idea to bet on sports you have an emotional stake in. Like those commentators, our confirmation bias forces us to look past facts that would be obvious to anyone not keen on seeing an England victory, and instead focus on any flimsy things that suggest this might finally be our day.

d.tjarlz
d.tjarlz
4 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

” In many of the Guardian writer’s famed interviews with leading (and supposedly intelligent) politicians, the politicians would make all sorts of predictions – many of them utterly nuts”

Doesn’t that tell us what we need to know? That what motivates people to get into politics is the need to act on some basically nutty beliefs?

Politicians need to be treated as the dangerous tools that they are. Ridden with short circuits and sharp hidden burrs.

Anjela Kewell
Anjela Kewell
4 years ago

No the government didn’t get it wrong. It took advice from Imperial College and its advisers. Those advisers new they were talking to a man whose modelling has been proven to be seriously wrong and is also heavily funded by a Foundation who have had bad results in Africa and India.

We have a new government trying its best to deliver for the people. Boris wanted to go the way of Sweden and his instincts are usually very accurate. However, the civil service wanted otherwise. A hot line to the media and hysteria is created overnight to push Boris into a corner

You don’t have to predict anything in this situation when you are dealing with one man who has been proven to be so terribly wrong before.

The first questions the government need to ask are why was Neil Ferguson still in position after foot and mouth, swine flu and BSE disasters? Why was the civil service listening to one college whose connections to a foundation already under a cloud with their unsuccessful vaccine programme in Africa and India and finally who contacted the press (Piers Morgan) before Boris had finalised his own decision.

Once again all paths lead to a europhile civil service. As all paths led to the Deep State when Trump was being forced to accept a model he didn’t believe in.

Unfortunately for our PM he caught the virus and gave the civil service a real gift when both he and Cummings were out of action. Otherwise it might be a different story now. Mr Trump held his nerve and called in the private sector who are more agile, more critical and often more correct as they tend not to have political affiliations.

The leftwing press will now work with the civil service to bring Boris down. Boris needs to haul his cabinet back into line, make a few changes, sack the many in the civil service and indeed Neil Ferguson with Imperial College need to be taken off the list of government research and science advisers

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
4 years ago
Reply to  Anjela Kewell

Neil sodding Ferguson has done more damage to this country than Napoleon, Kaiser Wilhelm, Hitler, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown put together. It is simply astonishing that anyone took him seriously after foot and mouth, an issue that the Dutch (among others) dealt with rationally, while we burned millions of animals. All our experts and advisers, and all arms of the British state, are an evil racket.

Stephen Follows
Stephen Follows
4 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

It’s astonishing that the government sought the opinion of anyone from any university, knowing how institutionally anti-Conservative they all are. What happened to the supposed Conservative bias towards the private sector? If there had really been such a bias, we might not be in this mess.

Kenneth Crook
Kenneth Crook
4 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Tony Blair? Gordon Brown? All arms of the British state are an evil racket? Have you been unable to get to Boots for your meds?

Andrew Baldwin
Andrew Baldwin
4 years ago
Reply to  Anjela Kewell

Angella, there is a lot of good stuff in Tom’s opinion piece as usual, but as you note, he simply assumes that the initial stance of Boris’s government was wrong, rather than making the case for it. From Freddie Sayers’s interview with Swedish epidemiologist Johan Giesecke, Professor Giesecke was delighted with the initial UK policy, happy that Sweden had an ally, and very disappointed that the UK decided to go with the same kind of strict lockdown measures that became the conventional wisdom. If Professor Giesecke is right, the UK and Sweden will both end up with about the same mortality rate from COVID-19 by April 1, 2021, so if Tom’s prediction of fewer than 50,000 deaths in the UK is right, then Sweden will have fewer than 8,000 deaths. In any case, the number of Swedish deaths would be about 15% of the number of UK deaths. If Tom is so convinced that the initial policy of Boris’s government was wrong, I would be interested in knowing what is his forecast for Swedish deaths by April 1. Presumably it is much higher than 8,000.

Stephen Follows
Stephen Follows
4 years ago
Reply to  Anjela Kewell

Well said.

Kenneth Crook
Kenneth Crook
4 years ago
Reply to  Anjela Kewell

Based on the flow of your argument I’m guessing you believe 5G masts are the cause of all of this.

Roger Tilbury
Roger Tilbury
4 years ago

I have a lot of sympathy with your article, but it’s not just 1 possible disaster is it ? It could have been CME, a different sort of medical emergency where PPE etc was not important, a huge volcanic eruption, a tsunami in the Mediterranean, an asteroid strike or any number of things I haven’t thought of. Do you prepare for all of them ? The cost would be prohibitive.

Bernard Jenkin
Bernard Jenkin
4 years ago
Reply to  Roger Tilbury

There is a difference between being totally physically and organisationally prepared, and at least being ready to accept the possibility, even if you wil be starting a response from a poor position. Mental, intellectual and emotional preparedness at least prepares you for the difficult decisions and dilemmas you might have to make, even if you start your response without enough PPE.

Stephen Follows
Stephen Follows
4 years ago
Reply to  Roger Tilbury

Exactly. Well said.

Joe Smith
Joe Smith
4 years ago

“I think if I was in the government,” says Liptay, “I’d say ‘you don’t prepare for your 50% outcome, you prepare for the 95% outcome in the hope of avoiding it’. It’s not that they should have seen it coming, it’s that they should have taken action on it anyway.”

I’d say the probability of a pandemic was and always is 100%, with the unknowns being when and of what type. The stockpiling of PPE and ventilators would have made sense, especially given that recent pandemics such as SARS caused respiratory problems. Even paying more to obtain PPE from UK manufacturers who could scale up in an emergency would have been worth considering.

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
4 years ago

Prediction One is a bit of a gimme, Tom. Give the WHO enough money and it will say whatever you want.

Stephen Follows
Stephen Follows
4 years ago

Assuming you’re Xi Jinping.

Michael Upton
Michael Upton
4 years ago

Chats with senior M.P.s who go on to become Chancellor of the Exchequer come along fairly rarely in my experience. I’ve had one in my life. I said more needed to be done to identify any asteroids which might hit the Earth. The tenor of his reply was “Oh really?” as he moved in the general direction of Away. Our public servants have much more important fish to fry: protecting us from unwanted sales calls; building unaffordable tramways; re-defining the sexes. With honourable exceptions, protecting the country from invasion or death isn’t really their thing. Let’s hope they read more Chivers now.

aclarricoates
aclarricoates
4 years ago

The problem with this sort of analysis is that in reality there are a truly vast number of potential events (and variations) with severe impact that can happen but each with incredibly small probability. Furthermore they either happen or, far more likely, they don’t.

Do you prepare for them all?

What’s the probability that a Coronavirus particle mutates in Oct/Nov 2019 to Covid-19 then infects a bat near Wuhan then gets caught and transported to the Wuhan wet market then gets turned into bat soup with the virus surviving cooking, then infects a human who infects another? Oh and this happens on a particular day in Oct/Nov 2019.

Should a government prepare for such an event given the minute probability?

Now let’s play Devil’s Advocate and say they did just that: spent huge sums on ventilators and vaccine development and hospitals to just sit there waiting.

But just as likely is a different mutation. In this scenario it’s spread via fluids and causes fatal digestive failures. All that preparation is useless.
Wouldn’t the media be screaming about why they didn’t spent those resources on this scenario instead?

Events are binary: they happen at a particular time or they don’t. Do confidence intervals really help here?

Hosias Kermode
Hosias Kermode
4 years ago

Could you turn that last thought into a second piece please. This is a really interesting and thought provoking topic. But an important question is not just how deadly and widespread the infection was likely to be – still as you say only between .1 and .5% – but how much it is worth trying to do about it. I’m over 70 with respiratory issues – an at risk person. I appreciate that, when the health service was still unable to cope, me taking risks would have been putting them under needless pressure. But as I see it now, a life lived in fear and isolation is a great deal worse than death, which is the natural end for all of us anyway. I don’t want to have to lurk at home cut off from the world to eke out my lifespan. It’s not just wrong for me but wrong for my grandchildren who should be at school and my sons who should be earning a living. My life is not worth it.

Jason Lisburn
Jason Lisburn
4 years ago

In Jan 2018, State Department officials predicted it:
https://www.washingtonpost….

As did the scientists who reviewed the studies submitted by the scientists at Wuhan back in 2015:
https://www.nature.com/news

And then there’s the suspicious departure of as many as 1300 of the top CEOs in the lead up to the pandemic; who would want to be the Captain when the ships about to sink?
https://www.nbcnews.com/bus

.and lastly of course, the man with more conflicts of interest than can be covered in a single article Dr. Death, who had it right down in terms of timing.
https://www.huffingtonpost….

Who didn’t know it was coming? Just us

Dave Weeden
Dave Weeden
4 years ago
Reply to  Jason Lisburn

This reminds me more of economists predicting seven of the last three recessions than it does of any conspiracy.

Michael Dawson
Michael Dawson
4 years ago

Sorry, one other thing. I have seen predictions that a lot of people have had the virus without knowing and up to half the population may already have some sort of immunity. I really do hope these people are right, but I do not think they are. Here’s my prediction: when random testing is first done in the UK, it will show between 3 and 15% of people already have had the virus, central prediction c5% and I’d be 60% confident I’m right.

Viv Evans
Viv Evans
4 years ago

One major player has been left out of these thoughts on was this predictable. who got it right, who got it wrong.
That’s the role the MSM played, first downplaying it in Jan/Feb (‘it’s not the Spanish flu’, or ‘The WHO has said it’s ok’), then turning into a mass eruption of plain hysteria when Italy’s torment came into play. So I respectfully suggest that this quote:
“If it turns out that the UK Government got it wrong, the problem may have been that Cummings didn’t listen hard enough to the nerds he admires so much.”
is a bit unfair to Cummings. At that time, the MSM were baying about ‘herd immunity’ being the most horrible thing evah.
Now we read that Sweden, with just the sensible hygiene and social distancing precautions, is expected to reach herd immunity – no longer a dirty word – in a few weeks.
Politicians are driven by what they believe is the ‘mood of the nation’ and are herded by the MSM. Once ‘herd immunity’ was deemed to be too hot to handle and Ferguson’s ‘Model’ was in play, we were on the road to where we now are.
(Btw – who appointed Ferguson as ‘head modeller’, and why?)

Michael Dawson
Michael Dawson
4 years ago
Reply to  Viv Evans

In the spirit of the original article, would you like to put a specific time to when Sweden will get herd immunity? I’d like to think it will be a few weeks, but I seriously doubt it.

hijiki7777
hijiki7777
4 years ago

1/ I think in February we could see what was happening in Italy, and by the time they were locking down we should have as well
2/ More generally scientists have been warning us for many years that there was bound to be an pandemic happening at some point in the future. We were nowhere near prepared for one after years of austerity and running down the NHS
3/ The same applies to global warming. We know it is happening and we are totally unprepared for it. We spend trivial amounts of money mitigating it compared to say replacing Trident. Why is the risk considered so low for the former compared to the latter?
4/ There is a culture on the right of politics, in particular US libertarian think tanks, complaining about “doom and gloom” merchants, reflexively dismissing concerns about the future.

klcpjohnsmith1
klcpjohnsmith1
4 years ago
Reply to  hijiki7777

1/10 for the useless pap you’ve just smeared BTL.

Stephen Follows
Stephen Follows
4 years ago
Reply to  hijiki7777

On the contrary, we don’t know that global warming is happening. We merely know that temperatures now are a good deal lower than they were in the Middle Ages. That’s really not worth wasting money on. And if you don’t believe me, look at the work of this man:

https://notalotofpeopleknow

John Zachary
John Zachary
4 years ago

I noticed you mentioning the Covid-19 Novel virus in the same sentence as Spanish Flu. There is no equation there. Zero. None.

A myriad of experts, not on the payroll of WHO or the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, (ostensibly the same thing), agree that the Covid-19 genuine figures will present at 0.1% mortality rate or around that figure. Spanish Flu has been estimated at between 2-2.5.% depending which study you believe.

Covid-19, its media promotion, general populous acquiescence to unlawful and disproportionate government action; the manipulation of data and false reporting have put the world and many very vulnerable people at severe risk; many of starvation.

The push is for the vaccine. It is very obvious. And what will come with that?
Boris Johnson changed his mind on how the UK would tackle Covid-19 based on a a report and model presented to him by Imperial College, and Neil Ferguson. This is unpublished with no peer review. It is also wrong. As a consequence the UK went into lockdown.

Imperial College and the Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology has the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as one of its main donors.

Fauci in the US also has close links to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. None of this is conspiracy theory. It is a point of fact.

We truly are at an ‘Emperor has NO clothes’ time in history and people are sleep walking into a very different and unpleasant world.

I would suggest that everyone should forget addressing Covid-19 as a pandemic, and rather address it as the serious and grave assault on freedoms that it really is.

As of writing, total deaths of 180,000 attributed to Covid-19; that’s if you believe the data, and of those nearly all, if not all these figures involved comorbidity issues.

The disaster is the crime being perpetrated on peoples livelihoods, security and freedoms. Even the UN has stated that, at least 265 million people are being pushed to the brink of starvation by the Covid-19 crisis. This is double those at risk before the lockdowns of people and economies.

I like to think that people aren’t really that stupid or dumb, and will wake up to the sinister agenda here.

Those experts I mentioned. Here are some that appeared in an excellent article.
https://off-guardian.org/20

And one of my own.

https://www.pinterpolitik.c

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
4 years ago
Reply to  John Zachary

Was the Italian lockdown precipitated by modelling by Neil Ferguson? Or the French, Spanish, German, Danish etc. lockdowns?

David Waring
David Waring
4 years ago
Reply to  John Zachary

Re your line :-”
The disaster is the crime being perpetrated on peoples livelihoods,
security and freedoms. Even the UN has stated that, at least 265
million people are being pushed to the brink of starvation by the
Covid-19 crisis. This is double those at risk before the lockdowns of
people and economies.” this struck home as the financial authorities are setting their faces against cash.
Removal of cash would have a seriously detrimental impact on many people and give great power (without responsibility )to the banks.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
4 years ago

‘One: by April 1 2023, the best estimate for infection fatality rate (IFR) of Covid-19 (as recorded by the WHO) will be between 0.1% and 0.5%. Confidence: 65%.’

Well the difference between 0.1% and 0.5% is massive. That’s hardly a bold prediction. Based on some of the testing we’ve seen in the last few days, my guess is that it will be between closer to 0.1% and 0.2%. Confidence: 75%

Ultimately, the whole thing is a giant scam, as I predicted from the start. Meanwhile, those in power and the public sector continue to rake in the cash while the private, productive sector is destroyed. An evil scam.

Michael Dawson
Michael Dawson
4 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

The infection fatality rate depends a lot on the ability of health services to cope, especially for younger patients who can survive with hospital treatment but might die without it. If the rate does end up being low – and 0.1% is certainly very low – then that is because there will be a lot of restrictions, probably lasting many months. If the restrictions are all lifted – sorry, folks, we’ve just realised it’s all a scam and not that dangerous at all – the death rate is likely to rocket. I hope we do end up testing your ‘all of an evil scam’ theory: it would be nice to see you proved wrong, but I don’t want a load of people to die in order to achieve this.

Andrew McCoull
Andrew McCoull
4 years ago
Reply to  Michael Dawson

Isn’t 0.1% in line with regular seasonal flu, which kills 10s of thousands annually, and no-one bats an eyelid?

Neil Mcalester
Neil Mcalester
4 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

But a scam to what end?

Allan
Allan
4 years ago

The coronavirus was predicted by the people who made it in the virology laboratory un Wuhan.

andy young
andy young
4 years ago

It’s a bit like wearing seat belts. My dad wouldn’t wear them because he said they’d trap you in the event of an accident (really he just didn’t like being told what to do).
Somehow you’ve got to weigh all the costs against each other, & it’s really an impossible calculation; how much do you invest in readiness – & readiness for what? An awful lot of unknown unknowns as well as the known ones. The best you can say is perhaps the news coming out of China should have triggered an alarm, & we should have more such alarms in place in future.
Incidentally the calculation about seat belts is easy to make & not one my father made correctly.

eamonnfoley
eamonnfoley
4 years ago

It was obvious to many YouTube bloggers in early January, such as PeakProsperity. He was warning Europe and the USA then. Surely intelligence agencies also knew at the time. But politically they weren’t willing to take action.

Bernard Jenkin
Bernard Jenkin
4 years ago

A lot of these questions are have great relevance but are less relevant than another question. The question is – and Tom Chivers touches upon it – not whether the predictions were wrong, but why the probabilities and risks were not properly assessed, and the worst possibilities not considered and provided for. Generally humans tend to grab on to bad news, apparently as a survival mechanism, but some possibilities are just so far beyond the untrained imagination, that people just ignore the possibility of catastrophe and look the other way, or cling to prior expectations and norms because they are more comforting. That is what was happening around flu pandemic planning in the vast majority of countries, including some of the most sophisticated like France, UK and US. The BIG LESSON will be about how proper strategic thinking and stragegic risk assessment is better embedded in our administrative systems, habits of behaviour and political attitudes. Otherwise, while this one won’t be allowed to happen again like this, something equally terrible or worse will happen as a result of public blindness to facts and probabilities, and by political and administrative neglect.

Patrick Cosgrove
Patrick Cosgrove
4 years ago

Yes, hindsight is easy, not that they’re at all blameless, but politicising something so serious is unforgivable. Most recently it’s the refusal to entertain collaboration with the EU on PPE procurement. Back in February it was the refusal to talk to the BBC about it. This is what I had to say then (third letter down): https://www.google.co.uk/am

mikecluer
mikecluer
4 years ago

Forgive me Tom but as a layman, this seems a bit naval gazing. About 20/25 years ago the National Geographic predicted this outcome comparing the spread of Spanish Flue in 1918/20 which spread pretty much all across the globe and killed between 50 and 100 million , at a time when the quickest way to get to USA was in a steamship at 12 mph , to nowadays. Also ” bless him” President Bush warned about a pandemic 2015 and Bill Gates more recently. It was therefore a not unknown probability. However , have mistakes been made ,of course we are all human.

Dale Smith
Dale Smith
4 years ago

It is not so much about prediction as preparedness, civil servants in most countries spend time and treasure developing plans, ministerial personnel must take them out of the drawer and use them in a timely way

Diarmid Weir
Diarmid Weir
4 years ago

‘a small-but-not-that-small chance of a terrible outcome is a serious thing that needs to be taken seriously.’

‘”you don’t prepare for your 50% outcome, you prepare for the 95% outcome in the hope of avoiding it’. It’s not that they should have seen it coming, it’s that they should have taken action on it anyway.”’

The point of government is co-ordination and risk-spreading. As such the target of policy should be resilience to a wide range of outcomes – individual and collective. Policy based on the ‘most likely’ outcome (which may not actually be very likely) is therefore often bad policy.

Jim Cooper
Jim Cooper
4 years ago

All you’re admitting to here is your failure to act as a citizen of a democracy who is willing to express an opinion (doxa) in the face of your fear of facing your peers. A bit sanctimonious don’t you think and cowardly?

David Radford
David Radford
4 years ago

I completely agree with Anjela. My only additional thought is that following the inherently cautious science from SAGE, Boris was always going to be late. Despite this he unveiled his first version of social distancing advice a good bit before PHE raised the threat level to high. Media have conveniently forgotten that!

Dr T
Dr T
4 years ago

I think you are relativizing and excusing the Government’s incompetence. I knew by the end of January that this was going to be bad. All the moderately intelligent, or smarter, people I know, knew at the end of January this was going to be bad. Not thought. Knew. And here is the factual basis as to WHY this was obvious back then. There was a bad flu season this winter, yet people in public were very nervous about this virus back then when anyone coughed or sneezed. It’s not a matter of some people said this, some people said that. We knew back then that (a) this disease has a high mortality rate. The ratio of deaths over the number of confirmed cases was consistently 2.5%, day in, day out. Furthermore, there was a 3 week delay between being diagnosed and dying, and the disease was growing rapidly. Thus, the ratio of the number of people dying over the number of diagnosed cases at the time the dying people had been diagnosed was much higher – I estimated it to be 29%, in fact. The ratio of total deaths over the number of resolved cases was also about 28%. The fact that these two numbers agreed, confirmed that the best estimate from what was known then of the likely mortality rate of this virus was in the high 20-s of percent. This is based on the numbers as they were known in late January / early February. We all know that China lies, and the fact that Tedros and the WHO were in the pocket of China was also known back then – it’s all in the public domain, and has been, ever since he was appointed and China paid for him to have been, many years ago – so trying to blame the WHO is a lame excuse. Unless you were completely stupid, you knew back then that whatever China and the WHO had to be discounted. The pandemonium in China – overflowing morgues, overwhelmed hospitals, the government locking people up in their homes and bolting the doors, spraying the streets, dragging people from their homes … suggested a very serious disease, and also many deaths (if morgues in a city of 11 million people, where 150k people per year typically die, are overflowing, that means a lot of dead people – clearly, clearly, clearly, China’s figures were fake – 70 new dead on 6 February in a city of 11 million, but overflowing morgues? Give me a break!). China does not care about its people or if they die … if they took extreme measures and locked the place down, and even admitted to the world that they had a problem … it had to be a big problem – no question about it, (b) the disease spreads asymptomatically … you could be infected for 14 days without knowing it, and spreading it. This is very unusual, and very dangerous, because it means that an outbreak is virtually impossible to stop, once you have some cases. This was known back then and is self-evidently an unusually great danger, (c) it was known even back then that the virus is very resistant to cold and hot temperatures, to low and to high humidity – which means it is not seasonal, like the flu. It will just continue to pester us through the hot summer months, all year round, (d) it was known back then that the virus survives much longer – massively longer – on fomites than the flu, (e) it was known back then that the virus was much more infectious than the flu, with R0 being considerably higher, and it being transmissible not just through the nose or mouth but also through the EYES – the tiny tear ducts in the eyes which connect with the nose were an infection site. This makes it clear that a tiny amount of virus particles, entering through a tiny entrance point, could infect you. None of this is hindsight. All of this was known back then – and much more. If this is not enough for one to realize that this is one very dangerous virus that one has to protect oneself from by putting all people arriving into the country from abroad into quarantine, then one has to be either very, very stupid, very very ignorant, or a saboteur. And all these mealy mouthed excuses that some said, some said that, so nobody knew, don’t persuade me one tiny bit.

slorter
slorter
4 years ago

The Trump administration as well as the CDC had an advance warning of no less than four months ““ from November to March ““ to be properly prepared for Covid-19 hitting the U.S. And they did nothing.
https://www.strategic-cultu

Michael Baldwin
Michael Baldwin
4 years ago

“[prediction] One: by April 1 2023, the best estimate for infection
fatality rate (IFR) of Covid-19 (as recorded by the WHO) will be between 0.1%
and 0.5%. Confidence: 65%.”

I’ve not merely been predicting the above (approximately) for about the last
month, but actually estimating it from the available figures, and it’s been
consistently something like that since I have first been doing that.

I don’t know where TC got his figures from to make such a prediction, but I
assume the prediction is based on factual official figures, and so as one also
would assume there are thousands of scientists and statisticians capable of
analysing such figures, and coming to similar conclusions, the question then
arises as to what has been the point of this lockdown.

To make the point clearer, though much criticism has been levelled at Sweden,
let us do a childishly simple piece of arithmetic.

Today’s deaths in the UK attributed to covid-19: 772; in Sweden:172

So as proportion of the UK population, that’s roughly 1 in 84,000, and in Sweden it’s 1 in 59,300 – so not greatly different. But they are not having a lockdown like we are, and we may only be postponing the problem and have more deaths later.

And sadly, while everybody has been obsessing with infection and mortality
rates for covid-19, nobody much – hardly a breath is ever spoken about it at
the Guardian for example – has been predicting or at least getting any publicity
for predictions of the economic consequences.

I think we all remember Boris Johnson’s words, saying that “sadly many
of our loved ones would die before their time” (due to this virus).

But I haven’t noticed he’s made a similar statement such as “sadly millions
of you are now going to lose your jobs and businesses as a result of this
lockdown.”

As many if not most or all economic experts seem to think.

And commonsense seems to suggest that also.

The problem with most politicians we currently have is hardly any of them
have ever run a business, and especially not a small one.

Though I am no fan of Mrs Thatcher, Mrs Thatcher would never have shut down the economy and country like this over anything less than the Bubonic plague – I mean, I’m not sure even that would have made her do so.

I am afraid what we have seen, and continue to see, is unwise bungling on a
Biblical scale.

It’s not a pandemic of covid-19 that’s the problem, it’s a pandemic of mass
madness, and especially in high places.

I’ll try to justify that accusation by simple argument.

The problem here is that nobody has really ever been able to reliably
predict things like economic crashes or outbreaks of diseases, because the
systems involved are so complex, they are probably beyond any human ability to model them.

I’ll talk not too advanced mathematics briefly to hopefully illustrate the
point.

Most people who did mathematics at school can solve a simple equation, such
as: x + 2 = 4 (i.e. x = 2).

That’s called a linear equation as the variable x is not raised to a power.

That type of equation was solved almost as soon as algebra was invented.

Then we have a more complex equation called a quadratic, such as:
x2 + 2x =4.

Most people cannot solve such an equation without using the quadratic
formula, though it can be solved graphically approximately.

But the point is, the solution with which we are familiar did not appear
till about 628 AD, though people had known about quadratic equations for
thousands of years before that.

Then we have the cubic equation of the general form ax3 + bx2 + cx + d = 0
and it took till about the 16th century – so another 1000 years after the
quadratic – for our brightest humans to solve that equation.

But I suggest, what took the best human brains thousands of years in algebra, is child’s play in comparison to making predictions about systems that are almost infinite in complexity, with not just one variable (as in the above equations, “x”) but possibly hundreds or even thousands of variables.

e.g. if we try to model the spread of the virus, let us just try a few variables that
easily come to mind:

ability to test for the virus, ability to test reliably; time taken to
create reliable tests; willingness or ability or timeliness of numerous
countries to test (think about the roughly 200 world countries, and how many
variables that throws up); means of transmission; how long the virus can be
transmitted from surfaces; which animals can spread it; ability or willingness
or timeliness to test animals (of the numerous species which interact with
humans in any way, which is thousands, including insects); spreading by travel
– by ship, by plane, by immigrant workers, including illegal immigrants crossing
borders unnoticed; infection from hospital workers; inability to provide
protective equipment; rates of success from social distancing; success rate of
distancing measures in shops, transport, amongst relatives; in streets (many
too narrow to social distance effectively); via postal workers, rubbish
collectors, and other essential service workers who cannot stop work; via
sexual contact that cannot be monitored (e.g. a footballer was caught with 2
sex workers, how many other people who did similar were not caught?); the
weather – how does infection rate change in windy weather – does this make 2
metres distancing totally ineffective?; availability of vaccine; effectiveness
of vaccine; time to produce, test and distribute vaccine; no vaccine scenario
(e.g. HIV, still no vaccine since 1981) etc., etc.

I mean, I could easily go on and on listing such variables, most of which we
cannot make proper estimates upon, so cannot construct a reliable model.

So of course in reality, models used by academics and scientists only use a
relatively small set of variables, but as a single one that may be omitted may
render the whole model invalid, the chances of models predicting reality
in x days, months or years time is generally remote, when we are
dealing with these complex environmental, economic or biological systems.

Note for example the recent poor performance of even the electoral polls, a
relatively simple matter to model when compared to things like virus control or
the economy, which political polls and models based thereon were not even able to predict the Brexit result.

But there is a way to handle these real life national or global situations
with the least risk of calamity, such that you don’t need to rely on what may
well be very unreliable models and it is the following…

When you have a system that works at least relatively well, make basic
changes to that system at your peril.

For example, in terms of the ecology, and the food supply which depends on
it, apparently all that has to happen is bees and/or earthworms dwindle to
small numbers, and then the crops don’t grow and we all starve.

So what Boris Johnson has just done – and all the other world leaders who
have acted in approximately the same way, is dangerous beyond measure, on
numerous levels.

He has got no idea whatsoever how this is going to pan out, and the only way
not to dig himself into a hole that may be so deep and cavernous that he never
finds his way out again, is never to have dug the hole to begin with.

I don’t have any personal grievance with Boris Johnson, who may well have
done exactly the same as any other available politician in his place.

But the fact that neither he, nor most of the available politicians were
adequately scientifically educated (his university education is in History and
English Literature) to be able to question the scientific advisors, and take a
range of views, and also balance that against the expert views of economists,
and statisticians, shows the near total and quite possibly utterly disastrous
unsuitability for a person like himself to be making these epoch defining
decisions on a matter of this kind.

Not to mention the fact he has been himself ill, possible even drugged as a
consequence, and also with a pregnant girlfriend, all of which factors make him
possibly the worst person possible to be making these monumental decisions,
deciding the lives of millions in a way that probably has not been the case since World War II.

But I am not even sure he personally is to blame. It is rather a culture we
have got now, that has made people afraid to go against what appears to be
“the official or consensus view.”

I think the real truth is that this is so massive, that Boris Johnson and
most of the rest of the government have just been paralyzed by fear, and they
are not really thinking any more, but just reacting to circumstances, and
mostly taking their cue from what other countries are doing.

The really dangerous disease that has spread is not covid-19, but a mental
paralysis which is causing all our leaders to follow one another like sheep,
not willing to take any responsibility for what is going on, and instead
passing it on to scientists.

Scientists, who when asked are simply going to predict the worst case
scenario in order to cover themselves, lest they be accused of irresponsibility
or negligence, and end up being held responsible for thousands or even millions of deaths.

The point being, if asked, they would have responded exactly the same way to the seasonal flu last year or the year before that, and suggested much the same measures.

But until now they simply weren’t asked, as it was never assumed that a virus
could be much controlled, or deaths could be prevented!

Because think – scientists like Mr Ferguson, were indirectly (as government must be held responsible, not a scientist, he is only an advisor) responsible for millions of cows slaughtered to stop BSE.

So just think what that says.

Scientists decided that the only way to be sure BSE wasn’t spread was by
slaughtering every cow in sight nearly whether or not they had it, which could
not be determined with certainty by testing, and neither can covid-19.

At the rate they are testing it would take months or even years to test
everybody for covid-19, so cannot be used as a decision making basis, because it would be too late.

So when faced with a similar situation with humans, as Mr Ferguson and his
kind don’t have the option of slaughtering us all – which it appears scientists like him think is the only way to definitely contain a disease – instead he
recommends we are all locked up, and probably indefinitely!

Because logically that is the only way aside from killing and cremating us to make sure we aren’t carriers and can’t pass it to anybody else.

He doesn’t know of course if the lockdown will stop the virus spreading
again when we are released, or how much it will spread, but he has been asked a question and he has answered it, with of course absolutely no regard to the social and economic consequences, as that’s not his job.

Some like to frame this as a human rights issue, and I’d certainly agree.

But as apparently that is not persuasive, the part of “social consequences” that is being overlooked as badly as the economic ones, is the fact that humans in this country or elsewhere have never been this restricted in known history before.

The only place we know of humans being this confined for long periods is
prisons, and all prisons have a history of riots, because the human desire for
freedom is very strong, so the hopes of keeping 65 million people in prison
very long without major disturbances and rebellions are not very high.

And we’ve seen enough of riots in 2008 to know that firstly, unless the
authorities are willing to shoot and kill a lot of people, their chances of
controlling riots are almost zero.

Secondly, once a riot starts anywhere, due to the 24 hr media now and
Internet, it quickly spreads throughout the country.

And thirdly, the police numbers are such (“the thin blue line”)
that the population in general is left defenceless and vulnerable in the
extreme, at the mercy of roaming gangs with nobody to stop them doing whatever they want to do – which included murdering a man who came out of his home to protect his property in the last riots, and I don’t think the perpetrators were ever caught.

Even Prince Charles had his car surrounded during the riots by people who
might well have murdered him – nobody is safe in such circumstances, and by
interfering with public freedom in this fundamental way for such an extended
period, the consequences are totally unknowable, but the “prison
model” suggests they are not likely good.

Boris Johnson doesn’t know what to do. His government doesn’t know. The
opposition doesn’t know.

Our only hope is that someone else will, but I don’t think it will be in
this country.

Hopefully President Trump will break though this terrible wall of fear, and
make a decision.

After this chaos is over in its most intense phase, which probably hasn’t
happened yet, but likely will when the public realise how many jobs and
businesses have been lost and so on, the main lesson we need to learn is – be
very hesitant to ever again fiddle with the fundamentals of our economy and
society.

No sudden dangerous fundamental moves….gradual hesitant changes only…to
see how things are working…so we are ready to pull back if the course seems
to be going wrong.

That would be wise, sane, rational government, which clearly we haven’t now
got.

A small example to finish off, of all these unintended economic consequences
alone.

Take the closure of the pubs.

Ignoring the social consequences of that, which are massive – for example
young people (and I mean under 50s at minimum) as always are raging with
hormones, seeking mates, and now being told they can’t even go within 2 metres of a prospective mate they don’t already know…

Just consider how pub closure can affect supply chains like the food chains
in Nature/the ecosystem.

Pubs don’t sell beer or wine any more. The beer and wine makers can’t sell
their produce. The people who make the barrels can’t sell their barrels. The
people who fell the timber to the barrel makers and the people who forge the
metal they use to reinforce the barrels can’t sell their timber and metal any
more. So sack their employees, as do the farmers, as the people who work in the fields who pick the grapes and the hops and so on are no longer needed.

And at the bottom, the poor people who depend on this kind of labour, can’t
eat if they have no money, so they have to beg or starve (or thieve).

The WHO are now so I’ve read predicting 250 million people maybe dying of
starvation as a results of this action.

There are only about 180,000 deaths of covid-19 worldwide so far, but
because of the lockdown 250 million may starve.

Please – am I or others therefore mad to have been against this lockdown?

Or does it seem that the response to covid-19 has been so out of proportion
and done with such reckless disregard for the overall consequences, it is they
who are mad who ordered this (or merely just not competent, overcome by a
decision too big for them to competently take).

So I repeat – once the system is broken, “all the kings horses and
men” may never be able to put it back together again.

So if we are fortunate enough that we come out of this with at least it
being recognisably intact, never again risk breaking it.

And we must next time all howl very loudly if those in charge dare to try to
do so again, and that means the media, as at times like
this, apart from the politicians, they are the only ones with an audible voice.

But instead, the media have been uncritical in the extreme, and if anything,
rather egging on Mr Johnson to do ever more dangerous things.

d.tjarlz
d.tjarlz
4 years ago

“Scientists, who when asked are simply going to predict the worst case scenario in order to cover themselves, lest they be accused of irresponsibility
or negligence, and end up being held responsible for thousands or even millions of deaths.”

Let me have a go at this… “Scientists, who when asked are simply going to do the best with the models that they have, lest they be accused of irresponsibility or negligence, and end up being held responsible for providing advice that crashed the economy.”

damianjgardner
damianjgardner
4 years ago

In psychiatry and mental health thousands of people have to make predictions every day. Usually the format includes some matrix of likelihood x impact. If it’s low likelihood x catastrophic impact you act accordingly. Same with good board risk management. This is why the scraps of evidence that human generated climate change deniers hold onto are so irrelevant: the fact that irreversible climate change is a possibility should drive the decision making. The pandemic was a possibility that Bill Gates, several film makers and a whole bunch of medics and scientists knew about. Governments almost everywhere could have been more prepared to take some of the risk mitigation actions available to them.

d.tjarlz
d.tjarlz
4 years ago

” your 30% ones 30%,”

I am not sure about this 30% prediction thing. Why not make the opposite prediction where you have a 70% chance of being right?

Jonathan Bagley
Jonathan Bagley
4 years ago

I’m not convinced it isn’t largely survivor bias (the principle behind Derren Brown’s entertaining betting trick TV programme). The answer is perhaps contained in the essay by Story and Liptay, to which you refer. I’ll read it. I’ve noticed it points out that a number of correct independent forecasts marks out a super-predictor, and I think that’s the key point.

Alan White
Alan White
4 years ago

So knowing some math might be useful? This goes against the opinion of Frank R. Leavis, an English literary critic arguing in a well-known 1960s debate with scientist C. P. Snow. Leavis asserted math might be useful to a “tradesman” but never to an “educated” person…
Snow is generally acknowledged over the years to have lost the debate.

Monica Elrod
Monica Elrod
4 years ago

Tom – as a science writer, I thought you would have been all over this: Environmentalists and ecologists have been predicting pandemics for many years due to clearcutting of rainforests and other effects of human encroachment. This should not have come as a surprise to any government with scientists doing environmental risk assessment. Don’t be surprised if it happens again.

Derek Hilling
Derek Hilling
4 years ago

Everyone in a position of authority / responsibility has a duty to consider ‘risk’, this includes the effect of an event should it occur and the likeliness of its occurring. Boards of all sorts regularly assess risk and take mitigating actions accordingly. I think this article suggests that perhaps this was not happening within government or the Civil Service. A valid question I think?

In response to Prediction 3 then I would say this:

Some but not all small to medium primary schools in England (don’t forget Education is a devolved issue so UK government only manages English schools) will open after the May half-term holiday.
Confidence: 51%

paul0
paul0
4 years ago

Was this predicted? Suggest you google “Exercise Cygnus”

Barry Wetherilt
Barry Wetherilt
4 years ago
Reply to  paul0

Which wasn’t a prediction.