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Which epidemiologist do you believe? The debate about lockdown is not a contest between good and evil


December 23, 2020   5 mins

The past week has been a tale of two epidemiologists. First up was Swedish professor Johan Giesecke, whose interview with UnHerd a week ago caused quite a stir. Disarmingly blunt, uninterested in percentage points, Giesecke brushed aside the coronavirus pandemic with words that electrified sceptics and horrified his detractors. “I don’t think you can stop it,” he said, “it’s like a tsunami sweeping across Europe.” The real death toll, he suggested, will be in the region of a severe influenza season — maybe double that at most — so we should do what we can to slow it so the health service can cope, but let it pass.

Then, this weekend, it was the turn of Professor Neil Ferguson to answer the Swede’s critique that his overly pessimistic forecasts had tilted the Government into Chinese-style dirigisme. He cut a very different figure — more cautious, more media-trained, lacking the charismatic heft of the Professor Emeritus but making up for it with precise deployment of the facts and figures. Much as he’d love to be proved wrong, he said, the UK fatality rate of Covid-19 is likely to be 0.8-0.9%, which means that even letting out only the young and healthy will lead to more than 100,000 deaths later this year. We need to prepare for a long fight, a new socially-distanced normal, potentially for years to come.

In theory, theirs is a purely scientific disagreement that boils down to Infection Fatality Ratios, seroprevalence assays, and R0 numbers — and one or other of them will eventually be proved right. But somehow I suspect there will always be enough controversy around how deaths are counted and the economic and health impacts of lockdown to defer that judgement indefinitely. It’s also quite possible that one of them could end up being right in spirit while wrong on the numbers.

Alongside all the metrics, and the vital assessments of the human cost of different policies, where you stand on this wretched virus also comes down to attitude — your world view. Are you more Giesecke or Ferguson? The expert that most resonates is unlikely to be entirely down to your assessment of the science — more likely a complex combination of your politics, your own life experience, your attitude to risk and mortality and your relationship to authority. Perhaps each of us have elements of both instinct within us — but what do they really represent?

What they are not, despite the attempts of some social media voices to make it so, are good and evil. Clearly, both experts are highly accomplished scientists doing their best to understand a complex threat. Likewise, the wider debate around lockdown is not a contest between rational, good people who value life on the one hand and the cavalier and cynical who care only about economics or themselves on the other. If the do-gooder class try to push that narrative, they will simply lose the argument.

There is not even an in-principle disagreement about the sacredness of every human life, despite attempts to slur those in favour of a speedier timetable out of lockdown as “pro-death”. The principle that some level of increase in infection, and therefore more deaths, is tolerable for the wider good is not often said publicly but is already accepted on both sides of the argument. Denmark, the poster-nation for early and stringent lockdown, has now brought back junior schools alongside published modelling that showed what level of increased infection (and therefore deaths) they expected it to lead to. Nobody raised an eyebrow, because the education of children is so obviously a moral good. It’s really a question of where you fall on a spectrum: how much death would you tolerate, for which wider goods?

In UK policy terms, the ‘landing zone’ now lies in the space between these two experts. At the Giesecke end, we would define success simply in terms of ensuring the NHS is not overwhelmed — this means slowing the spread and protecting vulnerable people as much as practically possible but moving to lift lockdown measures and only reintroducing them if the health service is challenged. At the Ferguson end, we would attempt to keep the outbreak at such low levels that we can wage a long-term ‘test, track and trace’ suppression of the virus, with elements of social distancing to minimise transmission until a vaccine is found.

The appeal of the first of these options is that it has a clear rationale and an end-point when the virus has passed and life can return to normal. But it suffers from seeming callous and is highly dependent on the quantum of deaths. If we have 100,000 additional Covid deaths within the year, as Professor Ferguson warned, but could get fully back to normal after that, would that be acceptable? At two people in every thousand, most people would then know somebody who died. What about only 20,000 more? Or 200,000?

The Ferguson end of things will likely be more attractive to politicians as, while sidestepping this difficult question, it carries with it a clearer sense of virtue and action. As Gov Cuomo of New York is now fond of saying, “we’re not going to accept the premise that human life is disposable.” There is a strong appeal to society pulling together to protect our most vulnerable, and we know from polls that the public continues to support the more cautious approach.

But it is dangerous because it has no clear measure of success, and no way out: if the goal is just to “keep transmission low”, how low is low enough? Any move away from total lockdown potentially takes you further from your goal, and back towards a relentless fear of cases starting to creep up once again.

In the ‘Giesecke’ worldview, this would amount not to a victory but to a surrender. The world becomes a place of indefinite anxiety, with the constant threat of curtailment hovering over all that is best and most human in life — family get-togethers, religious worship, children playing, plans for the future, creative projects – it risks becoming a conscribed, smaller, more fearful world. At its most extreme, a long-term ‘suppression state’ really could start to feel like oppressive regimes of history, from the Puritans to the Communists, that misguidedly tried to remake the whole natural order in pursuit of a single definition of virtue. People who recoil from any move in this direction can hardly be dismissed, or called immoral.

Somewhere in between these two opposing instincts lies a wise way forward; a path has to be found between not just different assessments of the facts but different world views.

In between his careful words, I detected something of the idealist about Neil Ferguson — the younger of the two scientists was keen to break new ground and win a battle. “We’re in a horrible place, aren’t we,” I said, expecting him to agree, but he immediately countered that, on the contrary, the world has achieved what he never thought he would see in this century, and has collectively stopped a highly infectious respiratory virus in its tracks. The South Korean model offers hope for an unprecedented new technology-driven response to an epidemic. For an expert who has spent years looking at fatality rates and modelling outcomes this must feel like huge progress: the entire world united against a disease.

Meanwhile, somewhat ironically given the laser-targeted threat of this disease on the old and vulnerable, the Giesecke approach felt imbued with the more philosophical perspective of later life. He has seen many pandemics; we live in a world full of various threats and dangers, and we can’t stop everything to try to run from one new one. Young people must be allowed to do what young people do, and older people, without the luxury of unlimited years ahead of them, must be allowed to choose to go back to seeing their grandchildren and living a full life even knowing the risks.

Whether you’re more Giesecke or Ferguson, it’s time to stop pretending that our response to this threat is simply a scientific question, or even an easy moral choice between right and wrong. It’s a question of what sort of world we want to live in, and at what cost.

This article first appeared on 27 April, 2020


Freddie Sayers is the Editor-in-Chief & CEO of UnHerd. He was previously Editor-in-Chief of YouGov, and founder of PoliticsHome.

freddiesayers

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Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago

I think most of us have long since ceased to believe or trust Ferguson based on a) a dismal record of getting everything wrong that stretches back 20 years and b) his flagrant disregard for the rules that he himself recommended. He embodies all the arrogance and incompetence of the authorities and experts that have been ruining our lives for some decades now.

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

getting everything wrong that stretches back 20 years

Usual question: name five.

Shalal Sadullah
Shalal Sadullah
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Pinch

2001 Foot and mouth disease. He predicted 150,000 deaths. Less than 200 died but 11 million cattle and sheep were culled
2002 50,000 would die of BSE – 177 died
2005 150 million would die worldwide of bird flu- 282 died
2009 -65000 in the Uk would die of swine flu-457 died
2020 covid …. too early to be vastly inaccurate but going that way
Which epidemiologist do you believe is not the question
Why has anyone listened to Ferguson is the real enigma!!

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
3 years ago

At the risk of repeating myself

2001 Foot and mouth disease. He predicted 150,000 deaths. Less than 200 died

I know of no evidence that he or anyone else made such a prediction.

2002 50,000 would die of BSE – 177 died

No: predicted 100-1000 deaths over 80 years, with 95% confidence limits 50 – 150,000. Actual deaths over 20 years: 177

2005 150 million would die worldwide of bird flu- 282 died

Not a prediction: estimated number if avian flu became human tranmissible. It did not.

2009 -65000 in the Uk would die of swine flu-457 died

Not a prediction, but a RWC estimate, explicitly not a prediction

2020 covid …. too early to be vastly inaccurate but going that way

Adopted by SAGE as RWC, explicitly not a prediction. Ferguson estimate was if no action were taken.

So, that’s one prediction, three non-predictions and one that never happened. The one prediction was actually correct.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Pinch

No, that’s one unproven, three estimates, and one prediction that just qualifies as correct.

Compound that with his hypocrisy and testosterone surges, and you have arguably the most despised man in England, do you not Mr Pinch?

Elaine Giedrys-Leeper
Elaine Giedrys-Leeper
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

Most despised man in England – well only if you don’t read his papers properly.
Uncertainty rules. All science is provisional. Models are a tool to assist politicians and others in the “what if” games they have to play every day in an attempt to achieve some sort of balance between competing interests.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago

I’m not qualified to judge his science, but do abhor his hypocrisy and lack of moral compass.
So, I hope, do you? Shame is a great teacher.

Elaine Giedrys-Leeper
Elaine Giedrys-Leeper
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

Are you referring to the visit to his girlfriend’s flat ?
Not sure what that has to do with his competency as an epidemiologist which is what we should be primarily interested in surely ?

The 3 times I have heard him interviewed (on BBC Radio 4) he has been very precise and measured.

It does seem to me that the less well informed media outlets have been confused (putting it politely) by the work he has done.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago

His visit to his girlfriend’s flat in direct violation of rules he supports indicates that he doesn’t believe what he is saying. Precise and measured and ignoring it all.

Elaine Giedrys-Leeper
Elaine Giedrys-Leeper
3 years ago

So because he appears to be a fallible human being like the rest of us you ignore everything else he and his group have presented in the way of data ?
Why should his behaviour effect anyone elses unless you believe that his / his girlfriend’s actions unequivocally taint everything he and his group have done and said ?

I understand that nowadays optics are almost everything but that doesn’t say much for the average citizen’s critical faculties.

Data is data. You read the assumptions of the models and how the models are constructed and make up your own mind surely ?
Once a model is available for scrutiny in the public domain it stands or falls on its own merits. If you believe one of the authors lacks credibility for whatever reason, then that just means you read it more carefully with your super critical antennae tuned to max.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago

Not believing what he’s saying isn’t fallibility. It indicates, as I said, that he doesn’t believe what he is saying.

Fallibility would be if he said something wrong yet still kept to his own suggestions for how to handle the situation. No comment on the critical faculties it takes to see the difference.

Elaine Giedrys-Leeper
Elaine Giedrys-Leeper
3 years ago

The fallibility I was referring to was his midbrain hijacking his higher cognitive functions … or possibly just brain fog since he was allegedly recovering from Covid at the time.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago

Or he may simply not believe what he was saying. And he would hardly be alone in that. We can all name lots of people saying one thing and doing something in direct opposition to what they’re saying. They can’t all be in a brain fog.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago

Yes to his illicit visit to his concubine’s bedchamber. A far more heinous offence than for example Mr Dominic Cummings drive to test his eyesight.The hypocrisy was ‘breathtaking’, as we are supposed say these days.

As Mr Pinch has conclusively proved there nothing to fault his epidemiology.

However as a high profile Boffin put before us to spread, fear, doom and gloom he was the perfect choice as a “useful idiot”. His physiognomy, demeanour and pessimism fitted the government agenda of ‘terror’ perfectly. He didn’t have to accept such a role, but appears to have done so with alacrity.

To be completely fair, the real N****r in the woodpile (as we used to say), is Her Britannic Majesty’s Secretary of State for Heath, one Matt Hancock Esq. I trust his immortal words “don’t kill your gran” will be inscribed on his tombstone. They are a fitting epitaph for Modern Britain.

What would, Pitt, Clive, Hawke or Nelson have made of all this?

Elaine Giedrys-Leeper
Elaine Giedrys-Leeper
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

Actually, looking at the report in the Telegraph (factually correct ?) dated May 5th she visited him…twice and he had just recovered from a bout of Covid so was not infectious. If you are being intelligent about meeting someone, this was good timing.

I have no idea whether he accepted his role as a spokesperson with alacrity or not.
His physiogonomy …. etc – you are making a lot of assumptions here, a bit like a modeller.

I have never got the impression either from what he has said (I have only ever listened to him on the radio) or his recently published papers that he is a “doom and gloom” merchant – he just publishes his models. It is up to the listener / reader to dissect what he says / writes and make their own conclusions.

Pitt et al ? well expecatations were different then – mortality < 2 years old 240 – 886 / 1000 estimated live births compared with 7 / 1000 live births (up to 1 year) in 2019.

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

My challenge was to produce five predictions that had been wrong. I take we are agreed that the list under discussion, which is touted so very frequently here and in other fora, scores zero out of five.

The three “estimates” that you refer to are, I presume, the counterfactuals, which are so often mis-stated as predictions, often by people who should, and possibly even do, know better. I find it hard to understand why if someone says “If A then B”, and A does not happen and then B does not happen either, they are then criticised for having incorrectly “predicted” B. At the risk of running across the same tendency myself, would you say that “If an asteroid hits the earth tonight, then the human race will be extinct within a week” is actually a prediction of the imminent extinction of the human race? For the avoidance of doubt, I think the first very likely to be true, but not the second.

I’m not making any comments on his personal character, which seems to me to have little effect one way or another on the validity of his modelling. But the title of “most despised man in England” is, I would say, hotly contested.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Pinch

The ” three estimates” I referred to you were your estimates, QED?

However I take your point, but as far as zero, I would say 2 out of 5.

As to the most despised man in England, you are correct, there are a few other candidates, and they increase by the day! However I still regard Ferguson as a male hysteric.(if such a thing is possible).

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

So which are the two predictions which you claim to have falsified, then? Just to remind you, a statement of the form “if X happens then Y will happen” is falsified only in the case that X happens and Y does not: in the case that X does not happen, there can obviously be no falsification.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Pinch

BSE & Avian Flu.
Incidentally I don’t “claim to have falsified,them?” Is this a syntax mistake or are you just being a bit grumpy?

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

I’m using “falsify” in the sense of “show to be false”, which is the usual meaning in logic. Of course I’m not suggesting anyone forged the documents.

BSE. As I pointed out above, Ferguson’s prediction was

Best-fit estimates associated with 2001-2080 confidence bounds generally lie in the range 100-1,000,

The confidence bounds in question being 50 (that’s fifty, not fifty thousand) and 150,000 as a 95% confidence interval. It turned out to be 177 over 20 years, which is, obviously, consistent with both the wider and the narrower estimate.

From Nature, 10 January 2002

“We cannot exclude the possibility that the epidemic is very large,” says Ferguson. He adds, however, that the worst-case situation is by far the most unlikely.

Of course the media reported the more exciting “up to” figure rather than “as low as 50”, in spite of that being explicitly the most unlikely.

So BSE: correct prediction.

Avian flu. From Nature, 08 September 2005 (my emphasis)

The epidemiologist at Imperial College London wanted to know what would happen if the avian influenza virus H5N1 mutated so that it could pass readily from human to human..

So if avian flu had become human transmissible, then … . But it didn’t and 200 million people didn’t die. Which is good, but an off-the-cuff estimate for what might happen if something happens when that something didn’t happen after all is simply not a prediction of anything.

So Avian Flu: not a prediction at all.

Score: one was a prediction, and was correct; one wasn’t a prediction at all, and is thus neither correct nor incorrect.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Pinch

Many thanks. I think you win this one 40-0!

Peter Whitehead
Peter Whitehead
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

Despised in Wales as well which is where he comes from! …my local town I am ashamed to say.

J J
J J
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

“…most of us have long since ceased to believe Ferguson…”

‘most of us’ being people in the twittersphere and youtube? Most academics or professionals certainly have not dismissed Ferguson’s work. Even the term ‘ceased to believe’ demonstrates an anti scientific way of thinking.

The polls are unequivocal, most of the general public continue to support the restrictions (please do not tell me ‘no one has ever polled me’). The ‘will of the people’ must be respected, no matter what you think.

Those of you who ‘do not believe’ are a small minority on the internet who argue against the main body of scientific evidence and public opinion. Do not pretend you are part of some popular uprising, you are not. You are an anti science minority.

Sean Booth
Sean Booth
3 years ago
Reply to  J J

At the last count these people had signed the Great Barrington Declaration. 13,045 medical and public health scientists. 39,384 medical practitioners. 709,439 citizens. Perhaps you should read it rather than just listen to the government and their politically motivated propaganda? The polls may be unequivocal, that is because the government propaganda machine is huge and powerful and backed by the mainstream media who love a good crisis and give zero airtime to anyone daring to question the current dogma. People want the restrictions to continue because they are a) frightened and b) not yet having to face the forthcoming financial and long term social impacts.

J J
J J
3 years ago
Reply to  Sean Booth

I have read the Barrington Declaration and listened to the doctors concerned well before they published. The Barrington Declaration is not a scientific paper and has not been peer reviewed. It has been signed by less than a fraction of one percent of the worlds medical professionals.

Most of the recommendations have also been debunked. You can’t divide the ‘vulnerable’ from the rest of society. One epidemiologist compared it to trying to have a urine free swimming lane in a swimming pool were urinating is allowed.

I accept the economic damage is and will be substantial. But so are the deaths due to a circa 1% IFR and a 4% hospitalization rate. However if we can wait another 3 months until we have vaccinated all of the vulnerable (in the UK at least) we shall be able to open with minimal deaths and get back to normal.

Daryl Jones
Daryl Jones
3 years ago
Reply to  J J

” You can’t divide the ‘vulnerable’ from the rest of society. “

Really? So we need to close schools because the kids die at same rates as nursing homes?

Since influenza is bigger risk to the young than Covid, we should close schools and universities every flu season?

J J
J J
3 years ago
Reply to  Daryl Jones

You seem to of misunderstand both the Barrington Declaration and my response to it. Well done.

COVID has a IFR of approaching 10% in the elderly. That does not apply to any disease which children can catch.

Susan James
Susan James
3 years ago
Reply to  J J

Matt Hancock, asked whether the government had over-promised on getting “back to normal” by Easter said today he hoped that we would be back to normal by 2022. Would that be January 2022, December 2022 or some other revised date sufficiently far into the future to shut people up for a few more days or weeks. Currently, the thrust of all restrictions is to eradicate a virus. This is incompatible with normal human existence. How long will restrictions have to go on, with all the damage they cause, for people who are so compliant with restrictions imposed by a governent that has consistently lied to achieve its ends, to decide that the cure is worse that the disease? Just want to know, so that I can have a fair idea of when this is going to end. Because until the frightened majority start to make proper assessments of what is being lost in this fruitless quest, there is no hope.

Robin Lambert
Robin Lambert
3 years ago
Reply to  J J

Twerp.. Most of SAGE arte Social scientists, psychologists NOT virologists! …

Elaine Giedrys-Leeper
Elaine Giedrys-Leeper
3 years ago
Reply to  Robin Lambert

Erm … no. gov.uk lists 86 participants to SAGE (not counting the associated groups like NERVTAG – New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group which has 17 participants
etc).

5 of the SAGE participants are card carrying psychologists the others are who you would expect – immunologists, critical care, public health bods, renal physician, CMOs, and including yes … a respiratory virus specialist

The minutes of their meetings – all viewable online are not full of behavioural / psych input (looking at a random sample of 5 out of 71)

J J
J J
3 years ago
Reply to  Robin Lambert

They are 90% from the natural sciences. Good try though (not really).

Sir Patrick Vallance FMedSci FRSGovernment Chief Scientific Adviser
Professor Chris Whitty CB FMedSciChief Medical Officer and Chief Scientific Adviser, Department of Health and Social Care
Professor Rebecca AllenUniversity of Oxford
Professor John AstonChief Scientific Adviser, Home Office
Professor Charles BanghamImperial College London
Professor Wendy Barclay FMedSciImperial College London
Professor Jonathan BengerUWE Bristol
Fliss BenneeWelsh Government
Mr Allan BennettPublic Health England
Professor Phil BlytheChief Scientific Adviser, Department for Transport
Professor Chris BonnellLondon School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
Professor Sir Ian Boyd FRSEUniversity of St Andrews
Professor Peter BruceUniversity of Oxford
Caroline CakeHDR-UK
Professor Andrew CurranChief Scientific Adviser, Health and Safety Executive
Professor Paul CosfordPublic Health England
Dr Gavin DabreraPublic Health England
Professor Sir Ian Diamond FRSE FBANational Statistician, Office for National Statistics
Professor Yvonne Doyle CBMedical Director, Public Health England
Professor Deborah Dunn-WaltersUniversity of Surrey
Professor John Edmunds OBE FMedSciLondon School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
Professor Sir Jeremy Farrar FMedSci FRSDirector, Wellcome Trust
Professor Michael FergusonUniversity of Dundee
Professor Neil Ferguson OBE FMedSciImperial College London
Professor Kevin FentonPublic Health England
Dr Aidan Fowler FRCSNational Health Service England
Professor Julia GogUniversity of Cambridge
Professor Robin GrimesChief Scientific Adviser, Ministry of Defence
Dr Ian HallUniversity of Manchester
Dr David HalpernBehavioural Insights Team, Cabinet Office
Dido HardingNHSI
Dr Jenny Harries OBEDeputy Chief Medical Officer
Dr Demis Hassabis FRSPersonal capacity as a data scientist
Professor Andrew HaywardUCL
Professor Gideon HendersonChief Scientific Adviser, Defra
Professor Peter HorbyUniversity of Oxford
Professor Anne JohnsonUCL
Dr Indra JoshiNHSx
Dr Vittal KatikireddiUniversity of Glasgow
Dr Ben KillingleyUCLH
Professor David LallooLiverpool School of Tropical Medicine
Professor Janet LordUniversity of Birmingham
Professor Dame Theresa Marteau FMedSciUniversity of Cambridge
Professor Dame Angela McLean FRSChief Scientific Adviser, Ministry of Defence
Dr Jim McMenaminHealth Protection Scotland
Professor Graham MedleyLondon School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine
Dr Laura MersonUniversity of Oxford
Professor Susan Michie FAcSS FMedSciUniversity College London
Professor Christine MiddlemissChief Veterinary Officer
Professor Andrew Morris FMedSci FRSEUniversity of Edinburgh
Professor Paul MossUniversity of Birmingham
Professor Carole MundellChief Scientific Adviser, Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Professor Cath NoakesUniversity of Leeds
Dr Rob OrfordWelsh Government
Professor Michael ParkerUniversity of Oxford
Professor Sharon Peacock FMedSciPublic Health England
Professor Alan PennChief Scientific Adviser, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government
Dr Pasi PenttinenEuropean Centre for Disease Prevention and Control
Professor Guy PoppyChief Scientific Adviser, Food Standards Agency
Professor Steve Powis FRCPNational Health Service England
Dr Mike PrenticeNational Health Service England
Mr Osama RahmanChief Scientific Adviser, Department for Education
Professor Venki Ramakrishnan PRSEx Officio as Chair of DELVE, convened by the Royal Society
Professor Andrew Rambaut FRSEUniversity of Edinburgh
Professor Tom RoddenChief Scientific Adviser, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
Professor Brooke Rogers OBEKings College London
Dr Cathy RothDepartment for International Development
David SeymourHDR-UK
Professor Sheila Rowan MBE FRS FRSEChief Scientific Adviser, Scotland
Alaster SmithDepartment for Education
Professor Iyiola SolankeUniversity of Leeds
Dr Nicola SteedmanScottish Government
Dr James RubinKings College London
Professor Calum SempleUniversity of Liverpool
Dr Mike Short CBEChief Scientific Adviser, Department for International Trade
Dr Gregor SmithScottish Government Chief Medical Officer
Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter FRSUniversity of Cambridge
Professor Jonathan Van Tam MBEDeputy Chief Medical Officer
Professor Russell Viner PRCPCHUniversity College London
Professor Charlotte Watts CMG FMedSciChief Scientific Adviser, Department for International Development
Dr Rhoswyn WalkerHDR-UK
Professor Sir Mark Walport FRCP FMedSci FRSUK Research and Innovation
Professor Mark WilcoxUniversity of Leeds
Professor Lucy Yardley FAcSSUniversity of Bristol and University of Southampton
Professor Ian YoungNorthern Ireland Executive
Professor Maria Zambon FMedSciPublic Health England

CL van Beek
CL van Beek
3 years ago

The total number of deaths to COVID-19 in the Netherlands under the age of 65 is 568 (source is the RIVM website with current statistics (grafieken)). I don’t know how many people in that age group have been infected (past months the number of new positive tests lays around 10.000 a day), but I wonder if there is a higher risk of them dying from COVID-19 then, let’s say, regular flu.
I think it would be best if everyone in that age group went back to living their former normal life, only the older age groups should be careful.
There is simply no need to close restaurants and shops, nor is their need to wear masks. So Sweden had it right from the beginning.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  CL van Beek

Remember, a lot of those positives will be false. Equally, a lot of negatives with the lateral flow tests are false. The whole thing is a giant racket of a crap shoot. And yes, as has been obvious since the start, the vulnerable should have been protected while the rest of us lived more or less normally, perhaps with some restrictions on mass participation events.

J J
J J
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Deeply unscientific post and you clearly have no idea how medical testing works.
Death counts fail to capture full mortality effects of COVID-19, study finds
Date:
September 23, 2020
Source:
University of South Florida
Summary:
A new study finds that for each person in the U.S. who died after contracting COVID-19, an average of nearly 10 years of life had been lost. Researchers claim ‘years of life lost’ is a more insightful measure than death count since it accounts for the ages of the deceased.

J J
J J
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Deeply unscientific post and you clearly have no idea how medical testing works.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
3 years ago
Reply to  J J

False positives from PCR testing has been widely reported for months… even in main stream media.

J J
J J
3 years ago

You think the MSM is the go to place for scientific information? The sensitivity of PCR testing is considered to be above 99.9%

https://www.ons.gov.uk/peop

Shalal Sadullah
Shalal Sadullah
3 years ago
Reply to  J J

No it isnt unscientific. The false positivity with mass screening and that with diagnostic testing are totally different. If the prevalence of a disorder is <1% in asymptomatic people upto a third of those tested positive will be false. If you have a symptomatic patient then its much lower but still 5-7percent.

J J
J J
3 years ago

The ONS have published data on the PCR and false positives. They have estimated it as higher than 99.9%. The research and data is out there, if you can bothered to look for it. Don’t really on twitter, youtube or personal web site to get your information.

https://www.ons.gov.uk/peop

Elaine Giedrys-Leeper
Elaine Giedrys-Leeper
3 years ago

What are your assumptions regarding operational sensitivity and specificity in this model that you propose ?
Not sure where you are getting these figures from.

You might have fun playing with them at Health Data Research UK – False positive tests, using their interactive tool – options to look at mass and individual testing there.

Gre Tel
Gre Tel
3 years ago
Reply to  J J

Fraser may not /sound/ like a scientist, but that doesn’t mean he stated something false. 1) A positive PCR is not a “case”. Even if every test was 100% accurate. 2) Accuracy of PCRs for testing COV2 is so bad that we are not even sure how bad. I’ve seen estimates ranging between 33% to +90% of false positives. Mullis himself stated that it is completely useless for diagnostic of infectious diseases.

Also… I don’t know what a “case” is anymore. Having 1 virus is a case? 10,000? Having symptoms? Being infectious? What is the criteria now? If the PCR is the standard to define a case, we have a lot of room to improve.

J J
J J
3 years ago
Reply to  Gre Tel

You are mainly pointing out legitimate deficiencies of testing which do not invalidate the testing process. The issue of false positives resulting in an ‘exaggeration or even complete creation of the pandemic; has been debunked. For a large period (post second lockdown) the tests had a sub 1% positivity rate. So by definition the false positive rate must be less than 1%. We also have random infection surveys that use a fixed number of tests, so the trends are not subject to distortion by false positives.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  CL van Beek

How extraordinary!
Here in the rather disunited Kingdom (UK) the average age of a C-19 death is 82.4, whilst Life Expectancy is a staggering 81.1.!

Despite these facts, our economy has been trashed, our sainted NHS, exposed as a National Horror Show, our Parliament revealed to be worse that useless, and our civil liberties a meaningless fiction.

“So Sweden had it right from the beginning”.
Indeed they did Sir. As we say over here “every Dog has his day”.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

Swedish policy has been a failure, no one defends that position anymore.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

CL van Beek obviously disagrees for one.
Sweden’s “chop rate” is better than ours, and for a fraction of the social and economic damage we have inflicted on ourselves.

If you are looking for success, I grant you nobody has done as well as St Kilda, but at least Sweden has not descended into the mawkish, panic stricken, bed wetting disgrace that the UK has become.

J J
J J
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

Sweden currently has the highest infection rate in the world. And they don’t even do that much testing. They are not a model to emulate.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  J J

You mean in the civilised world don’t you? Or, for example do you believe every word uttered by Fu Manchu & Co? Not to mention numerous others.

Anyway so what, infection doesn’t mean automatic death! And in the ‘Great Panic Death League’, Sweden is still doing better than the UK.

According to the half time scores,
plucky little Belgium has killed 1,600 per million, the good old UK about 1015 per million, and land of Gustavus Adolphus trails with a mere 870 per million . Room for improvement as we used to say.

Mind you, my money’s still on St Kilda for the Cup.

Peter Whitehead
Peter Whitehead
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

My great grandfather was the last teacher on St.Kilda before its evacuation.
I believe the sheep and seabirds are mercifully covid-free but then that makes sense as there’s been no testing.

stephen f.
stephen f.
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

There is no real defense of any position taken anywhere, really.

Bruno Lucy
Bruno Lucy
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

Surely you meant…..the UK has been a failure….those typing error can be tricky sometimes.
If one character has been pathetic in Sweden…..it is the king himself…..probably taped his speech after a night out like he is used too.
On the grand scheme of things ….and we will see in a couple of years, Sweden will come out in much better shape than a lot of other countries…..especially the UK.
If I look at my native France and the level of social devastation since it all began ( and far from being over ), the amount of lies and the loss of trust already at rock bottom levels culturally, I can tell you, for having spent 4 months there last spring, that I would rather be Swedish than French.
Like Freddy Sawyer pointed out in his last podcast, not ONE country in the world managed to protect senior homes….and for reasons that have been explained over a hundred times.
The King should have kept his mouth shut.

John Ottaway
John Ottaway
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

Seems everyone on here does Jeremy. My vote for man of the year, Anders Tegnell.

Gre Tel
Gre Tel
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

Says who? Sweden deaths per capita are better than almost every other country in Europe. The very worst day was 81 deaths in a day, just to fall back to 3 a couple weeks after. That is 0.007 deaths per 1,000 people.

I’m sorry but that number doesn’t scare me. If 99.995% of people under 75 recover without problems, and I’m half that age and average health, me and mostly everybody else, including healthy elderly should probably be more afraid of falling in the bathroom. I just fell twice this year!

Suze Burtenshaw
Suze Burtenshaw
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

My mother used to quote that saying but always added ‘even if it’s two afternoons’, a strangely comforting idea.

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

Exactly what is that comparison of life expectancy at birth statistic with an average age of death from Covid meant to tell us, Mark?

I don’t think it reveals anything other than the lack of understanding of statistics on the part of people who quote it.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

Mark, it means people like me who are approaching the Finishing Post should be advised to be cautious.

However a chap like you in your early 50’s shouldn’t surrender to panic and hysteria. This is not nor ever will be Black Death II or even the slightly more benign Spanish Flu II.

Ed Brown
Ed Brown
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

I’m 78 and I agree with you entirely. I was for 30 years a police officer in London. I’ve been into countless grossly inadequate houses and flats, some on London’s sink estates, with many children living in cramped conditions. My heart has gone out to them. How are they coping with little ones and teens, cooped up, no garden to play and more often a lack of money.
Unless such as this have underlying health conditions, 9 months of live statistics prove that the virus is very unlikely to be serious.
Us oldies must safeguard ourselves not just to save ourselves but also those who likely would have to nurse/care for us if we caught it.

Paul Wright
Paul Wright
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

it means people like me who are approaching the Finishing Post should be advised to be cautious.

A disingenuous response. The comparison of those two stats is clearly meant to show that COVID-19 is not very serious. But the question is not what the life expectancy at birth is, but how much longer people who had already exceeded that could have expected to live.

This is another cut and pasted talking point which you got from “Lockdown sceptics” or wherever and posted as if it were the ultimate argument, but without understanding it. As the excellent @FactsThen on Twitter writes (from 12:06 PM · Dec 20, 2020):

Life expectancy table shows for 85 yr olds: only 9% die within 12 months and on average live another 6 yrs. A third of those live a lot longer than another 6 yrs.
This often surprises sociopathic ‘it’s only old folk, who cares they would’ve died this winter anyway’ covid-deniers.

(FactsThen is referring to the data from National life tables: UK from the ONS).

J J
J J
3 years ago
Reply to  Paul Wright

USA data suggests life expectancy of COVID deaths as another 10 years.

Joe Smith
Joe Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Paul Wright

But what is the life expectancy for older people who have co-morbidities as opposed to the age group as a whole? We know that most people of any age who die from Covid have co-morbidities.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  Paul Wright

Do you understand the meaning of the word disingenuous? Or is it your habit to slander people whose opinions you find obnoxious?

From your previous posts, stretching back some months, I took you to be a professional person, perhaps some species of medic even?

However despite your expensive training, good manners seem to have been omitted, which is a terrible shame.

As a matter of record I have never indulged in ‘Lockdown Sceptics’, a bit too modern for me . As to Twitter that is something I used to associate with Sparrows.

The source of my information is (Lord) Jonathan Sumption. He maybe wrong, but in complete contrast to your good self, is polite and well mannered. It may not be too late to learn from him.

Finally, Mr Ed Brown (above) seems to have understood my post perfectly. Perhaps it is you Mr Wright who is the
‘sociopath’? Have you ever considered that?

Gre Tel
Gre Tel
3 years ago
Reply to  Paul Wright

It is not the whole story, but it is part of the story. I wish life was as easy as A > B. This is useful data, but it needs to be compared with other info.

Gre Tel
Gre Tel
3 years ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

There are many ways to study data. One statistical ‘piece of the puzzle’ in the study of CoV2 is to see if there is a deviation in life expectancy vs. age of the people who die from it. The magnitude and location of that/those deviation(s), can be helpful to determine what groups are more affected and how much. Being an indirect indicator however, it doesn’t hold much value alone, but it helps to support other statistical analyzes and data.

J J
J J
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

People over 80 live on average or another 7 years. And 40% of covid deaths are in their 70, 60’s with 10% being under 60.

According to the scientific research the average loss of life is 10 years per death:

Death counts fail to capture full mortality effects of COVID-19, study finds
Date: September 23, 2020
Source: University of South Florida
Summary: A new study finds that for each person in the U.S. who died after contracting COVID-19, an average of nearly 10 years of life had been lost. Researchers claim ‘years of life lost’ is a more insightful measure than death count since it accounts for the ages of the deceased.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  J J

How very interesting. I hadn’t heard of the ‘years of lost life ‘ phenomena!

However in my experience most of those beyond 80 are fairly decrepit (myself included) and how much quality of life remains is a moot point.

However one solution is to obtain at least one English Springer Spaniel. They certainly Prolong Active Life (PAL).

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

Search for DHSC/ONS/GAD/HO: Direct and indirect impacts of COVID-19 on excess deaths and morbidity for a first pass at quantifying the costs and benefits of lockdown in terms of both QALY and YLL.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Pinch

Many thanks indeed, it should be good reading, now that Arcadia has been placed in Zone 3!

Shalal Sadullah
Shalal Sadullah
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

Mark, the years of lost life is a concept which has been put forward in non communicable disorders, suicide and drug abuse. So the leader on that board is obesity.
The US paper has extended that concept to an infection where the heterogeneity of the patient population, co morbidities and other variables make this completely speculative if not shooting from the hip.

J J
J J
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

The average life expectancy of someone who dies from COVID is 10 years. 40% of covid deaths are for people in their 70’s and 60’s. Since when are the deaths of these people considered ‘not relevant’? 90% of people over 60 have at least one comorbidity.

mindovermud
mindovermud
3 years ago
Reply to  J J

My wife & I caught it but recovered very quickly.(Covid-lite). We are both in resonable shape for our age mid/late 60’s, but have nothing bad underlying our health, ie; heart, lungs, major organs, just worries over teeth, hair, eyesight, hearing etc. But we both continue to respect many of our sheilding and very cautious contempories who would suffer a much rockier ride than we had. They self-isolate because they want and need to, I on the other hand feel ok enough to carry on as normal,, and dont like being governed like a child. I am happy to comply with hygene, distancing and masking ettiquette and to follow “GUIDELINES”, however i do object to those guidlines being punishable laws of the land. The powers at large clearly dont trust us to regulate our own behaviour, its not like we dont know the same facts and general info about Covid as everyone else. Let the individual chose his own considered response to the epidemic, and get the vaccines to the old, vulnerable and scared, who want and need it, everyone else can just carry on….. with suitable care, caution & empathy for others.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  J J

Are you implying that I said ” the deaths for people in their 70’s and 60’s are not relevant”?

What a frightful calumny, and so unexpected. You should team up with Mr Wright, you would make a great pair.

J J
J J
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

Yes, you implied that we should not ask those under 50 to undergo COVID restrictions to protect those who are over 60. The usual justification for that approach is that older people will die shortly anyway, so why bother. I disputed that using published research (they would live for another 10 years if it had not been for COVID).

If a 70 year old man dies in a car crash, we don’t say ‘oh well, never mind, he is over 70’. Happy to be corrected if this is not your view.

I do accept we need to balance the economic costs of mass covid restrictions with preserving remaining life years. But targeted protection of people over 60 is not the solution, mainly because it will not work (sufficiently). So let’s find a workable solution.

I refuse to throw the over 60’s under the bus. No man left behind and all that.

J J
J J
3 years ago
Reply to  CL van Beek

Netherlands currently has the highest infection rate in the world. You cannot protect the vulnerable if their is massive community transmission of the virus. There is too much crossover between the activities of an old person and that people under 60. The later serve and socialise with the former. Only if you are prepared to lock the vulnerable in medical isolation hospitals against the wishes, could you stand a chance.

Gre Tel
Gre Tel
3 years ago
Reply to  CL van Beek

Oh, but Sweden is spiking in cases! – Critics say.

Sweden is a catastrophe! – I see in the news every few weeks.

Yet, per capita they have better numbers than almost every other European country. And much better than the countries with the most strict measures, such as Span or France.

Nick Whitehouse
Nick Whitehouse
3 years ago

Are there any journalists in the house?

Who reappointed Ferguson to any Government position?

Jonathan Marshall
Jonathan Marshall
3 years ago

Who reappointed Ferguson to any Government position?
And more to the point, why, for the love of Heaven? The man has been wrong in all his modelling predictions over the last 20 years – and not just slightly wrong but consistently and spectacularly wrong.

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
3 years ago

wrong in all his modelling predictions over the last 20 years

Usual question: name five.

Pete Rose
Pete Rose
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Pinch

2001 Foot & Mouth – predicted 150,000 deaths, actual <200

2002 BSE – predicted 50,000 deaths, actual 177

2005 Bird Flu – predicted 150,000,000 deaths, actual 282

2009 Swine Flu – predicted 65,000 deaths, actual 457

2020 Covid-19 – predicted 500,000 (UK only)

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
3 years ago
Reply to  Pete Rose

2001 Foot & Mouth – predicted 150,000 deaths, actual <200

I have never seen evidence that he or anyone else made this prediction.

2002 BSE – predicted 50,000 deaths, actual 177

No: predicted 100-1000 deaths over 80 years, with 95% confidence limits 50 – 150,000. Actual deaths over 20 years: 177

2005 Bird Flu – predicted 150,000,000 deaths, actual 282

Not a prediction: estimated number if avian flu became human tranmissible. It did not.

2009 Swine Flu – predicted 65,000 deaths, actual 457

Not a prediction, but a RWC estimate, explicitly not a prediction

2020 Covid-19 – predicted 500,000 (UK only)

Adopted by SAGE as RWC, explicitly not a prediction. Ferguson estimate was if no action were taken.

So, that’s one prediction, three non-predictions and one that never happened. The one prediction was actually correct.

Pete Rose
Pete Rose
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Pinch

The 65,000 figure comes from a UK government announcement based on Ferguson’s modelling, and represented “reasonable worst-case estimates against which to plan” rather than predictions about the numbers of deaths.

The publication of this “worst-case scenario” was described as “unhelpful” in a report into the pandemic response, and Professor Ferguson told a 2011 UK government committee that the publicised projections did not “communicate as clearly” to the public what the likely health risks were.

Professor Ferguson’s comments on the possible deaths from the bird flu outbreak in 2005 were published by the Guardian.

“Around 40 million people died in [the] 1918 Spanish flu outbreak,” he told the newspaper. “There are six times more people on the planet now so you could scale it up to around 200 million people probably.”

The number of deaths from Spanish Flu has been estimated at around 50 million. There have been 455 worldwide deaths from the bird flu strain known as H5N1 but it has not been detected in humans in the UK.

Professor Ferguson also produced a paper estimating the number of potential deaths from bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) infection in the sheep population in the UK in 2002.

This report estimated that future mortality from variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) which can be caused by BSE would be 50 to 50,000. There have been 178 deaths since 1995, with no deaths from vCJD recorded since 2016.

The 500,000 Covid deaths prediction hasn’t come to fruition in those nations of comparable size and population density that didn’t go into lockdown, why would it here?

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
3 years ago
Reply to  Pete Rose

nations of comparable size and population density that didn’t go into lockdown

What nations would those be?

But the large point: do you accept that the one prediction on your proposed list was correct, and that the others were either not predictions at all, or estimates for hypothetical scenarios radically different from what actually happened?

Let me repeat my challenge. Five modelling predictions that were actually wrong: by which I mean, predictions for actual events which turned out differently.

Robin Lambert
Robin Lambert
3 years ago
Reply to  Pete Rose

Spanish Flu (or Kansas flu) i like to cal it from 2018 Troopships bringing it to Yerop …More Like 100 million deaths &Isolation Hospitals & Herd immunity brought it to neglible deaths post winter 1920..

Elaine Giedrys-Leeper
Elaine Giedrys-Leeper
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Pinch

Hallelujah ! At last ! Someone who reads primary sources and is
numerate and knows the difference between a scenario and a prediction and what a confidence interval is and is happy with “we don’t know” …

Although I have to say Richard, you are probably wasting your time in this particular echo chamber.

Chris Clark
Chris Clark
3 years ago

Elaine and Richard: I also read primary sources, am numerate and understand 95% confidence intervals. However, I haven’t seen many “experts”, Prof Ferguson included, during this current situation who have been content with saying “we just don’t know” when interviewed. Instead, they prefer to offer startling “predictions” with a great deal of verbal confidence, but very little statistical confidence, given the huge uncertainty in all these models. Hubris and sanctimony: two rather prominent elements in this year’s elemental table. Humility and honesty: conspicuous by their absence.

Elaine Giedrys-Leeper
Elaine Giedrys-Leeper
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris Clark

Well I have heard David Spiegelhalter say “I don’t know” on an RSM webinair, and another online get together with the Centre for Statistical Methodology and on the Today programme. Ditto on RSM webinairs for Peter Openshaw, Martin McKee and David Heyman.

The three times I have heard Prof. Ferguson interviewed (all on BBC Radio 4) he has been very measured and has been very clear about the uncertainties and also clear that he does not do predictions.

I would say that it is the responsibility of the viewer / listener / reader to examine the assumptions of any model and consider the uncertainties of any point estimate and make their own judgement as to the validity of any conclusions. Part and parcel of the individual decisions BJ was encouraging everyone to make this Christmas.

David Slade
David Slade
3 years ago

This was one of the best articles I read over the last year, it fairly articulated both positions.

I just think it’s a shame that – far from heeding the message from the last paragraph – a doubling down on moralising and a refusal of the dominant side of the debate to acknowledge the good intentions of their detractors has taken hold.

I am a lockdown sceptic, so I of course see the above from that perspective. However, here is hoping for more debate, contrition and wisdom in the new year (I know, some hope)

Julian Samways
Julian Samways
3 years ago

Excellent article. We will probably land in the middle of these two views but one aspect needs constant vigilance. The arrogance and personal agendas of endless scientific experts needs to be held up to scrutiny and not abandoned through fear.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago

Epidemiologists are not elected positions. Lockdowns are a political decision and are therefore made by people who are in elected positions, not by epidemiologists. In addition, while political leaders making decisions about pandemic issue may take into account the views of epidemiologists, they also have to consider input from many others, other physicians (oncologists for example) economists, business and religious leaders, education leaders, psychologists, youth counselors, etc.

Epidemiologists are one part of the input but not the whole conversation as political leaders are responsible for a much wider array of issues and problems than epidemiologists.

blanes
blanes
3 years ago

The government say they follow the science. The think tank behind that science is SAGE. The majority of the members of SAGE are Phycologists, Sociologists and Behavioural Phycologists with a couple of bankers thrown in. Follow the science ??? Plan how to control the people more like.

Kathryn Richards
Kathryn Richards
3 years ago
Reply to  blanes

They study seaweed? Really?

David Brown
David Brown
3 years ago

The behaviour of seaweed, in some cases, it seems (“Behavioural Phycologists”).

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago
Reply to  blanes

Well yes, they do say that because they think they have to. But what they don’t say is what science. The science that says untreated cancer doesn’t end well? The science that says closing schools damages children in ways we know and increases inequality? The science that says unemployment prevents people from being able to afford food and leads to depression?

C K
C K
3 years ago

Yes, highly selective “science” with a good pinch of Marxist political science if that’s a thing.

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
3 years ago
Reply to  blanes

The majority of the members of SAGE are Phycologists, Sociologists and Behavioural Phycologists with a couple of bankers thrown in.

Not correct, even reading “psychologist”. There’s a list of members of SAGE online, so perhaps you would like to support your assertion by listing those members, and against each one putting what you think their field of expertise is.

Elaine Giedrys-Leeper
Elaine Giedrys-Leeper
3 years ago
Reply to  blanes

gov.uk list 86 participants for SAGE. This doesn’t include all the extra participants contributing to NERVTAG, SPI-M, SPI-B, COG-UK and HDR-UK.

There are 5 Psychologists listed for the main SAGE ctte. – well outnumbered by the Immunologists, infectious disease specialists, epidemiologists, a bioethicist, 2 international development bods, 2 specialists in children’s education, the chief vet, an engineer specialising in environments inside buildings etc. etc.

You can read the minutes of these meetings online and may even get a flavour of how scientists describe uncertainty.

Johnny Sutherland
Johnny Sutherland
3 years ago

The main group the politicians seem to take notice of, in the UK ate least, is the media. More policy is made by the screaming classes than anyone else.

C K
C K
3 years ago

The problem I have with this article is the presupposition that we are talking about two equally considered positions when we are not. One has the full backing of mainstream media, government and opposition using the full force of tax-payer funded propaganda and the other is strenuously repressed and consistently ridiculed – and yet might be correct. Part of the reason I am a “sceptic” is this very censoring of alternative viewpoints and a catastrophic lack of debate and holding of the government to account. Any thinking person would be suspicious at the way the “facts” are distorted (starting with PCR tests, surely even lockdown lovers must know by now that they are notoriously inaccurate) I’m fed up with reading about middle-class peoples’ “idyllic” lockdowns whilst personally knowing only people who’ve died from lockdown restrictions, not covid. I do believe we are dealing with evil here because we, as a nation, are not looking closely AT ALL at what is actually happening as a result of restrictions, the results of which do not require any kind of biological “test” to establish. Real deaths and suffering are happening (and will continue to happen) as a result of restrictions. Not just here but all over the world. Millions starving and destitute because of our superstitions and lack of reasoned debate. It is not about which epidemiologist you support, it is your attitude to holding government to account and towards your fellow human beings that counts. And yes, the the total repression of opposition, discussion, debate and dissent – of the most reasonable kind is what is evil. This is like a pseudo religion, which would be alright but for the human sacrifice and the “heil covid” conformity required at humungous expense. Ferguson has been wrong on so many of his “predictions” (for years) because he doesn’t take his data from the world of reality but of highly selective mathematical modelling.

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
3 years ago
Reply to  C K

Ferguson has been wrong on so many of his “predict[i]ons” (for years)

Usual question: name five.

because he doesn’t take his data from the world of reality but of highly selective mathematical modelling.

That’s not how it works. In general, models are based on data.

Corrie Mooney
Corrie Mooney
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Pinch

All models are wrong. Some of these are useful.

I do useful models for a living.

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
3 years ago
Reply to  Corrie Mooney

Glad to hear it. So do many of my colleagues. I do a slightly different sort of mathematics.

blanes
blanes
3 years ago

Would you take any notice of this clown.
Neil Ferguson, the man the government listens to: He was behind the disputed research that sparked the mass culling of eleven million sheep and cattle during the 2001 outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. He also predicted that up to 150,000 people could die. There were fewer than 200 deaths. In 2002, Ferguson predicted that up to 50,000 people would likely die from exposure to BSE in beef. In the U.K. there were only 177 deaths from BSE. In 2005, Ferguson predicted that up to 150 million people could be killed from bird flu. In the end, only 282 people died worldwide from the disease between 2003 and 2009. In 2009, a government estimate, based on Fergusons advice, said a reasonable worst-case scenario was that the swine flu would lead to 65,000 British deaths. In the end, swine flu killed 457 people in the U.K. Can anyone explain why they are still listening to him?

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
3 years ago
Reply to  blanes

I’m no expert on BSE or foot and mouth. But isn’t it the case that his forecasts were based on potential outcomes if no action was taken then action was taken and the forecasts changed?

Jonathan Marshall
Jonathan Marshall
3 years ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

That would probably be Ferguson’s defence of himself, but the disparities between the predictions and the actual outcomes are so wildly off the scale that I think it is highly unlikely.

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
3 years ago

Since you ask …

In 2002, Ferguson predicted that up to 50,000 people would likely die from exposure to BSE in beef. In the U.K. there were only 177 deaths from BSE.

No, he didn’t. His estimate for deaths over 80 years from vCJD was between 50 (that’s fifty, not fifty thousand) and 150,000 as a 95% confidence interval, and to quote the paper

Best-fit estimates associated with 2001-2080 confidence bounds generally lie in the range 100-1,000,

It turned out to be 177 over 20 years, which is, obviously, consistent with both the wider and the narrower estimate. Of course the media reported the more exciting “up to” figure rather than “as low as 50”. I agree that an estimate covering some four orders of magnitude would in general be better expressed as “we don’t know”.

From Nature, 10 January 2002

“We cannot exclude the possibility that the epidemic is very large,” says Ferguson. He adds, however, that the worst-case situation is by far the most unlikely.

So his central estimates were 100-1000 over 80 years, and we’ve had 178 over 20 years. Sounds quite good to me.

In 2005, Ferguson predicted that up to 150 million people could be killed from bird flu. In the end, only 282 people died worldwide from the disease between 2003 and 2009.

No he didn’t. From Nature, 08 September 2005 (my emphasis)

The epidemiologist at Imperial College London wanted to know what would happen if the avian influenza virus H5N1 mutated so that it could pass readily from human to human..

So if avian flu had become human transmissible, then … . But it didn’t and 200 million people didn’t die. Which is good, … .

In 2009, a government estimate, based on Fergusons advice, said a reasonable worst-case scenario was that the swine flu would lead to 65,000 British deaths. In the end, swine flu killed 457 people in the U.K.

Reasonable Worst Case scenarios are explicitly not predictions: they are planning tools. To illustrate, the RWC for your house might be that it burns down in a fire and has to be rebuilt. That’s not a prediction, it’s a scenario designed to help you plan: for example, deciding whether or not to take out insurance. I’m not predicting that your house will burn down.

Joe Smith
Joe Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Pinch

Wost case figures generated from epidemiological models should be more accurately described as speculative rather than reasonable.

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
3 years ago
Reply to  Joe Smith

Let me quote from Hansard on a Reasonable Worst Case scenario:

“is designed to exclude theoretically possible scenarios which have so little probability of occurring that planning for them would be likely to lead to disproportionate use of resources”ŠThey are not predictions of what will happen but of the worst that might realistically happen, and therefore we would expect most pandemics to be less severe and less widespread than the reasonable worst case. By planning for the reasonable worst case planners are assured that they have a high probability of meeting the demands posed by the hazard should it occur.”

Joe Smith
Joe Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Pinch

A figure from an epidemiological model for deaths, especially early on when GIGO will be at it’s most extreme, is speculative and not necessarily realistic. As for planning for such a scenario, that leads to extreme policies like lockdown that may shift the burden of years of life lost from a visible group to a less visible one.

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
3 years ago
Reply to  Joe Smith

To the extent that one cannot know the future, all predictions, projections, and so forth are necessarily speculative to some extent. A model which has been produced in a well-conducted planning exercise should help to make it possible what the key factors are in assessing possible future outcomes, and what degrees of uncertainty in those projections are produced by the existing degrees of uncertainty in the input data.

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
3 years ago
Reply to  blanes

during the 2001 outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. He also predicted that up to 150,000 people could die.

The F&M outbreak was indeed a disaster, but I know of no evidence that Ferguson or anyone else making such a prediction. Do you have such evidence, or is this just a confusion with the BSE outbreak, addressed below?

Robin Lambert
Robin Lambert
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Pinch

Could Would Should more Garbage by Wokeist element on left&right..The point is he has been Wrong more than 5 times as listed..hypocrite who ignored his own rules,as per cummings,Jenrick,Sturgeon,Stephen Kinnock

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
3 years ago
Reply to  Robin Lambert

People who know me very rarely accuse me of being “woke”. But “the point is”, to use your phrase, that if you are so confident that he has been wrong more than five times, then you should have no difficulty in finding five examples. Or are you expecting us to take your word for it without any evidence?

Jonathan Ellman
Jonathan Ellman
3 years ago

The idealism side is most interesting. It would be interesting to see a study into how people’s preferred response relates to their worldview. The picture is already somewhat apparent, with collectivists favouring strict lockdown and individualists favouring herd immunity. More studies into this would be good.

stephen f.
stephen f.
3 years ago

Collectivists with assured incomes favor lockdown.

Kelly Mitchell
Kelly Mitchell
3 years ago
Reply to  stephen f.

Or… Collectivists favor lockdown with assured income.

Michael Dawson
Michael Dawson
3 years ago

Jonathan, I think the word is ‘depressing’ more than ‘interesting’. There’s no particular reason to think that one political ideology is going to give better insights than another into how to respond to an infectious disease. You wouldn’t apply political ideology to the best way to treat a broken leg or do a jigsaw. You’d find out what works and do that. Yet so many posters on this site approach the virus and everything related to it – wearing of masks being the obvious one, vaccines being another – through the lens of their overall political beliefs, often distorting what evidence there is to suit their preconceived narrative.

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
3 years ago
Reply to  Michael Dawson

You wouldn’t apply political ideology to the best way to treat a broken leg or do a jigsaw.

True, but you might apply it to the question of how to ensure that there are enough people available to treat the broken leg, or how to allocate their time if there were not.

There are all sorts of political questions around healthcare and public health. Should wealthy people be allowed to pay for preferential treatment? What do you want to do about the fact that some people are able to pay the fine in order to see their granny at Christmas? Should the state compensate people whom it orders to self-isolate for the good of others? How should we fund the extra expenses incurred by the state? Should we allow private venues to discriminate against people who cannot receive the vaccine? Should the state commandeer Amazon to make its deliveries more efficient, or compel it to deliver everywhere in the country at the same prize, like the Royal Mail? And so on and so on.

Sue Sims
Sue Sims
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Pinch

Why on earth are you assuming that Amazon would be more efficient under state control? It seems to be extraordinarily efficient already! And if you’re on Prime, delivery of a great deal of stuff is free. I’m not commenting on the treatment of Amazon’s staff, who would probably do a lot better under the state, but if you’re looking at pure efficiency, forget it.

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
3 years ago
Reply to  Sue Sims

I’m not assuming anything. I’m giving examples of questions that are not purely about what the “best way” of doing something is. Some people might feel, for example, that it was “fair” to take all enterprises into public ownership. Or that for the state to own Amazon but divert its profits into the Treasury rather than the pockets of its owners would benefit the public overall. Or that forcibly merging Amazon and Royal Mail would lead to economies of scale. And so on.

rcole67
rcole67
3 years ago

Ferguson was behind the disputed research that sparked the mass culling of eleven million sheep and cattle during the 2001 outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. Charlotte Reid, a farmer’s neighbor, recalls: “I remember that appalling time. Sheep were left starving in fields near us. Then came the open air slaughter. The poor animals were panic stricken. It was one of the worst things I’ve witnessed. And all based on a model ” if’s but’s and maybe’s.”

In 2002, Ferguson predicted that, by 2080, up to 150,000 people could die from exposure to BSE (mad cow disease) in beef. In the U.K., there were only 177 deaths from BSE.

In 2005, Ferguson predicted that up to 150 million people could be killed from bird flu. In the end, only 282 people died worldwide from the disease between 2003 and 2009.

In 2009, a government estimate, based on Ferguson’s advice, said a “reasonable worst-case scenario” was that the swine flu would lead to 65,000 British deaths. In the end, swine flu killed 457 people in the U.K.

Last March, Ferguson admitted that his Imperial College model of the COVID-19 disease was based on undocumented, 13-year-old computer code that was intended to be used for a feared influenza pandemic, rather than a coronavirus. Ferguson declined to release his original code so other scientists could check his results. He only released a heavily revised set of code last week, after a six-week delay.

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
3 years ago
Reply to  rcole67

BSE, avian flu and swine flu points addressed below. Is it pure coincidence that your comments are almost identical to those of the comment immediately below?

Paul Wright
Paul Wright
3 years ago
Reply to  rcole67

Look, Natasha, if you Google for “He only released a heavily revised set of code last week, after a six-week delay”, you can see that your cut-and-paste text is all over the Internet. It’s now out of date, since the Github project for Fergusson’s model was up at the end of March in May. (EDITED: the commit history in Github goes back to March, Wikipedia says the public release was May).

No more vodka at work for you, old girl.

vtaproot
vtaproot
3 years ago

Knowing Neil Ferguson’s history, I can’t believe he still has a job. Then again, there are times when governments pay experts to be wrong.

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
3 years ago
Reply to  vtaproot

there are times when governments pay experts to be wrong

Usual question: name five.

vtaproot
vtaproot
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Pinch

You can find several examples by just looking at Ferguson’s record. Also look up John Ioannidis, whose research into medical studies found that most contain serious flaws. Edward Archer is another one. He reviewed the raw data from NHANES and found that the dietary claims of most participants were incompatible with life, yet researchers are still using NHANES for data mining. My father was a biostatistician for 48 years. He could tell you about numerous times when politicians or bureaucrats didn’t like the findings of a study and so hired others to do it over again and again until they got the answer that they wanted. Funding is also used to reward those who go along with a chosen narrative while punishing those who don’t.

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
3 years ago
Reply to  vtaproot

You can find several examples by just looking at Ferguson’s record.

Or, if you want to give some credibility to your assertion, why don’t you provide the evidence for your claim?

research into medical studies found that most contain serious flaws

Maybe so, and Stuart Ritchie’s book Science Fictions is scathing on the subject. But containing flaws and being paid by the government to lie are very different things.

vtaproot
vtaproot
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Pinch

You have a search engine. Use it.

But containing flaws and being paid by the government to lie are very different things

Do you honestly believe government officials never pay people to lie? Really?

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
3 years ago
Reply to  vtaproot

If you make claims, and fail to provide evidence for them, then you lack credibility. If when challenged to produce that evidence, you refuse, then you lose even more credibility. It’s unlikely that people will trouble to engage further with you.

vtaproot
vtaproot
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Pinch

Or you’re simply too lazy to do the work which is why you resort to asking bogus questions. Some of the other commenters on this thread have already mentioned one or two examples in regards to Ferguson. Guess you’re too lazy to scroll too. This article provides four examples, including his fearmongering regarding Covid.

Covid-19: Neil Ferguson, the Liberal Lyssenko
https://www.voltairenet.org

That this man still has any influence suggests that there are members of the ruling class who consider him to be a useful idiot.

Greg Eiden
Greg Eiden
3 years ago

This author rightly cited some of the social costs of lockdown and of course was able to cite death rates from COVID. Because those numbers are readily available no matter what you think about “death stats” being derived from death certificates stating “died with COVID-10” versus “died from COVID-19”.

Numbers that these lazy journalists wont suss out include increased deaths due to suicide, folks younger than the most vulnerable, say age 75 or younger, not seeking medical treatment or diagnosis when they have a known serious condition (cancer and others). I suspect these things will lead to a number of deaths that far exceeds the true number of COVID deaths.

I’m a scientist with decades experience in hard science. I have some intuition about some technical things. I’m going to go out on a limb and predict the true COVID death rate for you:
1. tabulate all the reported deaths from COVID by age group.
2. assume that 50% of the reported deaths for everyone over age 80 are actually from COVID meaning absent COVID, granny might have lived another year or two (precious if that lets her see a first grandchild or lets an older grandchild have stronger memories of her).
3. 35% of reported deaths for those aged 70-80 are actually from COVID.
4. 25% of those aged 60-70.
5. 20% of those younger than 60.

This is a provable hypothesis…if only trustworthy determinations of death were available. But those who have fouled this up are in control of such numbers and we won’t get at the numbers unless someone with subpoena and prosecutorial power investigates.

A second, statistical approach can also be used: examine the deaths from all reported (alleged!) causes by age group. Compare the COVID era to recent history, say going back 10 years. Any statistical dip in the non-COVID deaths provides an estimate of the true COVID deaths. I suspect the uncertainties on the statistics would render this analysis un-satisfying, e.g., the conclusion might be something like “true COVID deaths are ~25% of reported, but our uncertainty on that is +/-50%”. I know this has been done and reported (a woman at Johns Hopkins University did it IIRC).

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
3 years ago
Reply to  Greg Eiden

A second, statistical approach can also be used: examine the deaths from all reported (alleged!) causes by age group. Compare the COVID era to recent history, say going back 10 years.

This has been done: David Spiegelhalter has published exactly that in graphical form via Twitter.

Greg Maland
Greg Maland
3 years ago

It’s very refreshing to read an article which doesn’t aggressively defend one side of the argument, and reminds us of the many potentially conflicting beliefs and values we apply in sorting out our views and trying to determine what makes the most sense. Unherd has become one of my top “go to” sites this year, and I really appreciate your excellent work.

John Ottaway
John Ottaway
3 years ago

Dont try using Ferguson as a comparison with anyone else. It’s so unfair. The other guy will always win..hands down.

Eva Rostova
Eva Rostova
3 years ago
Reply to  John Ottaway

Except of course that Ferguson reasonably accurately predicted IFR and Giesecke did not. Facts are sticky things.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago

There is no Covid messiah. Attempts to brand any epidemiologist as the fount of wisdom are futile. Even the sainted Anthony Fauci has been wrong numerous times. Everyone could do with a giant dose of humility. In the cases discussed in this article I’m not sure that it’s fair to present the Ferguson case since he does not appear to believe it himself. Ferguson acts as if he subscribes to Giesecke’s view.

David Uzzaman
David Uzzaman
3 years ago

Most of us don’t have enough scientific knowledge to come to any understanding of the data. We fall into groups based mainly on our character and personal history. Those who tend towards the anxious end of the spectrum choose one group of experts. Those more gung ho the other group. Unfortunately to my mind it’s been the first group that have dominated the discussions and government policy. However we are stuck in a cul-de-sac and someone needs to led us out.

J J
J J
3 years ago
Reply to  David Uzzaman

I agree that most of us do not have sufficient scientific knowledge and fall into two highly polarised groups based on temperament and so on. However let me give you a spin on the ‘anxious’ and ‘gun ho’ grouping.

I actually think the lockdown skeptics are the ‘anxious’ group. What easier way to get rid of your fear and anxiety then to embrace a theory that suggests the Pandemic is not real? It also plays to a victim / oppressor nexus that provides a readily available opportunity to express anger and resentment at those you think are responsible for causing all of your existential pain and suffering.

The truth is, if you are committed to either camp, you have not fully understand the complexity of the problem. I personally hold to the view that the Pandemic is killing lots of people, that covid restrictions reduce the death count, whilst also destroying the economy. If you like to sleep at night, it’s not a view I would recommend! Although reality is often not very conducive to a good nights sleep.

We all need to calm down and have a more rational debate. Its unlikely most of the scientific community are ravingly incompetent lunatics who are in cahoots with Bill Gate’s and George Soros to implement the Great Reset. Its also likely the economic damage caused by the restrictions is going to be very costly, it will probably be as costly and perhaps more costly than the deaths caused by the pandemic. The solutions will be nuanced and will please none of us 100%.

Eva Rostova
Eva Rostova
3 years ago
Reply to  J J

Thank goodness to see there are one or two pragmatic rationalists here, JJ!

David Stacey
David Stacey
3 years ago

Am in pretty much total agreement with CK. Unherd have been brilliant through the pandemic but sadly they only reach a small (if growing) audience. Giesecke’s views are completely unknown to all but a few on the fringes of the debate. It is time for the mainstream media to address these issues and I am bewildered by their failure to do so. Maitlis, Robinson, Sackur, Marr – honestly it is a disgrace that you haven’t stepped forward. Or maybe the BBC should just hire Freddie.

J J
J J
3 years ago
Reply to  David Stacey

Sweden currently has the highest infection rate in the world. And they don’t even test many people. I think Giesecke has gone to ground.

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
3 years ago
Reply to  J J

According to OurWorldInData, Sweden currently has something like 10th highest rate of “cases” (positive test results, one presumes) per head. Top is Lithuania with 1327/million, then Slovenia, Czech Republic, … . Sweden is on 654/million. Of course that depends on the rate of testing, too. In terms of tests per case, a more useful measure, it’s about 30th, with 6.7. For comparison, UK has 13.5.

J J
J J
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Pinch

According to the same site, all of those countries with a higher infection rate than Sweden are very small (a few million population or a few tens of thousands) with the exception of the Czech Republic and the USA. Out of these countries, Sweden also has the highest positive test rate (15%) which implies there positive cases are probably under counted compared to the other countries. For reference, the UK positive test rate is 7%, which shows we are probably over counting compared to many countries.

So my general point remains, Sweden has one of the worse infection rates per capita in the world of any major country.

It’s also worth noting, Sweden has very low population density, so you would expect them to be doing better in terms of infection control.

Eva Rostova
Eva Rostova
3 years ago
Reply to  David Stacey

Giesecke said to UnHerd in April that IFR of covid is 0.1%. Even back then, the vast majority of epidemiologists said it looked to be closer to 1% overall. Giesecke may have delivered a political message that libertarians like, and the merits of his political opinions are open to debate, but hopefully we can agree that on the epidemiology (which is what he was being asked to give an expert view on) he was wrong by a huge margin (around 10x).

Charles Rense
Charles Rense
3 years ago

I guess that all depends on which one the social media companies will let me believe.

Joe Smith
Joe Smith
3 years ago

Why does Ferguson think we’ve stopped the virus in it’s tracks? Some countries have had success, but lockdowns have clearly not stopped it and have caused massive problems in the attempt to do so.

Eva Rostova
Eva Rostova
3 years ago
Reply to  Joe Smith

Well, surely you’d admit that the lockdowns in Australia and New Zealand have been pretty successful, so maybe it’s more about the specific nature and duration of the measures than a simplistic “lockdown v no lockdown” dichotomy?

Martin Davis
Martin Davis
3 years ago

‘Chinese-style dirigisme’. If only. How about South Korean style dirigisme? Well, too late for that now. We were just the most worse amongst a lot of similar and adjacent countries which all made the same fundamental mistake: letting the virus run loose at the outset. Well, better luck next time, we would hope, surely. The problem with Giesecke’s diagnosis, if he would extend it to pandemics in general, with he might not, is that something far uglier could not be allowed to move through the general population. Which brings us back to China, or South Korea, or even Japan. We need to learn lessons from them, and not be stuck in our Euro-American bubble.

ken.kaplan.esq
ken.kaplan.esq
3 years ago

SARS-CoV-2 cares not for our collective ignorance, convenience, politics, etc., ad nauseam. Civilization has known how to end public health crises for at least the past 500 years. See, e.g., Ferrara, Italy, circa 1576 A.D (https://www.history.com/new…. New Zealand, et al. have managed to escape the virus’ scourge, thus far, using what amounts to the same protocol as did Ferrara (https://www.politico.com/nehttps://www.health.govt.nz/….

That homo sapiens choose to disregard history in favor of modern, “common sense,” is regrettable, but unsurprising. Were the Neanderthals still here, perhaps they might have advised of the danger we currently face. But, they are not, and I wonder why? See, e.g., https://www.sciencemag.org/

Happy Holidays.

James Moss
James Moss
3 years ago

Giesecke is just a cowboy. He’s produced no detailed modeling to support his predictions, simply made assertions, which have repeatedly turned out to be wrong and made recommendations based upon them. Sweden is now paying the price.

Ferguson receives a lot of stick from online pundits, but on the whole his work is reasonable – his modeling is as good or bad as anyone else’s who has done some thorough modeling. His results were cross-checked against those from several other modeling groups – they all came to similar conclusions, bar a couple of fringe players. There is a vocal minority which disagrees with some of the public policy choices taken in response to the pandemic – Ferguson did not take these policy decisions.

Eva Rostova
Eva Rostova
3 years ago
Reply to  James Moss

Hear hear

stephensjpriest
stephensjpriest
3 years ago

A Communist Christmas
you TUBE watch?v=erAYITZRdJk
AwakenWithJP

comitatus11
comitatus11
3 years ago

I live in North Carolina, United States of America, and I have only been overseas to Europe once (Scotland 2018) so feel free to dismiss my comments if you choose: I find it ironic that we have a Swede as a kind of hard edged, unapologetic champion of his position and a Brit who is, well, not so much. Not to say he doesn’t believe his position, but he doesn’t come across as a man’s man.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  comitatus11

“..Swede as a kind of hard edged, unapologetic champion of his position and a Brit who is, well, not so much.” – what do you think Swedes are?
“Not to say he doesn’t believe his position, but he doesn’t come across as a man’s man.” – any reasonable man has doubts.

William Cameron
William Cameron
3 years ago

It is most odd that survey after survey shows popular support for stringent controls. We are told infection numbers have gone up a lot since the April peak and summer trough.
But they should have done . Today we are testing 360,000 people a day – then we were testing well under 100,000.If you test four times as many people you will find more cases. To know whether infection rates are really rising you need to measure at constant testing levels.
Hospital admission are also a suspect comparator. The criteria for admission is not the same as it was in March or April. In the spring the patient had to be very sick to get admitted (protecting the NHS ) – now I suspect the criteria are more targeted and it is essentially a lower threshold for admittance. (We may have learnt from Germany that faster admission saves lives)_.
That leaves deaths from Covid – how might these have been measured differently ?

J J
J J
3 years ago

Your objection has been completely debunked months ago. The UK has been measuring at ‘constant testing levels’ since May through the infection surveys by the ONS and REACT study. They constantly test a fixed random sample of the population to measure whether prevalence is increasing or reducing.

COVID infections are real, hospital admissions are real and deaths are real. The precise magnitude may be contestable, the trends and general magnitude are not.

The deaths ‘with covid’ and ‘from covid’ objection has also been debunked a long time ago. The ONS tracks death certificates that have COVID as the ‘underlying cause’ or as a ‘contributory cause’. 87% of covid deaths have covid written as the ‘underlying cause’

Steve Silverstone
Steve Silverstone
3 years ago

What’s going on in China, the most populus country in the world, 4500 deaths, now they are back out enjoying bars dancing no lockdown no masks. Join the dots people, join the dots

J J
J J
3 years ago

The dots are that the data and media reporting from China is controlled by the government.

Sean Booth
Sean Booth
3 years ago

I am waiting for Richard Pinch to acknowledge the lesson taught by Shalal Sadullah? Any more questions Rich? We should all be asking them of our MPs and “leaders” on a regular basis. I am but have yet to receive an honest answer that contains facts.

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
3 years ago
Reply to  Sean Booth

I have to admit I don’t know what the lesson is that you’re referring to here, unless it’s something about not repeating the same fallacious statements that have been made several times here already. But if you want to converse with me, please use my given name, rather than abbreviations.

RALPH TIFFIN
RALPH TIFFIN
3 years ago

It would be a start if we used the word scientist in a more focused way. Many experts appear to be “opinionists”. Is there not an entrenched political dimension to some experts; views?

It is easy to believe in an arithmetician who seems to be dazzled by geometrical progression. Using Neil Ferguson’s numbers proffered in February I worked out we should all have been dead by 26th April. Of course the modelling is much more subtle with many more, perhaps too many more, assumptions and probabilities used.

Am I alone in puzzling about the experience and mind set of people with a simplistic but controlling approach. There seems to be a plethora of such experts popping up demanding lock-down. Looking at their impressive academic records more often than not they will be
from a social science, or whatever is the appropriate term, discipline.

There is a similarity in the qualifications they hold, the type of department and also universities they have attended. I wonder if this underlies their often strident views in favour of lock down? Their care seems to come from humanist dogma – “Man is omnipotent”. Do they ponder what drives viruses to mutate? The answer “Darwinism” is too glib.

There is so much we do not understand but simply locking down seems a blunt solution and a barrier to learning. Surely we need to avoid narrow minds if we are to live with, if not conquer Covid.

Eva Rostova
Eva Rostova
3 years ago
Reply to  RALPH TIFFIN

I’m curious to know, how does Australia’s or South Korea’s experience of the pandemic comport with your view?

Derek M
Derek M
3 years ago

Yes it’s not just a scientific question, “We need to prepare for a long fight, a new socially-distanced normal, potentially for years to come.” That way lies madness and societal and economic destruction. But it seems our authoritarian masters and media are keen t impose this. We live in very dangerous times but not because of Coronavirus

Eva Rostova
Eva Rostova
3 years ago
Reply to  Derek M

Heard about the vaccines?

Peter KE
Peter KE
3 years ago

Good article. I vote for the Swedish model and definitely against our current u.k. approach.

Michelle Johnston
Michelle Johnston
3 years ago

To deal with Freddie’s final question we have to look at the root of why matters have gone the way they have.

Healthcare services have been vulnerable to buckling not because this Coronavirus is exceptionally dangerous but because we have a substantial frail and elderly population and obesity levels have reached 30 to 40 percent in the West. The supply side of the argument has increased dramatically.

We need to answer the questions as to whether we wish to extend the epilogue age with large numbers of people merely surviving and address the health of people who effectively self harm.

The question of whether to believe Johann who has always felt that Sars Cov 2 would lead to deaths of up to 3 times an influenza season (which is the European experience with some lower exceptions) or Ferguson is merely one of considering how well the political class have managed and interpreted the data available and then consider the consequences of their actions. They have not done well. In the UK since the 4th March the ONS report for week 2 of December tells us 22,000 excess deaths have occurred at home entirely unrelated to the Virus. In the end I am sure the destructive effective of policies this year will have saved very few lives and caused considerable damage.

However the big question is do we really want to carry on living merely for the sake of survival with no quality of experience no dreams no joy but merely looking backwards to a time when we had those experiences. As to those who self harm and put themselves and the system under strain Virus or no Virus its time to deal with this and rapidly.

In a sense if you value the joy of life the experience of a fully functioning society doing all things that human beings do which we are currently denied why at the end of our lives would we want to withdraw and sit it out for months years on end until another virus comes along. I know I do not, I wish to contribute to give to enjoy to learn more about the world in which I live and then die. Thats the world I was born into and I will take all the risks that come, manage them (staying fit and healthy) during my lifetime head on and then die. I do not want my lifespan artificially extended beyond its natural value.

We need to return to a world were the unrestrained experience of life is paramount and that we die is inevitable and should not be put off in the name of some form of confused morality.

The anguish the elderly feel now (let the damn thing I want to die) and the children of demented parents is very real and those two groups who we are trying to protect have suffered as much as any one during this period.

The great learning point from this Virus is that the vast majority of fit and healthy people (physically and mentally) have nothing to fear from it. There is a clear message in that knowledge.

Eva Rostova
Eva Rostova
3 years ago

Surely this should not be about which epidemiologists we “believe”; it’s about which epidemiological advice is objectively the most accurate!

Is it not beyond doubt by now that Giesecke’s epidemiological advice was very wrong?

Giesecke said in your interview that covid has an IFR of 0.1% overall, i.e. the same as the seasonal flu. Whereas Ferguson predicted closer to 1%. All the worldwide data 9 months on supports Ferguson’s estimate. The vast majority of epidemiologists were making similar assessments as Ferguson. Yet UnHerd presented Giesecke’s views as having equal weight, perhaps because it chimed with the editors’ libertarian instincts?

Surely epidemiologists should be judged by how accurate their epidemiological insights are, not for their opinions on political philosophy and civil liberties? Leave the latter to the politicians to decide, based inter alia on facts and data provided by epidemiologists.

Robin Lambert
Robin Lambert
3 years ago

Certainly NOT Professor ”Pantsdown’ Ferguson &his remain Agenda ..Hypocrisy runs deep in their mind set.. Labour Mayor & Now Nicola Sturgeon ignoring their own rules …Political Need teaching A lesson at ballot box

Christopher Chantrill
Christopher Chantrill
3 years ago

As a profound sexist, I feel bound to note that there is a gender division on this.

* Women expect to be protected.
* Men know they are expendable.

Just sayin’.

Giulia Khawaja
Giulia Khawaja
3 years ago

Who says ” women expect to be protected” ? I certainly do not and none of my female friends expect anything of the sort. Also I and my friends are in the supposedly “vulnerable” age group.

J J
J J
3 years ago

A good article that specifically said we should avoid caricaturing each of the respective positions on COVID (pro or anti restrictions). Reading the comments below, it would appear most people hardly even bothered to read the article before responding.

Essentially it’s ‘Ferguson’s an idiot init, what a clown, his models are a joke, etc’.

Ferguson is one of the world’s leading epidemiologists and has more experience and training in epidemiology and mathematical modeling of pandemics than anyone commenting. Yet most people genuinely seem to believe that after a few months watching youtube and reading twitter posts they now have an infinitely superior knowledge to trained specialists with decades of experience. That is the second great pandemic of the 21st century and arguably the one that will kill a lot more people, wilful ignorance.

If anyone had bothered to read the ‘discredited’ paper that Ferguson originally published, most of his model assumptions have been proven to be correct. Indeed, it was probably an underestimate. But then you haven’t read it, have you.

And I say this as someone who probably tends towards the Giesecke perspective. However unlike most lockdown skeptics, I do not attempt to argue the pandemic is no big deal and everyone is exaggerating the deaths for effect. I believe we shall have to kill many people to keep the economy going, but ultimately we have no choice as the effects of a destroyed economy will be greater than the people we kill from covid.

It’s intellectual cowardice to believe there is a cost free way out of this pandemic, there isn’t

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
3 years ago
Reply to  J J

it seems more than a coincidence that the same, mainly fallacious, claims about Ferguson appear here and in similar venues from time to time, in almost identical words.

J J
J J
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Pinch

It’s largely copy and paste. You can kind of understand the mindset. If someone offers an easy to digest explanation of why COVID is not real, many people instinctively just grab it. The fear and concern of being infected or people dying disappears.

You are then just left with a sense of outrage and anger of how this one expert could of been allowed to ‘destroy the economy’. Which is fairly cathartic. It’s actually a classic Left Wing victim / oppressor narrative. Which is ironic as many of these people see themselves as anti left wing.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago

Sweden policy has been a failure, let’s not pretend otherwise. if it was successful the SwedGov would not be coming up with new stricter rules.
Sweden is ALWAYS compared with the rest of the Scandi countries – so let’s do it about C19. Compare the death rate and the economic hit.

conorgrantpaterson
conorgrantpaterson
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

I don’t think that’s true. Sweden’s deaths per capita are above Norway, sure, but they’re below lots of other countries in Europe with harsher lockdowns. If I could have lived in Sweden for the past 9 months, I would have.

benys
benys
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

Really???

Sweden’s deaths of all causes
2015 – 90907

2016 – 90982

2017 – 91972

2018 – 92185

2019 – 88766

2020 (up to Dec 11) – 89491

David Smethurst
David Smethurst
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

What tosh. Sweden has around 100k deaths each year and is on track for a normal total in 2020, well within a usual range. 8k deaths from Covid-1984 is well below many other countries per capita and with barely any social restrictions. No country that I have seen suffered more than 2 deaths from covid per 100k population on any day in 2020. Where’s the pandemic?

Elaine Giedrys-Leeper
Elaine Giedrys-Leeper
3 years ago

The effects of the pandemic (if you really want to look at deaths) will be in the all cause excess mortality, viewable at EUROMOMO. Final butchers bill for 2020 won’t be in until the end of January at the earliest because of reporting delays.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
3 years ago

We should say “effects of the virus including lockdowns”…