Stop obsessing over the 100,000 test target
The Government should never have mentioned this arbitrary goal
It’s the last day of April, by which date Matt Hancock had pledged the NHS would be carrying out 100,000 tests a day. He has since rowed it back to suggest that they would have the capacity to carry out 100,000 tests a day. But that’s not what he originally said.
I thought now would be an appropriate time to share an(other) email I got off a lab worker at the start of this week:
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The reagent thing is not really an obstacle right now, it only influences the speed of analysis. There simply is not a huge amount to test at this moment. The testing capacity has become more widely distributed over more hospitals than it was just two weeks ago, but even taking account of this, demand seems not to be ramping up quite as expected.
I don’t know why demand isn’t going up — optimistically, it could be because social distancing and lockdown has reduced infections, so fewer people are showing symptoms; pessimistically, it could be that the testing centres are widely spread out, and essentially impossible for many to get to, especially if they’re ill and don’t have a car. Likely it’s a mix of both.
Whatever the reason, my correspondent says: “Arbitrary testing targets will probably just cause illogical and possibly detrimental changes to the system that we could do without.”
Giving a specific target made the testing regime a hotbed for Goodhart’s law. We don’t actually care whether 100,000 people are tested rather than 97,000 or even 52,000; we do care whether all the people who should be tested are being tested, without having to get on a bus for an hour while infectious.
But now that’s the mark of whether the government has succeeded or failed. Political journalists are “watching the numbers carefully” to see if they make it, as though they’re seeing if they have the votes in parliament; and Hancock is encouraging Tory members to sign up for tests, presumably to help them get closer to the target.
This is silly. None of it matters. It was a bad idea on the government’s part to give this arbitrary target; it is unhelpful of journalists to concentrate on it as though it’s important. The key is whether people who need testing can be tested. Forget the 100,000.
Most of us aren’t obsessing over it Tom. It is only the wretched BBC that is obsessing over it in their vicious and demented desire to discredit the government in any way they can.
I agree that as usual, journalists are being unhelpful. But there is nothing wrong with a stretch target, a very common and normal business tactic. Whether you get there or not, it makes the workforce try hard..
I agree with the sentiment behind the points made in this article but politicians and governments should be held to account when they make pledges of any kind.
Even in the case of the arbitrary 100,000 number, Hancock pledged that this would be the number of tests carried out daily by now, and has since changed his statement and spoken in terms of capacity. He offers no rationale for the change of phrasing and thus should be pressed to provide one.
Although this particular case of moving the goalposts is ultimately irrelevant in real terms, the principle of politicians promising things only to go back on them at later date without acknowledging that they have done so, is a habit that needs to be booted out of politics.
The minute journalists cease to press politicians to explain their u-turns or subtle rephrasing of explicit pledges, we encourage the cycle of dishonesty and ambiguity, and hand more power from the people over to the politicians.
The Government has been very clear, the target is for tests carried out, not for testing capacity.
That’s what they initially said, yes. Then in the last week of April, Hancock et al switched and started talking in terms of capacity rather than tests carried out. They moved the goalposts without explanation or acknowledgement. Not very clear at all…
And today (1st May) we find out that the government is claiming to have met (and exceeded) its target. However, when looking at the numbers, “people tested” falls well below the 100k threshold. They topped up the numbers with “number of tests sent out to people”. Even if we take your comment as correct (which it isn’t), they have still fudged the numbers without explanation or acknowledgement. It’s shady, dishonest, and should be queried.
Absolutely 100% agree. It has just become another foil for bloviating TV and Radio 4 pundits to gibber about.
The German testing success, which the media and government keep referring to has nothing to do with testing. On Marr on Sunday the next German Ambassador to the UK (Andreas Michaelis) distanced himself from the assertion. How can it have? The best guesstimate for the number of Germasn having had the virus is 7.5 – 10 million. Their test program has found 160,000, That represents circa 2% of the cases that are beleived to have occurred. What difference does that make? The German success is the death rate not the case rate. They must have wrapped up their old and vulnerable exceptionally well. We need to ask them how they did it.
Hancock set himself up to fail, he panicked pulled out a figure to satisfy press scrutiny and then crossed his fingers that it could be done, it wasn’t a goal it was a wish.Clearly he’s never been in business, if he had been he would have known that this situation was crying out for the classic under promise over deliver. As a result Hancock, I am afraid, is serving on borrowed time.
I hope so. Another chancer in a cohort of charlatans.
Tom Chivers identified the system which the TV Leftwing political hacks used to try to get a GOTCHA over a Tory government minister. This was just a political ploy to rubbish the government.
The trap the Luvies failed to see: Criticism of the governments efforts over their COVID-19 campaign have now brought calls for a review, which will bring the beloved NHS into the spotlight. NHS Quangoes may not be able to dodge.
But he did not fail. He smashed his target. Obviously he had to pull a number of stokes to do it, but it was important to show the immense challenges could be overcome and thereby give confidence that the even bigger challenge which is to get out of this mess and get our economy back in some semblance of order can also be met.
A program to avoid
Don’t you mean progrom? Or have you resorted to American spelling as a means of stressing your Celtic identity?
All pogroms should be avoided. They’re beyond the Pale of Settlement.
Having bee sexually active since the early 1970s, I believe I have the experience to state that sex between brain-functioning men and women need not be continually punctuated by requests for permission, apologies, self-doubt, etc. A truly “normal” person can sense how far to go, what to do or not to do, and just enjoy him or herself and get on with it.
It was certainly foolish of Hancock to pluck an arbitrary figure out of the air and then commit to reaching it by a specific date. However, Tom, I can tell you that, now it looks like – amazingly – the target might be met, the media have already stopped obsessing about it and changed the goalposts.
See the BBC website yesterday: “Is who we test more important than how many?”
But .. an independent review of a global pandemic is impossible, unless Star Trek is real and you have some Vulcans handy
Meantime, here is an alternative point of view. It makes for difficult reading, but an uncomfortable amount of it rings true: https://medium.com/@indica/…
“Judge Wilson believes that if a living thing is not a person, then one has the right to end its life. She also believes that a foetus is a person. Therefore, Judge Wilson concludes that no one has the right to end the life of a foetus.” This is the logically unsound argument (I think).
If I’m right then an initial reaction might be to pat myself on the back and tell myself how rational and logical my thinking is. I would, however, also do well to notice that the focus of that particular syllogism (i.e. abortion) is a topic that I am uncertain of and have yet to formulate a strong opinion about…
Following the idea that partisanship blinds in the face of confirmation, my indecisiveness and non-partisanship on the topic of abortion meant that the syllogism stuck out to me like a sore thumb as logically unsound, whereas this may not have been so glaring if I was strictly “pro-life” or “pro-choice”. In other words, my opinion that “I don’t yet have a firm opinion on the topic of abortion” may have meant that syllogism stuck out to me immediately as logically unsound because it does contain “firm opinions” on the topic of abortion – effectively the opposing stance to mine.
Or I’m over-thinking things and it’s simply just the one that is logically unsound and not actually that difficult to spot in any case. But at least I was right…
Unfortunately the government and the various supporting quangos have shown themselves to be repeatedly wrong and easy targets. The testing is just one area, the others insufficient and inadequate PPE, ventilators, beds, general preparedness when they have even run scenario exercises, centralisation, logistics (only worked with support from the military). The bloated ineffective quangos such as PHE who nobody is tackling. They should thank themselves lucky the news system is not more thorough.
This comments system is glitching, replacing about half a dozen comments with just one.
Great opinion piece from Sarah. On a minor point, “recherche theories” might be better written as “recherchÃ© theories”. The English language gets along quite well without any diacritical marks for homegrown words, and there is a temptation to omit them all from all words borrowed from foreign borrowings as well. In Canada, my country, where French is an official language, one is more likely to see the diacritical marks included, but usage varies in English-language publications, so one will find, for example, both RiviÃ¨re-du-Loup (it means “Wolf River”) and Riviere-du-Loup being used for the city in Eastern Quebec, but no Anglophone would ever pronounce “Riviere” with two syllables instead of three. The word “recherchÃ©” poses a particular problem, because unlike “riviÃ¨re”, the unaccented word is a noun with a meaning, “research” or “search”, quite different from the adjective, “exotic” or “pretentious”. It would seem to me that hear the danger may be, not so much that the use of the diacritical mark may be seen as an affectation by an anglophone reader as its omission may be misleading to a francophone reader with imperfect grasp of English, who might misleadingly think that the idea that girls’ eyes are specially adapted to spotting berries is one of the most carefully researched theories of sexual differences, which is not what Sarah is saying. I presume Sarah is already reaching an international audience; I am reading her after all. To my mind, even if the diacritical mark is generally omitted, it should always be included where the omission implies a difference in meaning, and therefore a chance of misunderstanding. Incidentally, the great Henry Fowler, who was opposed to the pretentious use of French in English, seemed to have no objection to diacritics as such, and lists “recherchÃ©” as a French word in common use in his “Modern English Usage”.
To eradicate the virus we’ll need the capability to test millions a day and get more or less instant results. I’d like to see journo’s sticking that on the table and challenging the government to say it’s unnecessary or unachievable.
Yawn. UnHerd is losing it with this sort of sub-women”s page filler (which is sexist in itself). More generally, UnHerd seems to have moved to too much in quantity, too little in quality. Time to get back to the basics that made it so refreshing as a start-up.
Developers looking to buy up hotel blocks at quiet spots in the UK e.g. Heathrow.
What sort of sexist are you?
The superficial niceness of benevolent sexism allows boys to hang onto it more easily”
Isn’t your headline sexist?
Well said, Peter. I hope all the people who read Giles Fraser’s condescending column, “What Peterson Shares with Pelagius” read yours, which almost appears to be written as a rebuttal.
I didn’t know anything about Claire Lehmann before I read this, so I watched an interview of her with John Anderson, and she is simply marvelous. Thank you so much, Peter, for getting me interested in her work. The “intellectual dark web” sounds like something Doctor Strange will have to defeat if there is a movie sequel, and it is just some NYT journo’s pejorative term for a gaggle of conservative thinkers who can be found on the internet. It shows how the woke left seeks to demonize conservatives rather than to understand them. By the way, Peter makes no mention of Debra Soh, the brilliant Ontario sex researcher who is an ally of Jordan Peterson, although she is mentioned as a member of the intellectual dark web in the NYT article. Peter may have inadvertently given the impression that the so-called IDW intellectuals are all Caucasian, or even worse, that one must be a Caucasian to be a member of the club. That’s not the case.
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