Open Thread

This is a page for your use, to try out html tags and see what they look like, to post new ideas, to pass along interesting information, to suggest future topics for discussion, to reach out and contact me directly, the floor is yours.



339 thoughts on “Open Thread

  1. Dear Willis,
    I hope the following is of interest. It’s a note on UK coronavirus modelling and indeed the modeller – one Neil Ferguson of Imperial College – who the UK government appears to rely upon. It is rather long, not least as I copy below a full article mainly about Ferguson from the British newspaper the Telegraph.
    I am prompted to write today as I was simply beyond incredulous to read and see in the British media this morning that, in the space of the last few days only, Ferguson’s model has gone from projecting 250,000 UK deaths to 5,700 (no, I haven’t missed any zeros off). Furthermore, only weeks ago he was predicting 500,000 deaths. Now, I am an Earth scientist by background who spent most of his subsequent career in finance. I am not a trained statistician nor mathematician. Having said that, however, I have built a few financial models in my time and looked both at projections and risk analysis aspects. I utterly struggle to see how you can possibly get a model result down from 250,000 to less than 6,000 in the space of a few days and all for – in this case – a partial change in a variable (transmission), the results of which it is way too early to observe.
    Just like in climate modelling (and indeed other cases noted in the article below) this just looks like a classic case of GIGO. Fine in the context of arcane university research but, apparently based on these models, Britain is very moving rapidly through recession to a full-blown economic depression that will take many years to recover from. You could not make this up and it’s not as if (see the article) this Ferguson character and his models have a good track record.
    So, please see below the full Telegraph article (which is otherwise paywalled).
    Keep up your fantastic work Willis and stay healthy!
    Ian Magness


    Neil Ferguson, the scientist who convinced Boris Johnson of UK coronavirus lockdown, criticised in past for flawed research
    Katherine Rushton & Daniel Foggo
    Telegraph 28/03/20

    Professor Neil Ferguson predicted Britain was on course to lose 250,000 lives during the coronavirus epidemic.
    The scientist whose calculations about the potentially devastating impact of the coronavirus directly led to the countrywide lockdown has been criticised in the past for flawed research.
    Professor Neil Ferguson, of the MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis at Imperial College in London, produced a paper predicting that Britain was on course to lose 250,000 people during the coronavirus epidemic unless stringent measures were taken. His research is said to have convinced Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his advisors to introduce the lockdown.
    However, it has now emerged that Ferguson has been criticised in the past for making predictions based on allegedly faulty assumptions which nevertheless shaped government strategies and impacted the UK economy.
    He was behind disputed research that sparked the mass culling of farm animals during the 2001 epidemic of foot and mouth disease, a crisis which cost the country billions of pounds.
    And separately he also predicted that up to 150,000 people could die from bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, or ‘mad cow disease’) and its equivalent in sheep if it made the leap to humans. To date there have been fewer than 200 deaths from the human form of BSE and none resulting from sheep to human transmission.
    Mr Ferguson’s foot and mouth disease (FMD) research has been the focus of two highly critical academic papers which identified allegedly problematic assumptions in his mathematical modelling.
    The scientist has robustly defended his work, saying that he had worked with limited data and limited time so the models weren’t 100 per cent right – but that the conclusions it reached were valid.
    Michael Thrusfield, professor of veterinary epidemiology at Edinburgh University, who co-authored both of the critical reports, said that they had been intended as a “cautionary tale” about how mathematical models are sometimes used to predict the spread of disease.
    He described his sense of “déjà vu” when he read Mr Ferguson’s Imperial College paper on coronavirus, which was published earlier this month.
    That paper – Impact of non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) to reduce COVID19 mortality and healthcare demand – warned that if no action were taken to control the coronavirus, around 510,000 people in Britain would lose their lives.
    It also predicted that approximately 250,000 people could die if the Government’s conservative approach at the time was not changed. The research, which was based on mathematical models, was key in convincing the Prime Minister that “suppression” – and subsequently a lockdown – was the only viable option to avoid huge loss of life and an NHS meltdown.
    This week, a second paper authored by Mr Ferguson and the Imperial team further predicted that 40 million people worldwide could die if the coronavirus outbreak was left unchecked.
    But scientists warned last night about the dangers in making sweeping political judgments based on mathematical modelling which may be flawed.
    In 2001, as foot and mouth disease (FMD) broke out in parts of Britain, Ferguson and his team at Imperial College produced predictive modelling – which was later criticised as “not fit for purpose.”
    At the time, however, it proved highly influential and helped to persuade Tony Blair’s government to carry out a widespread pre-emptive culling which ultimately led to the deaths of more than six million cattle, sheep and pigs. The cost to the economy was later estimated at £10 billion.
    The model produced in 2001 by Professor Ferguson and his colleagues at Imperial suggested that the culling of animals include not only those found to be infected with the virus but also those on adjacent farms even if there was no physical evidence of infection.
    “Extensive culling is sadly the only option for controlling the current British epidemic, and it is essential that the control measures now in place be maintained as case numbers decline to ensure eradication,” said their report, published after the cull began.
    The strategy of mass slaughter – known as contiguous culling – sparked revulsion in the British public and prompted analyses of the methodology which has led to it.
    A 2011 paper, Destructive Tension: mathematics versus experience – the progress and control of the 2001 foot and mouth epidemic in Great Britain, found that the government ordered the destruction of millions of animals because of “severely flawed” modelling.
    According to one of its authors – the former head of the Pirbright Laboratory at the Institute for Animal Health, Dr Alex Donaldson – Ferguson’s models made a “serious error” by “ignoring the species composition of farms,” and the fact that the disease spread faster between some species than others.
    The report stated: “The mathematical models were, at best, crude estimations that could not differentiate risk between farms and, at worst, inaccurate representations of the epidemiology of FMD.”
    It also described a febrile atmosphere – reminiscent of recent weeks – and claimed that this allowed mathematical modellers to shape government policy.
    “The general impatience that met the wait for the full extent of infections to become apparent, accompanied by an ever increasing number of outbreaks and piles of carcasses awaiting disposal, was perceived as a lack of success of the traditional control measures and provided the opportunity for self-styled ‘experts’, including some veterinarians, biologists and mathematicians, to publicise unproven novel options,” the researchers said.
    An earlier report, in 2006, Use and abuse of mathematical models: an illustration from the 2001 foot and mouth epidemic in the United Kingdom, identified Professor Ferguson’s modelling as having been the biggest driver of government policy.
    The paper said that “the models were not fit for the purpose of predicting the course of the epidemic and the effects of control measures. The models also remain unvalidated. Their use in predicting the effects of control strategies was therefore imprudent.”
    On Friday, Professor Thrusfield said: “When we wrote those two review papers, we thought it would be a cautionary tale for the future if foot and mouth disease struck again. We didn’t think it would be a cautionary tale for a new plague in the human population – but of course the cautionary tale is fully valid.
    “This is déjà vu. During the [FMD] epidemic there was quite vocal opposition from members of the vet profession – especially those who had their hands soaked in blood, killing perfectly healthy cattle.
    “There was also a major economic and emotional impact on those involved, [because] the slaughter of these animals that were perfectly healthy. This was serious stuff. This was farmers losing their livelihoods. They need not have been slaughtered but they were because the predictions were wrong.”
    Last night, Dr Paul Kitching – lead author of Use and abuse of mathematical models, and the former chief veterinarian of Canada’s British Columbia province – raised fears over the modelling being done on coronavirus.
    “The basic principles on modelling described in our paper apply to this Covid-19 crisis as much as they did to the FMD outbreak.
    “In view of the low numbers of Covid-19 tests being reported as carried out in affected countries, it is difficult to understand what informs the current models. In particular the transmission rate. How many mild and subclinical infections are occurring?”
    “The model driven policy of FMD control resulted in tragedy. Vast numbers of animals were slaughtered without reason. Untold human and animal suffering was the result – not to mention the financial consequences.”
    However, Sir David King, who was the Chief Scientific Advisor to the government in 2001, said that criticism of the epidemiological modelling was “misplaced.”
    He said: “I would agree there was some unnecessary culling taking place, but this is simply because there wasn’t a unity in the way the thing was being handled.”
    Professor Ferguson said of his modelling for FMD: “A number of factors going into deciding policy, of which science – particularly modelling – is only one. It is ludicrous to say now that our model changed government policy. A number of factors did.
    “We were doing modelling in real time as the other groups were in 2001 – certainly the models weren’t 100% right, certainly with limited data and limited time to do the work. But I think the broad conclusions reached were still valid.”
    Of his work on BSE, in which he predicted human death toll of between 50 and 150,000, Professor Ferguson said: “Yes, the range is wide, but it didn’t actually lead to any change in government policy.”
    Others have directly criticised the methodology employed by Ferguson and his team in their coronavirus study.
    John Ioannidis, professor in disease prevention at Stanford University, said: “The Imperial College study has been done by a highly competent team of modellers. However, some of the major assumptions and estimates that are built in the calculations seem to be substantially inflated.”
    Professor Ferguson said anyone who thought the coronavirus was akin to seasonal flu was “living in cloud cuckoo land.”
    He defended the conclusions reached “in terms of the overwhelming demand on healthcare systems imposed by this virus.”
    “It is ludicrous, frankly, to suggest that the severity of this virus is comparable to seasonal flu – ludicrous and dangerous. People who are doing so have not analysed the data in any level of detail.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Willis, as you are doing yeoman’s work on COVID-19, I thought you’d like to see this article detailing contrarian scientists on the panic we are experiencing with this virus.

    Stop the Fear-Mongering! 12 Medical Experts Questioning the Coronavirus Panic

    I have only recently discovered this site. I’ve found no glaring errors, yet, and the scientists quoted seem to be prominent in their fields. It is most interesting.

    This is the latest information from the CDC.
    COVID-19: U.S. at a Glance*†
    Total cases: 103,321
    Total deaths: 1,668
    Jurisdictions reporting cases: 54 (50 states, District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, and US Virgin Islands)

    Below is the latest information I could find from the CDC for the flu in comparison with COVID-19

    For perspective;
    FLU Season OCT 1, 2019 – FEB 29, 2020
    Deaths = 20,000
    Infections = 34 million
    Hospitalizations = 350,000

    Also, this regarding the H1N1 flu in 2009.
    “There were 60.8 million cases of H1N1 in 2009-2010, with 12,469 deaths. .That’s almost 7.6%. We now know that environmental, age, and health factors – like air pollution, means to quell contamination, underlying medical conditions, etc.. – have a highly significant effect on percentage of deaths following exposure. Location is also significant, considering the catastrophic combination of air pollution, poor government response, and lack of medical knowledge like we saw in China and Iran.”

    This is most helpful in how to keep yourself from contracting COVID-19.
    Dr. David Price on how to prevent COVID-19 from spreading: Clean hands and do ‘not touch your face, period’ #FoxNews


  3. I do hope Dr, Levitt is correct. He’s been right so far.
    Coronavirus turning point in US could be sooner than predicted, Nobel laureate claims
    The United States will see an earlier turning point in the fight against coronavirus, according to Michael Levitt, the Nobel laureate who correctly calculated that China would get through the worst part of its outbreak faster than other health experts believed.

    The Stanford University biology professor believes that a similar outcome is possible in the U.S. and other parts of the world.
    “What we need is to control the panic,” Levitt told The Los Angeles Times, while agreeing with strong measures to battle the outbreak, including social distancing mandates. In the grand scheme, he said, “we’re going to be fine.”
    This view stands in stark contrast with other public health officials who have said that we may be weeks or even months away from having the COVID-19 pandemic fully under control.
    Levitt, who received the 2013 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, was able to predict with a high degree of accuracy when China would begin to see a decline in COVID-19 cases in a report he shared with friends early in February. He forecast China would see around 80,000 cases, with about 3,250 deaths. As of March 16, China had 80,298 cases and 3,245 deaths.


  4. Willis:

    With respect to your daily plots on the WUWT Covid-19 page, you might want to consider adding Michigan to your US States plots. Detroit (Wayne, Oakland and Macomb Counties) has turned into a serious hot spot.


  5. Mass general hospital has 22 covid patients in ICU. ICU capacity is 150 with a possible total of up to 400 with plenty of ventilators. According to mgh spokesman.


  6. Willis,
    With regard to your brilliant Covid-19 work, an interesting potential baseline is appearing in the form of the former-Soviet state of Belarus. OK so it’s population is only c9.5 million. That is, however, still a significant sample to study. The reason why it’s worth looking at is that, whilst Belarus does have some controls at its borders, the long-standing leader continues to decree that the country should continue as normal, with no lockdown and professional football matches (including the crowds) continuing as before. Following the models beloved by the likes of the British government, one must expect a hugely greater percentage of the Belarus population to suffer and/or die. If they don’t, orchestrating the total collapse of, for instance, the British economy will be put into question and perspective.


      • That, in a way, encapsulates my point Willis – no deaths to date in a near-10 million population so not on the radar. Of course this assumes that Belarus will actually report honestly and openly on the statistics when people do die, as they inevitably will in a land-locked European state. Maybe many have already.
        The world’s most irresponsible leader may not prove quite so irresponsible in the final analysis when compared to other depression-orchestrating world leaders. Time will tell.


  7. If this is true, there needs to be a bunch of people going to prison for a long time in the UK and the US.
    Junk Model From Imperial College London Caused The COVID19 Panic
    Published on March 26, 2020
    Written by Madeline Osburn, staff editor at the Federalist and the producer of The Federalist Radio Hour

    …So why is the organization or seemingly innocent online mapping tool using inaccurate algorithms to scaremonger leaders into tanking the economy? Politics, of course.
    Founders of the site include Democratic Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins and three Silicon Valley tech workers and Democratic activists — Zachary Rosen, Max Henderson, and Igor Kofman — who are all also donors to various Democratic campaigns and political organizations since 2016. Henderson and Kofman donated to the Hillary Clinton campaign in 2016, while Rosen donated to the Democratic National Committee, recently resigned Democratic Rep. Katie Hill, and other Democratic candidates. Prior to building the COVID Act Now website, Kofman created an online game designed to raise $1 million for the eventual 2020 Democratic candidate and defeat President Trump. The game’s website is now defunct.


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