Jump to content
  • Welcome to DOSBODS


    DOSBODS is free of any advertising.

    Ads are annoying, and - increasingly - advertising companies limit free speech online. DOSBODS Forums are completely free to use. Please create a free account to be able to access all the features of the DOSBODS community. It only takes 20 seconds!


UK Govt Coronavirus Response: Sceptics Thread

sancho panza

Recommended Posts

sancho panza
12 hours ago, Yellow_Reduced_Sticker said:

When misguided public opinion honors what is despicable and despises what is honorable, punishes virtue and rewards vice, encourages what is harmful and discourages what is useful, applauds falsehood and smothers truth under indifference or insult, a nation turns it's back on progress and can be restored only by the terrible lessons of catastrophe.  *Frédéric Bastiat*


NO MSM bollocks ...Just REAL News here:



Those journalists also pose the very valid question of how many people is the hospital shut down is causing the death of? Is the rise in excess deaths down to hospitals being shut down,COVID 19 or a combination of both?

Malocm Kendrick GP posted on two of his patients who died as a result of his local hospital sending them home when normally they would have been kept in.

The ONS data up to April 3rd.And it really begs the question.We should get April 10 data soon.


Edited by sancho panza
Link to comment
Share on other sites

sancho panza

More questioning of the logic of the lock down given the rise in non covid deaths.

hattip @dnb24


Have we gone too far? Yes, it's saving the NHS, but I fear the coronavirus lockdown is also harming the nation's health, writes Dr MAX PEMBERTON

Whisper it... but could it be we have gone too far? That is the alarming question my colleagues and I are beginning to ask, firstly of ourselves and then, cautiously, of each other.

In our understandable but frenzied drive to ‘Save the NHS’ from the scourge of coronavirus, are we inflicting long-term damage on millions of individuals with health problems — some of them life-threatening — that have nothing to do with Covid-19?

It seems heresy to even countenance the thought, not least when the Government’s medical and scientific advisers have been warning us every day that the peak of Britain’s coronavirus epidemic is still days away.


But as the death toll remained below 800 for the fourth day running yesterday, and even Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty hinted at a possible ‘flattening out’ of new infections and deaths — although with all the usual caveats — it is timely to raise the question now.

Worrying data is starting to emerge, while anecdotal reports from hospitals, clinics, GP practices, clinical staff and patients themselves is accumulating.

Let me explain. This week, the Office for National Statistics reported a spike in deaths not officially linked to Covid-19. In the week ending Friday, April 3, there was an excess of more than 2,500 deaths over what would be expected at this time of year.

These deaths are unaccounted for in clinical terms, but it is possible that some of them may have occurred among heart attack and stroke victims who haven’t sought or received the treatment they needed fast enough because of the pressures on emergency services primed for coronavirus duty.

Or might those deaths have occurred in people whose heart bypass or stent operations were cancelled?

Perhaps they were individuals with sepsis, meningitis or serious urinary tract infections, and who again did not get the drugs they needed in time because they were worried about going to A&E — fearing exposure to Covid-19 or of adding to the pressures on an overstretched service?

And yet there has never been a better time to visit A&E for prompt treatment. Demand has fallen dramatically across the country.

Even Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty hinted at a possible ‘flattening out’ of new infections and deaths (pictured: Professor Whitty during a media briefing in Downing Street)One colleague who does weekend shifts says she regularly sees 15 patients on a Saturday night. Last weekend she saw just three

A friend who is a radiologist in central London was on call last weekend and said how patients were coming in more sick than normal. They are leaving it later and later to seek help, she said, because of a reluctance to attend hospital.

Another friend who is a community paediatrician tells me of increased asthma attacks in children who are cooped up all day with parents who smoke.

I know that many community mental health services have all but closed down, leaving desperate and sometimes suicidal people with little if any support or input.

We don’t know, we may never know, how many people have died or will die because of the abrupt change in provision, but we need to start asking the hard questions because, in terms of NHS logistics, something has gone seriously awry.

Many colleagues around the country report that their clinics have never felt emptier or their workloads lighter as hospitals have gone on a war footing against coronavirus.

Clinics have been cancelled or rescheduled; 2.1 million non-urgent operations have been postponed for three months, while routine tests and screening programmes are suspended.

While provision has been made for some NHS cancer patients to receive their treatment in private clinics, many others have had chemotherapy and radio- therapy suspended — even palliative treatment in some tragic cases.

North London GP Dr Renee Hoenderkamp wrote movingly — and with quiet fury — in the Mail recently of her cancer patients whose lives were being put at risk because of decisions being made to focus on coronavirus.

They are among millions of people who are, in effect, collateral damage in the war being waged on coronavirus.

Yes, of course it is a war we have to fight with every weapon at our disposal. But I read, with a growing sense of outrage, a leaked report this week claiming that over the Easter weekend just 19 patients were treated at the newly-created 4,000-bed Nightingale Hospital in East London.

Intensive Care capacity at other London hospitals did not go above 80 per cent. An NHS chief in the North-East of England has predicted that the Nightingale Hospital under construction there is unlikely to be needed.

Yet, there are more than a dozen of these hospitals planned around the country. On completion, they will draw experienced intensive care staff away from major hospitals and require an influx of staff re-deployed from other parts of the NHS — thus depleting more services.

Some critics are already carping that the flagship Nightingale Hospital at London’s Excel Centre was more of a PR stunt to reassure the public than anything else. I am not among them.

Its creation from scratch, with the help of the military, was a major achievement and showed just what could be done by the NHS — usually strangled by red-tape — when the chips are down.

And it may yet be needed — although I hope and pray that won’t be the case,

But just as pundits and the public, worried about the impact on the economy, are asking how long lockdown will last and demanding an exit strategy, we should be asking about the impact of shutting down parts of the NHS so completely.

There’s a risk we have become so fixated on the apocalyptic predictions that we will struggle to accept it’s time to enter a new phase (file photo of drive through testing centre in Surrey) 27248934-8223733-image-a-104_1586999563922.jpg  

Just as the lockdown has impacted the poor the hardest, their health will also be hardest hit because they already have poorer health outcomes compared with the wealthy.

I suspect we will be counting the costs in terms of years of life lost through delayed cancer diagnoses, cancelled operations, increased disability and increased mental illness for decades to come.

There is no shame in having responded to the crisis in the way we did. We should be proud of how we have supported lockdown and the extraordinary efforts of the NHS, from its leaders down to the most junior member of staff.

But as the dust settles and we are able to see more clearly, there’s a risk that we have become so fixated on the apocalyptic predictions that we will struggle to accept that it’s time to enter a new phase: to restart the economy for the health of the nation — and to restart NHS services to better serve the health of all its citizens.

  • Agree 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

26 minutes ago, sancho panza said:

After the dust settles I think we will find GPs working very differently with more telephone/video consultations rather than face-to-face with more efficient use of their time.  This may free up some of A&E too as people go there if they can't get a GP appointment.

Perhaps it also shows that a lot of the workload of A&E has been for comparatively trivial ailments and people are not going unless it really is for an emergency now.  I daresay he is right that some people who should have gone to A&E haven't done so and have died as a result.

  • Agree 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

sancho panza

Food for thought here from Sweden which is currently behind a lot of European countires in terms of deaths per million.Interesting to see him point out what he sees as the weaknesses in the Imperial College Paper that the UK's 180 degree U turn was based on.


Worth noting his view that 50% of people have most likely had it.Very much backing up this US research regarding an aircraft carrier where everyone was tested and many were asymptomatic.

Key take home for me is his view that when we look back in a year,the death rate will be similar to a flu season and there won't be much difference between those who locked down and those who didn't.


This interview by Freddie Sayers of Professor Johan Giesecke, one of the world’s most senior epidemiologists, who is an advisor to the Swedish Government (he hired Anders Tegnell who is currently directing Sweden’s strategy), is worth 35 minutes of your lockdown viewing time. He lays out Sweden’s thinking

  • The flattening of the curve we are seeing now is due to the most vulnerable dying first as much as the lockdown
  • UK policy on lockdown and in other European countries is not evidence-based
  • The correct policy is to protect the old and the frail only
  • This will eventually lead to herd immunity as a “by-product”
  • The initial UK response, before the “180 degree U-turn”, was better
  • The Imperial College paper was “not very good” and he has never seen an unpublished, non-peer-reviewed paper have so much policy impact
  • Is dismissive of the 510,000 figure that was predicted if mitigation measures were not implemented
  • The Imperial College paper was much too pessimistic and did not factor in the now much increased ICU capacity
  • Any such models are a dubious basis for public policy anyway, taking no account of real world specifics
  • The results will eventually be similar for all countries
  • Covid-19 is a “mild disease” and similar to the flu, and it was the novelty of the disease that scared people.
  • The actual fatality rate of Covid-19 will in all likelihood turn out to be in the region of 0.1%
  • At least 50% of the population of both the UK and Sweden will likely be shown to have already had the disease when mass antibody testing becomes available

His Swedish blunt logic is not an eccentricity, he was the first Chief Scientist of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, and an advisor to the director general of the WHO. Guido increasingly thinks we need to move towards “climbing down the rungs” of lockdown. This eminent epidemiologist makes a convincing case that this 3 week extension should be the last unless and until there is a second wave…

Edited by sancho panza
  • Informative 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

sancho panza
17 hours ago, janch said:

After the dust settles I think we will find GPs working very differently with more telephone/video consultations rather than face-to-face with more efficient use of their time.  This may free up some of A&E too as people go there if they can't get a GP appointment.

Perhaps it also shows that a lot of the workload of A&E has been for comparatively trivial ailments and people are not going unless it really is for an emergency now.  I daresay he is right that some people who should have gone to A&E haven't done so and have died as a result.

They're some excellent points Janch.I couldn't agree more on the bit in bold.

Regarding A&E you're right and right..Agreed there are a lot of minor ailments presenting(I think a lot of that is down to a lack of access to a GP as you allude). However,there's anecdotal evidence of some pretty serious cases of sepsis not getting there on time and other cardiac/stroke patients missing windows of opportunity for treatment.

It's going to be interesting to see how many non covid excess deaths there are up to April 10th.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

sancho panza
17 hours ago, janch said:

On the other hand maybe some countries have been too quick let up on restrictions:


Japan is still on 10,000 cases.The Swedish epidemiologist suggests that the only way to beat covid is to manage the old and frail and leave it to run.The Japanese ,like South Koreans/Singapore,have suppressed it.


Link to comment
Share on other sites

6 hours ago, sancho panza said:

Japan is still on 10,000 cases.The Swedish epidemiologist suggests that the only way to beat covid is to manage the old and frail and leave it to run.The Japanese ,like South Koreans/Singapore,have suppressed it.


Completely agree.

It spreads quickly, loads of cases show no symptoms and the delay tactics of shutdown carry an extremely high cost.


It's like holding back a tsunami with your hands.


The optimal way to deal with this would have been to just let it sweep through the country.

The best socially acceptable way would be to limit shutdown to try to stop the NHS be overloaded so they should already be lifting now

The worst way would be shutdown too early and then open up and shut down again. (Japan/Germany/South Korea?)

  • Agree 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites


The governbankment must be expecting a few loans to turn bad on this one, as the annual interest rate is 8%!



The Future Fund

This scheme will issue convertible loans between £125,000 to £5 million to innovative companies which are facing financing difficulties due to the coronavirus outbreak.




Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 19/04/2020 at 14:43, planit said:

The optimal way to deal with this would have been to just let it sweep through the country.

We will find out as that seems to be the Trump method.. Whats the guess on the death toll?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

sancho panza
12 hours ago, macca said:

We will find out as that seems to be the Trump method.. Whats the guess on the death toll?

ONS deaths data to April 10th out.Excess deaths are 'This is 7,996 more deaths than the five-year average of 10,520'

As ever the devil is in the detail.

Last chart paints the bigger picture.





Edited by sancho panza
Link to comment
Share on other sites

This is a bit worrying if true but does seem to be based on proper science so worth a read.  If there are variations in the virus it could go some way to account for the wide range and severity of symptoms:


However there was a virologist (can't remember the name) talking on R4 Today programme saying the opposite ie that the virus is quite stable and doesn't show the variety of say the flu virus.  Who to believe?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

sancho panza




First U.S. coronavirus death came in early February, weeks earlier than previously thought, autopsies show

At least two people who died in early and mid-February had contracted the novel coronavirus, health officials in California said Tuesday, signaling that the virus may have spread — and claimed lives — in the United States weeks earlier than previously thought.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

sancho panza

Hour long,but well worth watching according to my source.Some criticism of govt by Prof Guptha.



Can Science Beat The Virus?

Wednesday, 22nd April, 9pm on Channel 4

As Britain and the world increasingly look beyond politics to science for the answers on how to defeat coronavirus, Channel 4 will host a special debate with only scientists on the panel as they discuss today’s most pressing topics, such as; how long will a vaccine take? How will we make enough vaccine to give to the entire world's population? Using science how can the UK and the world safely exit lockdown?

In studio will be four preeminent scientists all working tirelessly in the fight against Covid-19. During the debate they will be joined via video link from scientists all around the UK to discuss science’s response to coronavirus. In studio will be:

Sir Paul Nurse a geneticist and cell biologist, he is the director of the Francis Crick Institute and has turned the institute into a coronavirus testing facility to assist with demand. He won 2001 Nobel Prize in Physiology/Medicine.

Professor Sunetra Gupta from University of Oxford, specialising in Theoretical Epidemiology. Sunetra is using models to understand the spread of coronavirus. She is developing new tests to study the levels of exposure and immunity to the virus in our population.  

Dr Elisabetta Groppelli is a Virologist investigating enteric viruses and developing novel and affordable vaccines from St George’s University of London. She is a seasoned epidemic responder, having led efforts to contain and eliminate Ebola in West Africa, and an expert in vaccines.


Professor Deenan Pillay is UCL’s Pro-Vice-Provost International and Professor of Virology. He is currently advising the government on testing and how to roll it out across the UK and is involved in Covid-19 testing at UCLH. He is a leading expert in clinical aspects of virology with an interest in in drug development against viruses.

The discussion will cover how we can mass test, how close we are to finding a vaccine and how science can hold the answers to getting out of the pandemic. This special debate will be a chance for viewers to take a deep dive into the science behind the Covid-19 outbreak.


Link to comment
Share on other sites

sancho panza

Dr John Ioannidis,Prof of Medicine and Epedimiology St Stanford Uni.

Raising queries on the quality and reliability of the Covid data from late March.

'Once in a centrury evidence fiasco.Many of our actions based on gut feelings,we are acting without knowing if our actions will do more harm than good.'

Really good analysis of why Italy may have suffered it's disproportionate death rate,also seeks to differentiate between deaths 'with' Covid or death 'due to' Covid-aging population,low number ICU beds,system runnign at full capcacity anyway,history of smoking in Italy->increased COPD rates,normally high rates of flu deaths,Italy was first EU country hit -> Italy admitted mild and moderate cases to hospital too quickly(as they were the first to see Covid) which spread disease amongst hospital staff further reducing response.


Edited by sancho panza
Link to comment
Share on other sites

sancho panza

hattip @dnb24

put me onto this super website by Toby Young.Asks some good qeustions and psots some thought provoking stuff.


The Observer leads with a new poll by Opinium that reveals fewer than one in five of the British public believe the lockdown should be lifted. 67% of people think schools should remain closed, against only 17% who think they should reopen. Just 11% think it’s time to reconsider reopening restaurants, with 78% against, while only 9% think pubs should reopen, with 81% against. When it comes to sporting events, 84% are against allowing mass gatherings to take place, with just 7% in favour.

Unfortunately, that poll isn’t an outlier. A YouGov poll for the Sunday Times found that just 25% of adults would feel safe returning to work and the public opposes reopening schools by 48% to 28%. And 59% of people polled by the Sunday Express said they would not feel comfortable going out and don’t plan to resume a normal life any time soon.

It’s official. We’re a nation of bedwetters. As Benjamin Franklin said, “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

And it isn’t just us. In America, the lockdown zealots are on the march, having got the hashtag #extendthelockdown trending on Twitter. New York Times journalist Taylor Lorenz has been banging the drum for this cause, tweeting: “The ‘open up the economy’ people are truly the dumbest ppl on here. How do they think the economy will look when millions are dead and our hospitals are overwhelmed? If u want to ‘save the economy’ then u need to keep everyone *alive.*”

Among the “dumbest ppl” expressing scepticism about the effectiveness of the lockdown policy is Michael Levitt, Professor of Structural Biology at Stanford and the winner of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2013. Levitt has given a great interview to Freddie Sayers at UnHerd pouring scorn on lockdown advocates and their scientific handmaidens. Among the points he makes is that the total number of deaths we are seeing in places as different as New York City, parts of England, parts of France and Northern Italy all seem to level out at a very similar fraction of the total population. “Are they all practising equally good social distancing?” he asks. “I don’t think so.” He points out that the lifecycle of the virus, wherever it has broken out, is remarkably similar, regardless of local differences and irrespective of whether lockdowns have been imposed or not. In particular, after a two week period of exponential growth infections and deaths tail off, meaning the projections of Neil Ferguson and other modellers, which assume constant exponential growth absent a lockdown, are vast overestimates. And worth bearing in mind that so far Levitt’s death toll estimates have been much more accurate than Professor Ferguson’s.

Here’s one of the interview highlights:

I think the policy of herd immunity is the right policy. I think Britain was on exactly the right track before they were fed wrong numbers. And they made a huge mistake. I see the standout winners as Germany and Sweden. They didn’t practise too much lockdown and they got enough people sick to get some herd immunity. I see the standout losers as countries like Austria, Australia and Israel that had very strict lockdown but didn’t have many cases. They have damaged their economies, caused massive social damage, damaged the educational year of their children, but not obtained any herd immunity. There is no doubt in my mind that when we come to look back on this, the damage done by lockdown will exceed any saving of lives by a huge factor.

One of the most interesting sections of the interview is when Levitt explains why epidemiologists’ predictions tend to be so apocalyptic. The reason, he says, is because if they underestimate the death toll likely to result from a viral outbreak they face catastrophic reputational damage – if people die, they get the blame – but if they overestimate it they face zero consequences. “In my work, if I say a number is too small and I’m wrong, or a number is too high and I’m wrong, both of those errors are the same,” he says. “It seems that being a factor of 1,000 too high is perfectly okay in epidemiology, but being a factor of three too low is too low.”

Worth reminding ourselves that Neil Ferguson’s estimates of the impact of previous viral outbreaks – which have been almost comically inaccurate – haven’t damaged his scientific reputation in the slightest. In 2002, he predicted that mad cow disease could kill up to 50,000 people. It ended up killing less than 200. In 2005, he told the Guardian that up to 200 million people could die from bird flu. The final death toll from avian flu strain A/H5N1 was 440. And in 2009, a Government estimate based on one of Ferguson’s models estimated the likely death toll from swine flu at 65,000. In fact, it was 457.


Yesterday I flagged up the fact that America had endured a bad bout of seasonal flu in 1967 that killed 100,000 people – more Americans than COVID-19 has killed so far – and managed to cope without placing its citizens under virtual house arrest. A reader has drawn my attention to this piece in the National Review about how America responded to what was referred to in 1968 as “Hong Kong flu”, which, needless to say, didn’t involve closing schools or shutting down businesses or imposing stay-at-home orders. As an article in the American Institute for Economic Research pointed out, Woodstock took place during that flu outbreak. And the Telegraph ran a similar piece yesterday, pointing out that the British authorities responded to the same pandemic without over-reacting, recommending hand-washing and social distancing at work but nothing more. Both pieces drew on an article in the British Medical Journal by a retired professor of medicine called Philip Philip Snashall, whose two-year-old daughter was the first known case of Hong Kong flu to hit Europe. “How things change,” he noted. “The stock market did not plummet, we were not besieged by the press, men in breathing apparatus did not invade my daughter’s play group.”


It’s not all bad news in today’s papers. The Mail on Sunday reports that the Royal College of GPs and the British Medical Association have warned the Government against quarantining healthy people aged 70 and over when the lockdown is eased – and a furious row has broken out between Matt Hancock and the Sunday Times, which has the same story, in which the Health Secretary disputes that quarantining the elderly for 12 weeks is official Government policy. “The clinically vulnerable, who are advised to stay in lockdown for 12 weeks, emphatically DO NOT include all over 70s,” he tweeted above a screen grab of the Sunday Times‘s front page.

Here’s a quick round up of stories that have stood out for me, and been flagged up by readers, in the past 24 hours:

In what may be becoming a series, here’s another letter in the Telegraph about the wrongful diagnosis of COVID-19 as the cause of death in a care home:

Sir – My mother died last week in a care home at the age of 98. When my brother registered her death, as expected the cause given was “frailty due to old age”, but he was surprised to see that the doctor certifying the death had added “presumed COVID-19”, an inclusion that also shocked the home’s manager.

The day before our mother died, my brother was allowed to sit with her for an hour. His temperature was checked before he was admitted, but there was no form of isolation and none of the home’s staff were wearing personal protective equipment.

If doctors are attributing all deaths in care homes to COVID-19, it makes a nonsense of any statistics and does great reputational damage to both individual care homes and to the care industry as a whole.

Tony Parkinson, Christchurch, Dorset


levitt interview here


Nobel prize-winning scientist: the Covid-19 epidemic was never exponential

As he is careful to point out, Professor Michael Levitt is not an epidemiologist. He’s Professor of Structural Biology at the Stanford School of Medicine, and winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize for Chemistry for “the development of multiscale models for complex chemical systems.”

  • Informative 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites


Code Review of Fergusons Model

Shows just how shit the guys software is.


BBC propaganda machine flips the narrative as government looks to ease the lock down this weekend.

Coronavirus: Is it time to free the healthy from restrictions?

Edited by PaulParanoia
Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 18/04/2020 at 14:00, sancho panza said:

More questioning of the logic of the lock down given the rise in non covid deaths.

hattip @dnb24


Have we gone too far? Yes, it's saving the NHS, but I fear the coronavirus lockdown is also harming

Well I'm loving lockdown, built a tree house, built a pond, spending time with the kids.. not being a slave to work.. 

But my 95 year old great aunt who goes on bus rides every day.. She is going mad stuck indoors.. 

I have one answer to this.   


Germany showed us how it should be done.. But with our team of bumbling experts in charge, our destroyed manufacturing sector we don't stand a chance..

3 planes a day landing directly from wuhan at the peak of theyre virus with no airport checks until this week.. when Heathrow announced they might do something.. 


Shows we are run by cunts who only care about money.  They are not the brightest or the best.. 

Edited by macca
  • Agree 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

sancho panza



“Sue Denim” has been in touch to point out that several other people with similar levels of coding expertise have posted analyses of Neil Ferguson’s code that are as scathing as his. Take this one, for instance, by Chris von Csefalvay. He is an epidemiologist specialising in the virology of bat-borne illnesses, including bat-related coronaviruses. “It is very difficult to look at the Ferguson code with any understanding of software engineering and conclude that this is good, or even tolerable,” he writes. He notes that Ferguson apologised for the poor quality of the code on Twitter, explaining that he wrote it more than 13 years ago to model flu pandemics. Csefalvay responds as follows: “That, sir, is not a feature. It’s not even a bug. It’s somewhere between negligence and unintentional but grave scientific misconduct.”

Then there’s this review by Craig Pirrong, Professor of Finance and Energy Markets Director of the Global Energy Management Institute at the Bauer College of Business, University of Houston. “Models only become science when tested against data/experiment,” he writes. “By that standard, the Imperial College model failed spectacularly.”


Of bits, bugs and responsibility in the public square

Chris von CsefalvayBy Chris von Csefalvay 3 days ago06957 views

Usually, I wake to the sound of the bluejays in our spacious backyard. This morning, I woke to the ‘priority alert’ from my phone, indicating an urgent message. It was 0515 – early even by the standards of epidemiologists in these times. My friend’s message was terse but foreboding – “look at this”, followed by a link to Github.

At the end of the link was the codebase promised for weeks by Neil Ferguson, the computational epidemiologist who has advised the UK government on COVID-19 related steps until his recent resignation. I have previously been a staunch defender of Ferguson’s approach – his model was (and is) theoretically sound, and probably as good as such models will ever get. Prediction, of course, is difficult. Especially when it comes to the future, as Niels Bohr is credited of saying. Using a method that relies on simulating populations in cells and microcells, it combines the granularity and stochastics of agent-based models without requiring the resources typical for agent-based simulation. His model, versions of which were used in previous outbreaks, has been the de facto gold standard to the UK government.

And looking at the code, that raises some extremely serious questions. I would like to explore some of these issues, but will not go into a detailed analysis of the code, for one reason – the code eventually (and reluctantly) shared by Imperial College is almost definitely not the code used to generate forecasts for HM Government. We know that at some point, Github and even John Carmack (yes, that John Carmack!) has been involved in cleaning up some of the quality issues. Imperial, meanwhile, obstinately resists releasing original code – both via Github and under a valid FOIA request that Imperial’s lawyers are entirely misinterpreting.1) We can, however, safely assume from the calibre of the people who have worked on the improved version that whatever was there was worse.

The quality issue

First of all, the elephant in the room: code quality. It is very difficult to look at the Ferguson code with any understanding of software engineering and conclude that this is good, or even tolerable. Neil Ferguson himself attempts a very thin apologia for this:

That, sir, is not a feature. It’s not even a bug. It’s somewhere between negligence and unintentional but grave scientific misconduct.

For those who are not in the computational fields: “my code is too complicated for you to get it” is not an acceptable excuse. It is the duty of everyone who releases code to document it – within the codebase or outside (or a combination of the two). Greater minds than Neil Ferguson (with all due respect) have a tough enough time navigating a large code base, and especially where you have collaborators, it is not unusual to need a second or two to remember what a particular function is doing or what the arguments should be like. Or, to put it more bluntly: for thirteen years, taxpayer funding from the MRC went to Ferguson and his team, and all it produced was code that violated one of the most fundamental precepts of good software development – intelligibility.

The policy issue

When you write code, you should always do so as if your life depended on it. For us working in the field of modelling infectious diseases, lives being at stake is common, sometimes to the point of losing track of it. I don’t, of course, know whether that is what indeed happened, but I doubt anybody would want to trust their lives to thousands of lines of cobbled-together code.

Yet for some reason, the UK government treated Ferguson’s model as almost dogmatic truth. This highlights an important issue: politicians have not been taught enough about data-driven decision-making, especially not where predictive data is involved. There is wide support for a science-driven response to COVID-19, but very little scrutiny of the science behind many of the predictions that informed early public health measures. Hopefully, a Royal Commission with subpoena powers will have the opportunity to review in detail whether Ferguson intentionally hid the model from HM Government the way he hid it from the rest of the world or whether the government’s experts just did not understand how to scrutinise or assess a model – or, the worst case scenario: they saw the model and still let it inform what might have been the greatest single decision HM Government has made since 1939, without looking for alternatives (there are many other modelling approaches, and many developers who have written better code).

The community issue

Perhaps the biggest issue is, however, the response to people who dare question the refusal by Imperial to release the original source code. This is best summarised by the responses of their point man on Github, who is largely spending his time locking issues and calling people dumb & toxic:


It may merit attention that the MRC is taxpayer-funded – the self-same taxpayer who is deemed unfit to even behold what he paid for. This is the worst of ‘closed science’, something many scientists (myself included) have worked hard to dismantle over the years. Publicly funded science imposes a moral obligation to present its results to the funder (that is, the taxpayer), and it should perhaps not be up to the judgment of a junior tech support developer to determine what the public is, or is not, fit to see. Perhaps as an epidemiologist, I take special umbrage at the presumption that everyone who wishes to see the original code base would be “confused” – maybe I should write to reassure Dr Hinsley that I do understand a little about epidemiology. It is, after all, what I do.

The science issue

None of these issues are, of course, anywhere near as severe as what this means – a massive leap backwards, erosion of trust and a complete disclaimer of accountability by publicly funded scientists.

There is a moral obligation for epidemiologists to work for the common good – and that implies an obligation of openness and honesty. I am reminded of the medical paternalism that characterised Eastern Bloc medicine, where patients were rarely told what ailed them and never received honest answers. To see this writ large amidst a pandemic by what by all accounts (mine included) has been deemed one of the world’s best computational epidemiology units is not so much infuriating as it is deeply saddening.

One of my friends, former Navy SEAL Jocko Willink, counseled in his recent book to “take the high ground, or the high ground will take you”. Epidemiology had the chance to seize and hold the narrative, through openness, transparency and honesty about the forecasts made. It had the chance, during this day in the sun of ours, to show the public just how powerful our analytical abilities have become. Instead, petty academic jealousy, obsessions with institutional prestige and an understandable but still disproportionate fear of being ‘misinterpreted’ by people who ‘do not understand epidemiology’ have given the critics of forecasting and computational epidemiology fertile breeding ground. They are entirely justified now in criticising any forecasts that come out of the Imperial model – even if the forecasts are correct. There will no doubt be public health consequences to the loss of credibility the entire profession has suffered, and in the end, it’s all due to the outdated ‘proprietary’ attitudes and the airs of superiority by a few insulated scientists who, somehow, somewhere, left the track of serving public health and humanity for the glittering prizes offered elsewhere. With their abandonment of the high road, our entire profession’s claim to the public trust might well be forfeited – in a sad twist of irony, at a time that could well have been the Finest Hour of computational epidemiology.

And while we may someday regain the respect of the public we swore to serve (perhaps after a detailed inquiry into what went wrong), for now there will be never glad confident morning again.



May 10, 2020


Code Violation: Other Than That, How Was the Play, Mrs. Lincoln?

Filed under: CoronaCrisis,Economics,Politics,Regulation — cpirrong @ 3:03 pm

By far the most important model in the world has been the Imperial College epidemiological model. Largely on the basis of the predictions of this model, nations have been locked down. The UK had been planning to follow a strategy very similar to Sweden’s until the Imperial model stampeded the media, and then the government, into a panic. Imperial predictions regarding the US also contributed to the panicdemic in the US.

These predictions have proved to be farcically wrong, with deaths tolls exaggerated by one and perhaps two orders of magnitude.

Models only become science when tested against data/experiment. By that standard, the Imperial College model failed spectacularly.

Whoops! What’s a few trillions of dollars, right?

I was suspicious of this model from the first. Not only because of its doomsday predictions and the failures of previous models produced by Imperial and the leader of its team, Neil Ferguson. But because of my general skepticism about big models (as @soncharm used to say, “all large calculations are wrong”), and most importantly, because Imperial failed to disclose its code. That is a HUGE red flag. Why were they hiding?

And how right that was. A version of the code has been released, and it is a hot mess. It has more bugs than east Africa does right now.

This is one code review. Biggest take away: due to bugs in the code, the model results are not reproducible. The code itself introduces random variation in the model. That means that runs with the same inputs generate different outputs.

Are you fucking kidding me?

Reproducibility is the essence of science. A model whose predictions can not be reproduced, let alone empirical results based on that model, is so much crap. It is the antithesis of science.

After tweeting about the code review article linked above, I received feedback from other individuals with domain expertise who had reviewed the code. They concur, and if anything, the article understates the problems.

Here’s one article by an interlocutor:

The Covid-19 function variations aren’t stochastic. They’re a bug caused by poor management of threads in the code. This causes a random variation, so multiple runs give different results. The response from the team at Imperial is that they run it multiple times and take an average. But this is wrong. Because the results should be identical each time. Including the buggy results as well as the correct ones means that the results are an average of the correct and the buggy ones. And so wouldn’t match the expected results if you did the same calculation by hand.

As an aside, we can’t even do the calculations by hand, because there is no specification for the function, so whether the code is even doing what it is supposed to do is impossible to tell. We should be able to take the specification and write our own tests and check the results. Without that, the code is worthless.

I repeat: “the code is worthless.”

Another correspondent confirmed the evaluations of the bugginess of the code, and added an important detail about the underlying model itself:

I spent 3 days reviewing his code last week. It’s an ugly mess of thousands of lines of C (not C++). There are hundreds of input parameters (not counting the fact it models population density to 1km x 1km cells) and 4 different infection mechanisms. It made me feel quite ill.

Hundreds of input parameters–another huge red flag. I replied:

How do you estimate 100s of parameters? Sounds like a climate model . . . .

The response:

Yes. It shares the exact same philosophy as a GCM – model everything, but badly.

I recalled a saying of von Neumann: “With four parameters I can fit an elephant, with five I can make him wiggle his trunk.” Any highly parameterized model is IMMEDIATELY suspect. With so many parameters–hundreds!–overfitting is a massive problem. Moreover, you are highly unlikely to have the data to estimate these parameters, so some are inevitably set a priori. This high dimensionality means that you have no clue whatsoever what is driving your results.

This relates to another comment:

No discussion of comparative statics.

So again, you have no idea what is driving the results, and how changes in the inputs or parameters will change predictions. So how do you use such a model to devise policies, which is inherently an exercise in comparative statics? So as not to leave you in suspense: YOU CAN’T.

This is particularly damning:

And also the time resolution. The infection model time steps are 6 hours. I think these models are designed more for CYA. It’s bottom-up micro-modelling which is easier to explain and justify to politicos than a more physically realistic macro level model with fewer parameters.

To summarize: these models are absolute crap. Bad code. Bad methodology. Farcical results.

Other than that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?

But it gets better!

The code that was reviewed in the first-linked article . . . had been cleaned up! It’s not the actual code used to make the original predictions. Instead, people from Microsoft spent a month trying to fix it–and it was still as buggy as Kenya. (I note in passing that Bill Gates is a major encourager of panic and lockdown, so the participation of a Microsoft team here is quite telling.)

The code was originally in C, and then upgraded to C++. Well, it could be worse. It could have been Cobol or Fortran–though one of those reviewing the code suggested: “Much of the code consists of formulas for which no purpose is given. John Carmack (a legendary video-game programmer) surmised that some of the code might have been automatically translated from FORTRAN some years ago.”

All in all, this appears to be the epitome of bad modeling and coding practice. Code that grew like weeds over years. Code lacking adequate documentation and version control. Code based on overcomplicated and essentially untestable models.

But it gets even better! The leader of the Imperial team, the aforementioned Ferguson, was caught with his pants down–literally–canoodling with his (married) girlfriend in violation of the lockdown rules for which HE was largely responsible. This story gave versimilitude to my tweet of several days before that story broke:

It would be funny, if the cost–in lives and livelihoods irreparably damaged, and in lives lost–weren’t so huge.

And on such completely defective foundations policy castles have been built. Policies that have turned the world upside down.

Of course I blame Ferguson and Imperial. But the UK government also deserves severe criticism. How could they spend vast sums on a model, and base policies on a model, that was fundamentally and irretrievably flawed? How could they permit Imperial to make its Wizard of Oz pronouncements without requiring a release of the code that would allow knowledgeable people to look behind the curtain? They should have had experienced coders and software engineers and modelers go over this with a fine-tooth comb. But they didn’t. They accepted the authority of the Pants-less Wizard.

And how could American policymakers base any decision–even in the slightest–on the basis of a pig in a poke? (And saying that it is as ugly as a pig is a grave insult to pigs.)

If this doesn’t make you angry, you are incapable of anger. Or you are an idiot. There is no third choice.


  • Agree 2
  • Informative 3
Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 19/04/2020 at 08:19, sancho panza said:

Japan is still on 10,000 cases.The Swedish epidemiologist suggests that the only way to beat covid is to manage the old and frail and leave it to run.The Japanese ,like South Koreans/Singapore,have suppressed it.


have you seen Taiwan?

an island.. like us, dense population but smaller than ours..

shut down fast and hard

result.. 6 dead

The virus did not float here..

It came on boats and planes.. 

We could have had "0" deaths if we had shutdown passenger planes and ships and just stuck to cargo with strict conditions on pilots, doc workers, ground crew..etc

We are exactly where the government have put us..

  • Agree 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

10 hours ago, macca said:

We could have had "0" deaths if we had shutdown passenger planes and ships and just stuck to cargo with strict conditions on pilots, doc workers, ground crew..etc

That may be true but where would it leave us.  We'd not be able to open our borders again until a vaccine (which may never arrive) was available.  The UK would truly become an island, cut off from the rest of the world indefinitely.

Even if we did take that approach, I suspect the virus would eventually find it's way into the population.  That's what viruses specialise in after all.

Edited by PaulParanoia
  • Agree 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
  • Create New...