Intelligent Design

Did Fergason Really Just Reiterate What he Had Already Said?

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Our interlocutors in the comment thread to Leading Scientist Walks Back Doomsday Claim suggest that the doomsday scientist (Neil Ferguson) who panicked the world did not walk back his claims. They say his new statement is the same as his old statement, so “there is nothing to see here; move along.”

Let’s test that claim. In the original report* Ferguson said “we would predict approximately 510,000 deaths in GB and 2.2 million in the US” if there is no mitigation effort. That is what grabbed headlines and motivated politicians.

Ferguson then discusses some intervention strategies, and on page 8 he writes that the “most optimal” combination of strategies “is predicted to reduce peak critical care demand by two-thirds and halve the number of deaths.” Read that again. He is saying that even if the most optimal combination of mitigation strategies were implemented, deaths would still be 255,000 in GB and 1.1 million in the US.

Ferguson then goes on to discuss “suppression” as opposed to “mitigation” strategies. Nowhere in the narrative does he mention that 20,000 deaths is a reasonable estimate if these strategies are implemented. Instead, on page 16 he repeats his 255,000 and 1.1 million claim.

Now it is true that if one expends the effort to really dig into the granular details of the report, a cell in a huge chart on page 13, suggests that if the “PC,CI and SD” strategies are implemented, instead of 550,000 deaths there would be 20,000.

Now, here is the bombshell. On page 10 of the paper, Ferguson says that his numbers are based on the assumption that suppression strategies are in place for FIVE MONTHS. Why is that important? Because on Wednesday — a few days into the implementation of strategies that absolutely no one is predicting will continue uninterrupted through August — Ferguson said, he is reasonably confident total deaths will be less than 20,000.

Summary, it is true, as our interlocutors have said, that buried deep in the report the number 20,000 appears. To suggest, however, that any reasonable reader could come away from the report understanding that this was the least bit likely is absurd. Indeed, the number appears nowhere in the narrative. Instead, the 2.2 million and “best case 1.1 million” numbers were thrown out repeatedly. If Ferguson intended to say that 20,000 was a remotely reasonable estimate of the total deaths that could be expected, the absolute best thing that can be said of his original report was captured by Kairosfocus: “That points to lack of balance in the original promotion.”

I say, however, that Ferguson really has walked his original predictions back. Yes, 20,000 is buried in that table. But that misses the point. That table is based on suppression efforts that last five months. To say mere days into efforts that will certainly last a small fraction of five months that 20,000 (and probably less) is his new number is most certainly radically different from what he said two weeks ago.

All of which leads me to conclude that our interlocutors are wrong. Ferguson really did walk back his claims.

UPDATE:

A few hours after I posted this article, I was on the phone with another lawyer planning distancing protocols for a meeting next week. He said there will likely be a million cases in the US by next week. I thought he was kidding at first and replied, “You think it will jump from about 80,000 to one million in one week?” just to make sure I understood him. He said, “yes, that is what the logarithmic growth curve indicates.”

If Ferguson intended to provoke this sort of wildly panicked response, he succeeded brilliantly.

_________________

*BTW, Bob O’H, what shape would you call the curves in Ferguson’s report. I call them “bell shaped.”

33 Replies to “Did Fergason Really Just Reiterate What he Had Already Said?

  1. 1
    kairosfocus says:

    BA, interesting data and analysis of communication issues. My takeaway is that if a group of effective drugs and cocktails can be identified asap, it would make a huge difference. KF

  2. 2
    orthomyxo says:

    I am astounded. Anyone who wants to can listen to the select committee evidence (Ferguson starts around 10:35): https://parliamentlive.tv/Event/Index/2b1c71d4-bdf4-44f1-98fe-1563e67060ee

    It’s perfectly clear that Ferguson is taking about predictions with a suppression strategy, there’s no walking back, the differences just reflect the impacts of different public health responses.

    I don’t know why reporting the expected deaths from a “do nothing”approach is scaremongering. Surely we need to know the impacts under all scenarios before we act (indeed, until recently posters like PaV and Barry Arrington have been suggesting this will kill fewer people than flu even without mitigation efforts).

  3. 3
    asauber says:

    Orthomyxo,

    I’m wondering how *you* are going to verify death counts. I’ll read whatever you comment.

    Andrew

  4. 4
    orthomyxo says:

    I’m not sure what you mean by verify. Do you think US and UK public health authorities might be lying about covid19 deaths?

  5. 5
    asauber says:

    “Do you think US and UK public health authorities might be lying about covid19 deaths?”

    orthomyxo,

    I’m looking at this scientifically. Maybe you can describe for me how a Covid death is determined, who reports it to whom, and who is in charge of collecting it all. Some basic stuff.

    Andrew

  6. 6
    orthomyxo says:

    Well, typically, if someone dies with a positive test (confirmed) or symptoms matching the disease and close contact with a confirmed case (presumptive) as a result of covid-19 symptoms they’ll be counted as a covid19 death. Presumptive cases are a small minority in the data I’ve seen.

    That’s determined at the hospital, and reported to a regional (state in the US) health authority, and thse regional stats are collated by national authorities.

  7. 7
    Barry Arrington says:

    Orthomyxo is astounded. Fair enough. Some people have a low threshold for that sort of thing.

    Everyone can read Ferguson’s original report that I have linked, and everyone can read what he is saying now, which I have also linked. If anyone — that includes you Orthomyxo — can demonstrate that any fair minded reader would be other than astounded that only 11 days later he would be adjusting his narrative to suggest less than 20,000 deaths, I would love to see it. Pointing to a number buried in a large chart won’t do it; I can assure you of that.

    Orthomyxo, you’re on. Show me.

  8. 8
    JVL says:

    From the report linked to in the original post, starting on page 6:

    In the (unlikely) absence of any control measures or spontaneous changes in individual behaviour, we would expect a peak in mortality (daily deaths) to occur after approximately 3 months (Figure 1A). In such scenarios, given an estimated R0 of 2.4, we predict 81% of the GB and US populations would be infected over the course of the epidemic. Epidemic timings are approximate given the limitations of surveillance data in both countries: The epidemic is predicted to be broader in the US than in GB and to peak slightly later. This is due to the larger geographic scale of the US, resulting in more distinct localised epidemics across states (Figure 1B) than seen across GB. The higher peak in mortality in GB
    DOI: https://doi.org/10.25561/77482 Page 6 of 20
    16 March 2020 Imperial College COVID-19 Response Team
    is due to the smaller size of the country and its older population compared with the US. In total, in an unmitigated epidemic, we would predict approximately 510,000 deaths in GB and 2.2 million in the US, not accounting for the potential negative effects of health systems being overwhelmed on mortality.

    And this from page 16:

    Perhaps our most significant conclusion is that mitigation is unlikely to be feasible without emergency surge capacity limits of the UK and US healthcare systems being exceeded many times over. In the most effective mitigation strategy examined, which leads to a single, relatively short epidemic (case isolation, household quarantine and social distancing of the elderly), the surge limits for both general ward and ICU beds would be exceeded by at least 8-fold under the more optimistic scenario for critical care requirements that we examined. In addition, even if all patients were able to be treated, we predict there would still be in the order of 250,000 deaths in GB, and 1.1-1.2 million in the US.

  9. 9
    orthomyxo says:

    Have you listened to his evidence, Barry? You seem to be asking me if I believe the The Daily Wire or my own lying ears. His report of the th 16th said deaths might be kept below 20,000 with strong social distancing. After strong social distancing was put in place, he was asked how many deaths might occur and he said with strong social distancing, 20,000.

    I really am astounded you could double and now triple down on this.

  10. 10
    orthomyxo says:

    JVL, that’s right. The major result of the paper is that mitigation efforts (trying to slow the epidemic down but let it burn through the population) would be disastrous, and suppression efforts (like lockdown) would be necessary for those numbers to be avoided (Figures 3 and 4 and the scenario tables below)

  11. 11
    orthomyxo says:

    I should add, unless that above post paints too gloomy a picture. It’s likely aggressive case-finding and testing of contacts could slow the epidemic between periods of ‘lockdown’ to extinguish it. Countries like the US, UK and Italy lost the chance to do that in the early epidemic, but could possibly gear up to do it if current measures allow them to “reset”.

  12. 12
    Truthfreedom says:

    @ Orthomyxo
    What ‘selective pressures’ is right now SARS-CoV-2 being subjected to?

  13. 13
    Barry Arrington says:

    Orthomyxo

    His report of the th 16th said deaths might be kept below 20,000 with strong social distancing.

    Liar. The amazing thing is that anyone can look at the report and see you are lying and yet you brazen it out and persist.

    I challenged you to show me where in the narrative the number 20,000 shows up. All you have to do is go to the report, find the relevant quote, and cut and paste it into your next comment. You won’t because you can’t. We both know the narrative is nothing but apocalyptic scaremongering.

    Moreover, you completely ignore my major point. Even if you allow the 20,000 buried in the chart to be reflective of what he was trying to convey (and of course it isn’t), you glide right past the fact that he said the chart’s figures assumed FIVE MONTHS of suppression efforts. Here we are. 11 days later. He knows he mislead the world and he is walking it back.

    The readers are not as stupid as progressives like you think they are. No one has to take my word for it — or yours — it is all right there in black and white.

    Your turn. Keep on trying to polish the turd. I look forward to it, because your increasingly frenetic turd polishing is becoming — well, “amusing” isn’t quite the right word — but something in that vicinity.

  14. 14
    Josh Postema says:

    “It’s likely aggressive case-finding and testing of contacts could slow the epidemic between periods of ‘lockdown’ to extinguish it. Countries like the US, UK and Italy lost the chance to do that in the early epidemic, but could possibly gear up to do it if current measures allow them to “reset”.”

    We’ve spent weeks being told to trust experts on this, and it’s time to push back. Ferguson and his whole team may be absolutely perfect in their predictions, but they are not experts on every field. They don’t know how many deaths their proposed plans would take, or if that number would be less than the lives they predict their plans would save. Their paper only models deaths by the virus given their myriad assumptions. I don’t expect more than that, but it means they are blind to things falling outside of that.

    But what if, through suicide, decreased food supply, lower medical supplies over extended periods, and other effects of repeated economic collapse, the death rate from enacting these plans has a higher cost in human lives than literally doing nothing? Their model can’t say. It can’t say because it doesn’t model any of that.

    If we are to listen to experts, then we should listen to economic experts, too. And historians. People who have expertise in what total economic collapse – especially repeated over a period of time – effects in the world.

    I suspect it eclipses Ferguson’s worst-case scenario by several magnitudes.

  15. 15
    Truthfreedom says:

    @14 Josh Postema

    We’ve spent weeks being told to trust experts on this, and it’s time to push back.

    According to our fellow darwinians, maybe we should ask our chimpanzee relatives how to solve this crisis (after all, we share 99% of our DNA). Oh wait, reality check, that is NOT how things work.
    Darwinism is imbecile.

  16. 16
    orthomyxo says:

    Liar. The amazing thing is that anyone can look at the report and see you are lying and yet you brazen it out and persist.

    I really don’t understand why you have to be like this. What you call the ‘narrative’ of the report doesn’t use any specific number for the number of deaths under a “supression” response, but the tables you’ve mentioned put 20,000 at about the middle depending on various assumptions.

    I would have though Ferguson’s own words that he was referring to this report and his own statement that he had not revised any predictions might be taken as evidence that he hasn’t revised his predictions. Apparently not.

    As you say, others can decide on wether you or I have the most reasonable reading of events (let’s just say I am not too concerned by this…). The rest of your reply just beggars belief.

    We both know the narrative is nothing but apocalyptic scaremongering.

    The narrative is the very stark predictions of how well “mitigation” strategies will work. I don’t know why describing these results is “scaremongering”. (Scary as they may be).

    Moreover, you completely ignore my major point. Even if you allow the 20,000 buried in the chart to be reflective of what he was trying to convey (and of course it isn’t), you glide right past the fact that he said the chart’s figures assumed FIVE MONTHS of suppression efforts. Here we are. 11 days later. He knows he mislead the world and he is walking it back.

    I don’t know what you think you are saying here. Yes, the report assumes a prolonged suppression (or periods of supression over a long time). Supressing the virus in countries with large community outbreaks will certainly require long-term measures (combined with aggressive case-finding and patien isolation between periods). Figure 4 is an example of this sort of strategy. I gather the US is not yet talking about such an approach, but much of the world will take this approach. THe UK is today talking about 6 months: https://inews.co.uk/news/health/coronavirus-britons-see-elements-lockdown-six-months-warning-2519842

    The readers are not as stupid as progressives like you think they are. No one has to take my word for it — or yours — it is all right there in black and white.

    This is the one that really floors me. What does “progressive” have to do with how many people will die in a pandemic? It’s genuinely dismaying to see Americans allowing the divides in their culture to drive their response to this threat.

  17. 17
    Eugene says:

    1581 death in the US as of 3/27 (https://tradingeconomics.com/united-states/coronavirus-deaths).
    Assume 1% mortality rate. This gives ~160K active cases in the US as of approx. 20 days ago (that is, as of 3/7) as it takes about 20 days to die. The number of deaths so far doubles every 3 days. Hence, the number of active cases doubles every 3 days. Active social distancing started around 3/15. This is 8 more days after 3/7. 2 power (8/3) = 6.3 times 160K = ~1M cases in the US as of 3/15. Also, 1581 death times 6.3 = ~10K deaths in the US in 8 days from today.
    The math is very simple. It is fascinating to watch how the otherwise very intelligent people are still debating that this is nothing to worry about. Bio-weapons are called “weapons” for a reason.

  18. 18
    Barry Arrington says:

    Orthomyxo

    I would have though Ferguson’s own words that he was referring to this report and his own statement that he had not revised any predictions might be taken as evidence that he hasn’t revised his predictions.

    Really? The man panics the world, realizes he is in deep water, and then says “I meant 20,000 all along.” And you just want to take him at his word. Or at least say you do.

  19. 19
    orthomyxo says:

    I mean, just read his own words

    My evidence to Parliament referred to the deaths we assess might occur in the UK in the presence of the very intensive social distancing and other public health interventions now in place. Without those controls, our assessment remains that the UK would see the scale of deaths reported in our study (namely, up to approximately 500 thousand).

    Doesn’t leave much room for confusion.

  20. 20
    orthomyxo says:

    (sorry, neglected to include the twitter link: https://twitter.com/neil_ferguson/status/1243294818354302977)

  21. 21
    Barry Arrington says:

    Orthomyxo continues to run away from the glaring truth. Let’s try to pin him down shall we. Orthomyxo, please tell me which of following 6 statements, if any, is false.
    1. Last week Ferguson said that to lower total deaths to 20,000, suppression measures would have to be in place for at least five months.
    2. On Wednesday Ferguson admitted that a long term lockdown is not feasible.
    3. If one combines 1 and 2, then under the original report’s own premises, lowering total deaths to 20,000 cannot take place.
    4. It is just simple logic. If one assumes one must lock the country down for five months to lower deaths to 20,000, and one admits that a long term lockdown of the country is not feasible, the only conclusion is that under the premises of the original report 20,000 level cannot be achieved.
    5. Nevertheless, Ferguson now says that he expects no more than 20,000 deaths (and perhaps substantially less) at the same time he is saying that a long term lockdown will not happen.
    6. Conclusion: Despite what he says, Ferguson has changed his position since last week.

    Prediction: Ortho will avoid the challenge.

  22. 22
    orthomyxo says:

    Well, if you want to play semantic games, both (2) and (5) are wrong.

    His statement “On Wednesday” is actually from his evidence to the select committee, not some unrelated statement. He said a one year lockdown was not feasible, and the country will have to develop approaches to use less severe measures but still suppress transmission the virus.

    He statement about 20,000 deaths was not a prediction of what will happen free of any assumptions, but one contingent on the effects of a lockdown.Taking his evidence as a whole, it’s pretty clear he’s thinking about ways to extend periods of less-intense measures to avoid more lockdowns in the future.

    But these are silly details. Step back a little and think abut what you actually claimed. The “doomsday claim” you referred to in the other post is the one for 500,000 deaths in UK (in the absence of any attempt to halt the epidemic). He has very explicitly said he stands by that claim. So it’s obviously not true that we has walked back his claim. Even The National Review, not exactly a “progressive” publication”, is making this clear: https://www.nationalreview.com/corner/coronavirus-pandemic-neil-ferguson-did-not-walk-back-covid-19-predictions/

    I don’t know what you think you will lose by admitting Ferguson stands by his initial estimates, but since he has explicitly said that he does, maybe it’s time to drop this?

  23. 23
    BobRyan says:

    What we know is that an outbreak of SARS 2, a close relative of SARS, was discovered in Wuhan in December. Discovering an outbreak is very different from knowing when and were the outbreak of SARS 2 began. We know it was somewhere in China do the the same family as SARS, but not much else. Every city in China has conditions in their markets that are a breading ground for all sorts of nasty things. Wuhan City is no different than any other city in China.
    If an outbreak was discovered earlier, China would have covered it up and ignored it, as they attempted to do with Dr. Li in Wuhan City. He was the one who noticed a pattern of older patients dying in clusters throughout the city from influenza like illness. As a result of bringing up the possibility of SARS, he was harassed by his colleagues and police forced him to sign a paper stating he was lying.
    China does not allow third party verification of anything. Other doctors may have noticed clusters in other cities much earlier, but that does not mean they were willing to be as vocal as Dr. Li. Dr. Li was a rarity in China and China needs far more like him. What China needs and what China has are 2 very different things.
    We can safely say that SARS 2 started before discovery occurred. Outbreak and discovery of an outbreak cannot happen on the same day. Is it possible that years can pass without anyone noticing and outbreak? SARS mimics the flu and there is nothing to make it stand out. This is not Ebola or Marburg, which means there are no clear signs SARS is involved in an influenza related death.
    The average death of Americans during a flu season is 56,000 dead. The 2017/18 season saw that number jump. As the Washington Post pointed out, “Flu killed and hospitalized more people in the United States last winter than any seasonal influenza in decades…”
    https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/last-years-flu-broke-records-for-deaths-and-illnesses-new-cdc-numbers-show/2018/09/26/97cb43fc-c0ed-11e8-90c9-23f963eea204_story.html
    The same flu season saw the UK face something similar. There was a scandal about ineffective vaccines for the flu. According to the Telegraph, “The worst protection was among over 65s – the age group most vulnerable to flu – with effectiveness of 10.1 per cent and none at all against some key strains…”
    https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/11/30/winter-deaths-hit-highest-level-40-years-experts-blame-ineffective/
    Germany also found themselves hit hard. The German Eye reported, “Around 25,100 people lost their lives in Germany in the exceptionally strong flu wave in 2017/18, according to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI). This is the highest number of deaths in the past 30 years, said RKI President Lothar Wieler.”
    https://thegermanyeye.com/flu-vaccination-penultimate-wave-was-deadliest-in-30-years-3748
    This was the case with every country where we can get reliable information. Taking in the death tolls from influenza and the UK scandal regarding vaccines into account, this is the most likely time SARS 2 hit the world. No one has been looking for SARS related deaths for close to 20 years, but that won’t stop people from saying political leaders should have known. This overreaction, along with refusal to call it SARS 2, is for political cover. As long as governments can keep pointing to Wuhan and make it appear as if they are responding to a new threat, it will keep people from asking the right questions.

  24. 24
    Barry Arrington says:

    Orthomyxo

    But these are silly details.

    Yes, whether a five month lockdown will or will not occur is a silly detail. You have now given up all pretense of making a serious argument.

  25. 25
    orthomyxo says:

    Barry. Ferguson’s “doomsday”estimate is for 500,000 deaths of no measures were taken. He has very explicitly said he stands by that estimate. That’s the whole thing.

    You seem to be much more interested in finding some semantic trick to save face than just admit this. Perhaps you just enjoy getting mad at people on the internet?

    I very genuinely meant it when I said the way this falls along partisan lines in the US dismays me. Whatever reason you might have to be suspicious of government or experts, there is clearly a tragedy building in your country now (400 deaths yesterday, and many more already guaranteed). I encourage you to take it seriously.

  26. 26
    kairosfocus says:

    Ortho, could you give us a few thoughts on further results being reported from France? https://uncommondescent.com/medicine/hydrochloroquine-wars-4-didier-raoult-strikes-again-with-80-patient-test/ KF

  27. 27
    Barry Arrington says:

    Orthomyxo

    I very genuinely meant it when I said the way this falls along partisan lines in the US dismays me.

    And I genuinely mean it when I say I am alarmed that people like you will not admit the obvious facts, and insist on making apologies for Ferguson’s utterly irresponsible March 16 report.

  28. 28
    orthomyxo says:

    It’s irresponsible to calculate how many people will die in a pandemic of no action is taken? Bizarre.

  29. 29
    orthomyxo says:

    Kaitisfocus, not sure there is much to say. We will need to wait for well-designed studies to complete.

  30. 30
    Barry Arrington says:

    Orthomyxo

    It’s irresponsible to calculate how many people will die in a pandemic of no action is taken?

    Now you have resorted to misdirection though obvious misrepresentation of my argument. That you resort to such a tactic is a sure sign you know you have been defeated on the merits. Just stop. I am embarrassed for you even if you do not seem to have the self-awareness necessary to be embarrassed for yourself.

  31. 31
    orthomyxo says:

    You seem to think this bluff and bluster can save you some face. I think you’d come off a bit better if you just admitted your mistakes.

    Whatever you have of Ferguson’s evidence, there is tragedy building on the US. You once suggested there may be fewer than 5,000 Americans killed by this. That’s no longer a possibility, nor, surely, is the idea this is less lethal than flu. I hope you can reflect enough to take this seriously.

  32. 32
    Barry Arrington says:

    Orthomyxo

    You seem to think this bluff and bluster can save you some face.

    Project much?

  33. 33
    kairosfocus says:

    Ortho,

    do you realise that Didier Raoult is maybe the leading researcher in France on this area? That, on strength of his 80 patient study — and likely, his further in vitro investigation at clinically relevant concentrations — France has now approved the drug for Covid-19 as at Saturday just past?

    I suggest to you that in recent weeks and months significant studies were done around the world, significant clinical evidence of effectiveness was growing [often, dismissed as “anecdotal”], protocols were put in place to guide doctors, by Mar 19 the US FDA approved experimental and compassionate use.

    I am sure you know that as independent cases begin to emerge in an inductive context, likelihood of accidental cause falls exponentially. There is a reason why it was proverbial that in the mouth of two or three witnesses shall a word be established.

    Furthermore, Chloroquine and relatives have been long since established as chemically effective against RNA and DNA viruses in the literature, in a context where the translation from in vitro to in vivo has long been well known for this now generic drug in use for 65 years; with manageable toxicity and linked damaging side effects. (I recall from my student days: “pharmacology is the study of poisons in small doses.”)

    The real issue, given desperate need for effective antivirals, was why this was not validated and approved over a decade ago after the post-sars investigations. Instead, we have seen media party-line tactics that cast doubt because a widely despised [among elites] populist US president suggested that this was one of a cluster of hopeful treatment possibilities. In the video I saw, he did so on the very day I have documented, that FDA gave exploratory and compassionate use approval; in that context, Mr Trump did not jump any guns nor was he guilty of snake oil touting.

    The media and elite reactions over the past two weeks were manifestly unjustified and utterly imbalanced. In short, toxic politics and hostility poisoned and distorted the discussion we needed.

    KF

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