Lockdown Ferguson on What I Got Wrong (Part Two)

Here’s the rest of what Ferguson had to say to the science editor of the Observer. 

Despite the vituperation, UK scientists have done well, Ferguson believes – not just in terms of research, but in investing time in communicating their research to the public. “What is paradoxical is the fact that the UK has punched well above its weight in its epidemiology, in its vaccine development and in understanding the virus – yet we have the worst per capita mortality for Covid-19 in the developed world. The eventual public inquiry will have a very mixed bag of conclusions to make about our handling of Covid.”

A major problem for the UK – and for much of Europe – has been the assumption that controlling the virus is a matter of having a trade-off between the economy and imposing lockdowns. “That is a false dichotomy,” says Ferguson. “If you act early when you impose lockdowns and other restrictions, you don’t just minimise deaths, you minimise economic disruption because you can lift lockdown so much earlier.”

As to the differential impact of the disease on society, Ferguson is unequivocal. “The poor have been worst affected in multiple ways. They have the lowest job security and have the least ability to work from home. They tend to work in frontline professions where they are more exposed to the virus. They also tend to have poorer health and have more co-morbidities so that they get more severe reactions to Covid and suffer higher mortality rates. There needs to be a real effort to address these issues in the coming few years.”

Ferguson’s group at Imperial College was one of those asked recently by the Cabinet Office to model the likely outcomes of emerging from our current lockdown at different speeds, from a very rapid rate to a very cautious one. “I think the government listened to what we had to say and have learned lessons from the past. Certainly, there’s no appetite to end up in a situation where they’re forced to lock down again.” This has led to the current very cautious approach being taken by the government in lifting restrictions.

Ferguson describes himself as “80% sure” that the country will be a different place in a few months. “It is highly likely that we will have driven Covid down to very low levels of case numbers and we can begin enjoying summer. We will still need to monitor things very carefully, and there has yet to be a proper discussion about what we do in autumn. Certainly, I think it is highly likely we will have to roll out a booster vaccine to protect against possible new variants.

“So, while I am optimistic overall, I still think there is a 20% chance things could go wrong – with the possible appearance of dangerous new variants which undermine immunity given by vaccines.”

In general, though, Ferguson takes the view that the news is likely to be good over the next few months – and that makes a considerable change from the warnings he has had to make for the past year.

Note that there is no science in it. Ferguson is no more a scientist than the builder who puts in an estimate for roofing your house that bills you for ten times more tiles than you need, because he can’t tell square feet from square metres. And does the same thing to all your neighbours for twenty years. The builder who does that goes bust or goes to prison. The epidemiologist who demonstrates a similar incompetence is fêted like a princess crucified by the horrid media. 

Ferguson, speaking as an expert, describes himself as “80% sure” that the country will be a different place in a few months. Because that’s the only expertise he has, the ability to put a percentage to his hunches. Speaking as an expert, I’m 80% sure that Ferguson will still be in the same place in a few months, and so will McKie, on his knees with his tongue firmly ensconced between the twin cheeks of Science and Power. 

A year ago I wrote a piece that was certainly the most widely read thing I’ve ever written, since it was taken up by WattsUpWithThat, the Global Warming Policy Foundation, and the Europäisches Institut für Klima & Energie. It was also the most wrongheaded, idiotic thing I’ve ever written, since it proposed that the failings of “the science” surrounding the response to the Covid crisis would result in a more sceptical attitude to the science surrounding climate change. As McKie’s article demonstrates, precisely the opposite has happened, with the hysteria about scientists under attack from sinister bots being repeated word for word in the case of the fake science of epidemiological prediction.

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March 16, 2021 at 03:45AM

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