Show Your Work! Ferguson Sex Scandal Prompts Calls for UK Govt to Release Coronavirus Models

David Davis
Jack Taylor/Getty

There are increased calls for the British government to release the modelling upon which the national lockdown was based after it was revealed that its author, Professor Neil Ferguson, was found to have been flouting the social distancing rules in order to visit his left-wing activist married lover.

Leading Brexiteer and Conservative MP David Davis said that “a bigger issue than Professor Ferguson’s private life is the accuracy of his model. When applied to the Swedish policy, it forecast 40,000 deaths by now, over 15 times the reality.”

“We need the whole model, its assumptions and working in the public domain. We can no longer run our strategy on secret advice and potentially flawed calculations,” Davis added.

The government has largely kept the advice of the SAGE (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) committee advising the prime minister on the pandemic secret from public view and only released the names of the members of the group on Tuesday. Before his resignation, Professor Ferguson was named as one of the 52 people on the board.

The disgraced professor’s model initially predicted that the United Kingdom could face upwards of 550,000 deaths from the Chinese coronavirus — should the country refuse to enter into a nationwide lockdown and implement strict social distancing rules. Ferguson later revised that number to around 20,000 on the same day that the government passed the Coronavirus Act, which gave the British government sweeping emergency powers to deal with the pandemic.

Instead of releasing the source code upon which the modelling was based, as Ferguson initially promised, the professor has refused to share the full code to the public, thereby preventing experts from around the world to scrutinise the basis for the measures that have placed millions under effective house arrest.

On Wednesday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock told Sky News: “Professor Ferguson is a very very eminent and impressive scientist, and the science that he’s done has been an important part of what we have listened to.” But he added that Ferguson took the “right decision” in resigning from his post.

Others, however, have called into question the epidemiologist’s track record on predicting the outcomes of infectious diseases.

During the 2001 Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) crisis, Ferguson’s mathematical modelling was used by the Tony Blair government to undertake the mass slaughtering of over six million cattle, pigs, and sheep in order to prevent a widespread outbreak of the disease, leading to a £10 billion economic hit that devastated the livelihoods of farmers throughout the country.

In a review of the 2001 crisis, Professor Michael Thrusfield of Edinburgh University described Ferguson’s models as “severely flawed” saying that they were “at best, crude estimations that could not differentiate risk between farms and, at worst, inaccurate representations of the epidemiology of FMD”.

The former leader of the Welsh Conservative Party, Andrew R. T. Davies, said: “He doesn’t have the best track record does Neil. He got it horribly wrong on BSE (Mad Cow Disease) and foot and mouth, and has got it spectacularly wrong here! I do hope his ‘stepped back’ comment means for good.”

The national lockdown that was based on Professor Ferguson’s coronavirus modelling has plunged the state of the world’s fifth-largest economy into freefall, with estimates projecting that Britain could face an 8.3 per cent decline by the end of the year.

 

Follow Kurt on Twitter at @KurtZindulka

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