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The prediction was terrifying.
The Imperial College London model from March showed that as many as 2.2 million Americans could die from COVID-19.
But the model was off — way off. And now experts say it was “totally unreliable.”
One computer data modeling expert said the Imperial model coding, done by professor Neil Ferguson, is a “buggy mess that looks more like a bowl of angel hair pasta than a finely tuned piece of programming,” The Daily Telegraph reported.
“In our commercial reality, we would fire anyone for developing code like this and any business that relied on it to produce software for sale would likely go bust,” David Richards, co-founder of British data technology company WANdisco, told the Telegraph.
The model has been a key part of recommendations from the White House Coronavirus Task Force and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Ferguson was also a scientific adviser to the British government, and he warned in mid-March that 500,000 people could die from the pandemic. U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson responded to the report by imposing a national lockdown.
Scientists from the University of Edinburgh say that the findings in Ferguson’s model were impossible to reproduce using the same data. The team got different results when they used different machines, and even different results from the same machines.
“There appears to be a bug in either the creation or re-use of the network file. If we attempt two completely identical runs, only varying in that the second should use the network file produced by the first, the results are quite different,” the Edinburgh researchers wrote.
“Models must be capable of passing the basic scientific test of producing the same results given the same initial set of parameters … otherwise, there is simply no way of knowing whether they will be reliable,” said Michael Bonsall, Professor of Mathematical Biology at Oxford University.
The Imperial College COVID19 Response Team defended itself. “The U.K. Government has never relied on a single disease model to inform decision-making. As has been repeatedly stated, decision-making around lockdown was based on a consensus view of the scientific evidence, including several modelling studies by different academic groups.”
“Epidemiology is not a branch of computer science and the conclusions around lockdown rely not on any mathematical model but on the scientific consensus that COVID-19 is a highly transmissible virus with an infection fatality ratio exceeding 0.5pc in the UK,” the college said in a statement.
Ferguson resigned from his advisory role earlier this month after it was revealed that he defied his own lockdown advice by meeting his married lover twice.
“Professor Neil Ferguson allowed the woman to visit him at home during the lockdown while lecturing the public on the need for strict social distancing in order to reduce the spread of coronavirus. The woman lives with her husband and their children in another house,” The Telegraph reported.
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