OPINION: The Pandemic of Incomplete Data

by Dave Cox

Professor Neil Ferguson of the Imperial College of London was, until very recently, an advisor to the UK government for its COVID-19 response until he resigned that position on May 5th for breaking his own lockdown recommendations to hang out with his girlfriend. He must really think those restrictions are important for everyone’s safety, right? His models at Imperial have also been the foundation for many governments around the world to make their decisions about how to handle the virus. The model used for COVID-19 was developed in 2005 and has essentially gone unchanged in the 15 years since. In addition, Ferguson is the ONLY one allowed to analyze the data, despite having a large team at his disposal at the college. While that’s not necessarily nefarious, it is incredibly arrogant at a minimum, which brings with it its own inherent issues.

How have Ferguson’s prestigious models performed in the past? (He has won awards for at least one of them). I’m glad you asked!

FERGUSON’S PREVIOUS MODELS*

YEARDISEASEPREDICTED
DEATHS
ACTUAL
DEATHS
2001Foot and Mouth Disease (UK)150,000200
2002BSE/Mad Cow Disease (UK)50,000177
2005Bird Flu200 MILLION282
2009Swine Flu (UK)65,000457
2020COVID-19**1.5-2.0 Million (US)83K
(May 12, 2020)
**Ferguson even admitted that his model was based on the spread of an influenza pandemic, which tracks differently than this coronavirus.

When questioned about the disparity in numbers in his COVID-19 model, his reply on April 16, 2020 was, “I much prefer to be accused of overreacting than under-reacting. We do not have a crystal ball.” We do not have a crystal ball?? Then stop being a crystal ball salesman!!

I have also seen people defending Ferguson’s model by stating that his doomsday predictions in the examples above led to actions being taken (X), so clearly his predictions led to the actions that ultimately lessened the impact (Y). That may be the case, but it might not. It ignores the concept of Post Hoc Fallacy: Since event Y followed event X, event Y must have been caused by event X.

Modeling alone is extremely risky. It requires a lengthy list of assumptions to be built into the formulas. Simply put, assumptions create a lot of noise when trying to confidently or accurately predict the future. Even the greatest model ever developed would likely not pass a statistically based validation. Assumptions are inherently biased, not necessarily in a malicious manner, but biased nonetheless because they’re nothing more than an educated guess that forces multiple manipulations of the data processing (think: garbage in/garbage out). If you pile a stack of those into a model (and you must by nature of the process), each level of bias would add another layer of “noise” that compounds itself each time something is off in an assumption. For many years, I have developed and worked with complex statistics every day in the medical device industry, and have done the same in the automotive and defense industries as well (nearly 30 years total). Modeling can be used as a very high level “stab” at what we think might happen, but the decisions must to be made, supported, and justified, by actual proven statistical methods. Companies would never get a product to market using modeling alone. Never. To further that narrative, in today’s world, we could even argue that mass shutdowns, universal shelter in place orders and the upcoming “new normal” (whatever that is going to look like) are all “products” that have been taken to market based solely on predictive modeling.

Predictive Modeling is a still a potentially great tool when it’s used in conjunction with multiple additional tools, including a constant feedback loop to make adjustments based on real data that is coming in – a comparison of the real data to the model data to continuously improve the assumptions and make it more accurate. You also have to look at factors that models do not take into account; like psychology, unemployment, mental stress, economics, domestic violence, suicide, etc., that can’t be accounted for in a laboratory setting. This is why political leaders need to look at the entire picture and make holistic decisions that balance all facets of this very complex situation. Otherwise, wouldn’t we just have epidemiologists as our political leaders all over the world if we believe that disease is the most substantial threat to our existence? We don’t, because that would be a short-sighted and incredibly incomplete view of this crisis that would cause very real, measurable, and catastrophic collateral damage.

This is also why the, “So you think you’re smarter than an epidemiologist? You don’t have any business talking about this topic…” argument doesn’t hold water. You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room to understand that this is not a one-faceted crisis and that all aspects must be thoughtfully considered when making life and death decisions on an unprecedented scale. You need the economists, the mental health experts, the politicians (gasp!), physicians, labor leaders, small and large business owners, and more in order to understand the complete impact of these decisions. You’ve heard the old saying that “Knowledge is Power,” right? Well, willfully ignoring ALL of the knowledge as it relates to this virus is not only irresponsible, but downright dangerous. Ignoring all of the available knowledge is also choosing to live in fear rather than facing it head on and making informed decisions based on the overall calculated risk.

Stay safe. Work hard. Don’t be a dick.

*There are multiple citations available for these numbers

Medical Marijuana is Reducing Prescription Drug Use and Corporations are Angry

If you’re looking for an example of the misguided nature of big government, the drug war and corporatism, look no further than the medical marijuana. In a new article from The Washington Post, research has shown that prescriptions for painkillers and anti-anxiety medication are down in states where medical marijuana is an option. Guess who’s fighting it? The pharma industry, of course.

So, where does that put us now? We have a natural product that is inexpensive and easy to grow.  Solid scientific research shows people are helped significantly by it, from pain to anxiety to nausea to cancer treatment and much more, yet pharma corporations are lobbying the government in an attempt to keep it illegal. Ensuring that it remains illegal feeds the drug war which feeds our appetite for big government. There might not be a better example of our current state of government than this. Corporations have the power to lobby the government to create laws that benefit the corporations. The government buys in to it because they can grow and retain power over free thinking adults and feed the prison industry. The prison industry then grows as we continue to incarcerate people for minor drug crimes. This keeps the prison industry churning along, so THEY also lobby to continue the war on drugs so they can keep their facilities full and keep the payments coming in. It’s a dysfunctional Lion King movie where the screwed up circle of life is finally complete.medical

This is not an endorsement of marijuana use at all. That’s a personal decision for adults to make. This is an endorsement of keeping the government out of our lives and stopping corporations from determining policies that affect you and I.  A link to the article is shown below – please have a look and let me know what you think.

 

Source:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/07/13/one-striking-chart-shows-why-pharma-companies-are-fighting-legal-marijuana/

Group Seeks To Ban Medical Errors

By: Dave Cox

A newly formed advocacy group SHAME (Sad Humans Against Medical Errors) is testifying before Congress this week in light of a recent study that lists “Medical Errors” as the third leading cause of death in the United States. As part of their testimony, SHAME is expected to push for legislation that bans medical errors and makes it a Federal crime, punishable by 5-10 years in prison. The group’s spokesman, A.R. Quince, told reporters that, “Medical errors must stop. More than 250,000 people die each year as the result of errors committed under the care of a physician. If we can take the bold step of simply banning medical errors, we can dramatically make our society a safer place.”

When asked why his group chose not to take on heart disease or cancer, the top 2 causes of death in the United States, Quince responded that, “It’s impractical to try and ban a disease because of all the research that would be required, but medical errors are another thing altogether. The simple step of making medical errors illegal will have an immediate impact and will save lives. Also, if you go to our web site, you can order a SHAME t-shirt or bumper sticker to show everyone that you will not stand for one more medical error.”

SHAME has also proposed a 15 day waiting period on new surgical procedures and a Federal requirement to register all pre-existing conditions in a national database, but only for statistical purposes.

Source:

Washington Post: Medical Errors Now Third Leading Cause of Death in United States