Friday, October 2, 2020
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The strange bedfellows of Professor Panic

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A LOT of attention has been given to Professor Neil Ferguson’s dubious track record on epidemics and his equally dubious judgment in meeting his lover on at least two occasions during the lockdown introduced on his own advice.

On closer examination, there are two especially significant elements crying out for independent investigation: the quality and reliability of Ferguson’s computer model, and the political affiliations of his lover.

Firstly, the computer model. The source code behind the Ferguson model has finally been made available to the public via the GitHub website. Mark E Jeftovic, in his Axis of Easy website, says: ‘A code review has been undertaken by an anonymous ex-Google software engineer here, who tells us the GitHub repository code has been heavily massaged by Microsoft engineers, and others, in an effort to whip the code into shape to safely expose it to the public. Alas, they seem to have failed and numerous flaws and bugs from the original software persist in the released version. Requests for the unedited version of the original code behind the model have gone unanswered.’

Jeftovic believes the most worrisome outcome of the model review is that the code produces ‘non-deterministic outputs’. This means that owing to bugs, the code can produce very different results given identical inputs, making the code unsuitable for scientific purposes. Jeftovic says the documentation provided wants the reader to accept that given a ‘starting seed’, the model will always produce the same results. ‘Investigation reveals the truth: the code produces critically different results, even for identical starting seeds and parameters.’

He says that a team even found that the output varied depending on which type of computer it was run on.

Jeftovic cannot understand why the Imperial team failed to realise that their software was so flawed. He quotes the usual computing adage ‘Garbage In/Garbage Out’ which the untrained reader may think is what is being asserted in the code review. In fact, he says, ‘it’s not. What’s being asserted is that output is garbage, regardless of the input. In this case, the output we’re experiencing as a result is a worldwide lockdown and shutdown of the global economy, and we don’t really know if this was necessary or not, because we have no actual data (aside from Sweden) and severely flawed models.’

Another expert, Martin Armstrong (who has a controversial record) also reviews the Ferguson model code and comes to very similar conclusions. He says that it ‘is such a joke it is either an outright fraud, or it is the most inept piece of programming  I have ever seen in my life . . . This is the most unprofessional operation perhaps in computer science. The entire team should be disbanded and an independent team put in place to review the work of Neil Ferguson . . . The only reasonable conclusion I can reach is that this has been deliberately used to justify bogus forecasts intent for political activism . . . There seems to have been no independent review of Ferguson’s work, which is unimaginable!’

Which leads us neatly to the second facet of the affair – the actual ‘affair’ and the politically radical lover. Professor Ferguson, 51, is said to be estranged from his wife Kim, with whom he has a 17-year-old son. He is reported to have used the match-finding website OkCupid a year ago to meet Antonia Staats, 38, currently married and living with her husband and two children. Ms Staats is a Left-wing campaigner who works for the US-based online network Avaaz, an organisation that promotes global activism on, among other things, climate change. The Guardian has called Avaaz the globe’s largest and most powerful online activist network, and it has a world-wide following of around 10million people. It is loosely connected with Bill Gates, through the World Economic Forum, which also lists Al Gore and Christine Lagarde on its board. Staats works as a senior campaigner on climate change for the group, and is said to be sympathetic towards the aims of Extinction Rebellion. Indirectly, on the surface at least, this ties Ferguson to climate change, a cause that the lockdown has served very well by managing to shut down the world economy.

Surely it is now time for some genuinely tech-savvy analysis to be carried out on the source coding underlying the doom-laden, and for many of us deeply disturbing, predictions about the forthcoming climate catastrophe? Might it turn out to be just as questionable?

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Janice Davis
Janice Davis
Janice Davis is a grandmother and former girls’ grammar school teacher

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