The coronavirus outbreak projection model that predicted more than 2 million U.S. deaths has been deemed “totally unreliable” by experts who have examined its coding, Fox News reported.
The model programmed by Neil Ferguson of the United Kingdom’s Imperial College helped convince the governments of the United States and the United Kingdom to implement severe lockdowns to slow the spread of the virus, and the frightening projections the model created also motivated public support of such measures early on.
But the Imperial College model appears incapable of meeting even the lowest scientific standards. If scientists run the model two times with the same data, it produces different results. From Fox News:
The Imperial model works by using code to simulate transport links, population size, social networks and healthcare provisions to predict how coronavirus would spread. Researchers released the code behind it, which developers have criticized as being unreadable.
Scientists from the University of Edinburgh have further claimed that it is impossible to reproduce the same results from the same data using the model. The team got different results when they used different machines, and even different results from the same machines.
“Models must be capable of passing the basic scientific test of producing the same results given the same initial set of parameters,” Oxford University mathematical biology professor Michael Bonsall said, according to Fox News. “Otherwise, there is simply no way of knowing whether they will be reliable.”
One tech company founder told the Daily Telegraph that such poor work wouldn’t be acceptable in any business context.
“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 the British tech company WANdisco, said.
Ferguson did step down from his advisory role with the UK government, but not because of his failed model — it was because he violated coronavirus lockdown rules to cheat on his wife with a married woman.