Issues & Insights

Neil ‘Lockdown’ Ferguson Gets Caught With His Pants, And His Credibility, Down

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I&I Editorial

It sounds like great tabloid fare: A leading disease expert in the United Kingdom is discovered to have violated the country’s stay-at-home order during the COVID-19 pandemic so he could canoodle with a married woman. And, yes, the British tabloids ate it up.

But the scientist in this case was the highly respected Neil Ferguson, the person who more than anyone on the planet is responsible for the lockdown that has cost the U.S. economy trillions of dollars.

It was Ferguson’s modeling that predicted massive deaths from the coronavirus unless drastic actions were taken. In the U.S. alone, he predicted 2.2 million deaths – and more than a million if the country went into lockdown.

“Based on our findings,” he told the New York Times in mid-March, “there’s really no option but follow in China’s footsteps and suppress.”

“We don’t have a clear exit strategy,” he told the Times. “We’re going to have to suppress this virus – frankly, indefinitely – until we have a vaccine.”

Ferguson’s dire prediction was instrumental in the U.K.’s decision to abandon its initial Swedish-style response to coronavirus of allowing the economy to continue functioning while taking steps to limit the disease’s spread.

It was Ferguson’s forecast that prompted the Trump administration to issue its sweeping federal recommendations limiting people’s activities, and push states to rush in with stay-at-home mandates. The result was a crashed economy, double-digit unemployment, and trillions of dollars of added debt as the federal government tried to paper over the massive losses.

After his lockdown dalliance became public, Ferguson resigned his role as adviser to the British government because, he said, he was guilty of “undermining” the lockdown.

But the problem is much deeper than that. The fact that Ferguson would so blithely fail to practice what he was preaching isn’t just a minor character flaw, it completely undermines his credibility.

And that is a good thing, because Ferguson isn’t just a hypocrite, he has a long and sorry history of causing disruption and panic by massively overpredicting deaths from new diseases, as Michael Fumento detailed in this space recently.

In 2001, Ferguson helped spark a panic over U.K. beef when he predicted that 136,000 people could die from “mad cow” disease in coming decades. His forecast was multiples higher than what other scientists had been predicting. Ferguson dismissed them as “naïve.”

A report from the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control found that as of 2013, there’d been a total of … wait for it … 174 cases in the U.K., and 226 worldwide.

In 2005, Ferguson predicted the bird flu pandemic could kill 200 million people. “Around 40 million people died in 1918 Spanish flu outbreak,” he told the Guardian. “There are six times more people on the planet now so you could scale it up to around 200 million people probably.”

The total number of deaths, according to the World Health Organization: 440.

His 2.2 million deaths prediction is just as fatuous. That report claimed that more than a million could die in the U.S. even with extreme control measures.

If 134,000 die from the disease – which is the current prediction by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation – that’s still off by a factor of eight.

Plus, there’s increasing evidence that the lockdowns achieved little if anything in terms of “flattening the curve” that far less extreme measures would have achieved.

If Ferguson had been in any other profession, except perhaps weather forecasting, no one would ever take his pronouncements seriously again. He and others in the disease “modeling” community keep getting away with it because public health officials figure it’s better to err on the side of caution. That, however, ignores the cost in human lives from the panic and the shutdowns.

Elon Musk had it right when he took to Twitter to thrash Ferguson, saying “this guy has caused massive strife to the world with his absurdly fake ‘science.’”

One can only hope that Ferguson’s public disgrace will do what his incredibly wrong predictions couldn’t – namely, discredit his work for good.

— Written by the I&I Editorial Board

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10 comments

  • Early on, Ferguson was quoted describing his epidemiological model as largely undocumented and as having several other problems. I hope that you are able to run them down. it may have been in conjunction with his testimony to the House of Commons. Epidemiological models and Climate Science™ models must be subjected to standard verification and validation procedures before the models and their creators are relied upon in situations where they can cause massive harm to our economies and standards of living.

  • We must take an honest open look at ourselves for being so foolish as to take any “one person’s” opinion as to a strategy, model, or direction in such a self-destructive time. Surely, even the much-spoofed “run by a committee” can’t do as much harm as this.

  • Well, as a result of this article I have actually read his paper. You have confused mitigation with suppression; the prediction of 1 million deaths was with mild mitigation measures in place such as closing schools and universities. The full suppression model predicted much lower numbers and in the UK have been reasonably accurate. Bear in mind that the deaths we have seen so far are only the first wave and we are likely to see successive waves with the second possibly being worse or not but then decreasing waves as herd immunity is acquired.

    I do not condone Professor Ferguson’s moral lapse but it does not affect the accuracy or inaccuracy of his predictions. If we want to be moralistic about sexual habits then almost none of America’s political leaders would be judged competent especially the president. Remember the University of Washington model downsized its estimate to 60,000 deaths in the first wave and we are heading to 100,000+ as per the original estimates.

    Models are just that, theoretical estimates which should be constantly revised as more data become available. It is really strange that there should be so much controversy about how serious a threat Covid-19 represents in the USA; every other country takes this as the most serious pandemic the World has seen since 1918 and as Europe starts to ease lockdown the public’s main concern is that it is not relaxed too quickly. Speaking as a retired Doctor who worked in Public Health, this remains a serious threat especially to the elderly and those who are vulnerable such as the immunosuppressed. with all due respect you may as a journal have decades of experience in journalism but you are not experts in modelling pandemics.

    • Nonsense. This isn’t about journalism vs science, this is about reality vs wild speculation. What about his other mess-ups, they’re all part of his track record too. What about Sweden who without crippling lockdown has done and is doing as well as most other countries. I know, what about the second wave and the third wave and so on? What about them? I think you’re fear mongering because, like Ferguson, you do not have good enough data to predict so you are only speculating and trying to pass that data on as prediction. What about a little humility about your deeply flawed “science/”

  • This is the work of covert sociopathy: which is about relentless lying, causing harm and chaos, showing no remorse for consequences caused, and mocking boundaries set by society for generations.

    Ferguson here, he is antisocial if not a sociopath simply because he encouraged the woman to violate the boundaries of a marriage simply for the physical act of sex! That’s what antisocials do, disrupt other people and show no remorse in causing the disruption of other peoples lives. And, I think he is a sociopath because he encourages these kind of misrepresentations of public policy, I think in the end, he is gleeful to watch people scramble and be chaotic simply because he has no clue how to come up with responsible models and policy.

    He needs to be removed from the equation for any public policy, and let’s hope his removal leads his complete irrelevance to any future opinion…

  • Don’t count on him being discredited. That fake, phony, fraud, Paul Erlich is still being counted on for his “expert” advice even after nearly 50 years since his The Population Bomb was totally unmasked as a fraud and wildly off in its predictions of doom and gloom.

  • Something we need to never lose sight of is that today’s scientist is most likely not yesterday’s scientist! In otherwords today’s scientist is most likely a “woke” type scientist who deals with socially biased (shall we say radically so) outlooks rather than proven, tried and true testing and the results of that testing. Beware science that is no longer science but politics.

  • An experienced software engineer has had the opportunity to examine the code for his model. The critique is brutal. Spaghetti type code, unmaintainable riddled with bugs can produce wildly different results with identical inputs.

  • Most people (scientists included) merely repeat the views of others. A few people have original ideas themselves. Most new ideas turn out to be wrong – sometimes disproving happens quickly and sometimes disproving requires a long time. At one time almost every scientist thought that light travels in straight lines; that time was constant rather than relative; and so on. Even the best scientists often disagree and they disagree for years on end. In science, ‘truth’ is the name that is given to the set of errors that have not yet been disproven.

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