Back in the 1960s, the British academic establishment was rather excited about the work of Karl Popper, the philosopher who developed the concept of empirical falsification. Popper was keen to define the demarcation between the scientific and that which only mimics empiricism and scientism. A theory, according to Popper, can be considered scientific if, and only if, it is potentially falsifiable by experiments or its predictions. Popper attempted to create criteria that would deny psychoanalysis, Marxism and astrology any scientific status based on the fact that these theories are not falsifiable.
One may wonder what Popper would have to say about the ‘science’ of Neil Ferguson, the man who predicted up to 550.000 Coronavirus dead in the UK and 2.2 million dead in the USA.
On 29 April, Off-Guardian published what I believe to be the most insightful criticism of the lockdown policy so far. In the article Iain Davis digs into the work or shall we say, blunders, he attributes to Ferguson. Davis writes, “both Public Health England (PHE) and the Advisory Committee on Dangerous Pathogens (ACDP) were satisfied that COVID-19 (C19) presented a ‘low risk’ of mortality and downgraded it from the status of a High Consequence Infectious Disease (HCID) on March 19th. The ACDP board members include Professor Neil Ferguson from Imperial College. Presumably Prof. Ferguson was among the dissenting voices on the ACDP board as he completely ignored the majority opinion of his scientific colleagues.”
There is nothing wrong in holding a dissenting scientific view, however, this specific ‘dissenting view’ and the way it was implemented by the UK and the USA governments appears to have led America, Britain and the rest of the world to respond in a way that created a catastrophe of a previously unknown scale.
“In an interview on 13th February, widely reported by the mainstream media ,” Davis writes, “he (Ferguson) stated his predictive models were ‘not absurd.’ He said that infection rates of 60% of the population with a 1% mortality rate were possible. Standing by his prediction of 400,000 C19 deaths in the UK. The Imperial College computer model report was released to the public on 16th March, predicting huge numbers of deaths from C19. By the 19th March Prof. Ferguson must have known a majority of his peers disagreed with him.”
Davis points out that Ferguson failed to implement the most basic of scientific procedures, namely allowing a peer review of his ‘predictions,’ making sure that one or more people with similar competence in epidemiology evaluate what we now know to have been the grossly exaggerated Imperial College models and predictions.
Davis reveals that “when it comes to wildly inaccurate predictions Prof. Ferguson’s work at Imperial College has a long and distinguished history. In 2002, he said that (up to) 50,000 people in the UK would die from ‘mad cow disease’, to date less than 200 have passed away; he predicted 200 million global deaths from the H5N1 bird flu. Currently it is a suspected factor in the deaths of 455 people world wide; in 2009 he told the UK Government that 65,000 could die from swine flu in the UK and worked with the World Health Organisation to predict millions of deaths from the H1N1 global flu pandemic*.”
You may ask what kind of scientists are mistaken in their predictions by factors of 200 or more? What kind of an academic institution would provide such a scientist with a platform, let alone having him lead a department? And the questions go far deeper. Davis writes, “while Prof. Ferguson and his Imperial College colleagues have been consistently wrong they have also been unquestioningly believed by governments and intergovernmental bodies on every occasion. Seemingly without reservation. Despite the clear evidence to the contrary, policy makers from all political parties have shown tremendous loyalty to Imperial College’s silly data models. In doing so, they have not only ignored the researchers’ woeful history of failed predictions but have also denied the scientific evidence which usually contradicts them.”
Davis is not alone. On April 28th F. William Engdahl expressed very similar concerns re Neil Ferguson, his reputation and his past ‘models.’ “In 2005,” Engdahl writes, “Ferguson claimed that up to 200 million (!) people worldwide would be killed by bird-flu or H5N1. By early 2006, the WHO had only linked 78 deaths to the virus.”
I am not in any position to assess the true danger to us of C19 or our response to it. But simple common sense tells us that the only reliable scientific fact about our British leading epidemiologist team is the uncomfortable fact that it has often been wrong and by a huge margin.
In an unreserved manner Engdahl suggests that, “the same Ferguson group at Imperial College, with WHO endorsement, was behind the panic numbers that triggered a UK government lockdown. Ferguson was also the source of the wild ‘prediction’ that 2.2 million Americans would likely die if immediate lockdown of the US economy did not occur. Based on the Ferguson model, Dr Anthony Fauci of NIAID reportedly confronted President Trump and pressured him to declare a national health emergency. Much as in the UK, once the damage to the economy was begun, Ferguson’s model later drastically lowered the US fatality estimates to between 100,000 to 200,000 deaths. In both US and UK cases Neil Ferguson relied on data from the Chinese government, data which has been shown as unreliable.”
How would Neil Ferguson and his Imperial College group score on Popper’s falsifiability test? Not well.
In Popperian terms, what Ferguson and his Imperial College team produce has little to do with science, as it does not even attempt to produce a clear criteria for falsification. ‘Predictions’ of ‘possible’ death that fluctuate widely from 50-200.000 in the case of Mad Cow Disease or from 20.000 -500.000 in the case of C19 cannot be considered ‘falsifiable’ scientifically as the range is too broad to validate one theoretical calculative model over another. The models at play, so it seems, include too many ‘if’ variables, possibly to cover their author’s reputation rather than to produce something that resembles a verifiable prediction.
The next question is why anyone in Britain or the USA takes such ‘science’ seriously. One wonders what is it that has led Britain and its academia to lose touch with the core scientific ethos?
As upsetting as it may be for some progressives, even Donald Trump/White House’s Corona model is more reliable and scientific than the numerical exercise produced by Britain’s most prestigious academic institute.
Yet despite the fact that Imperial College and Ferguson have apparently pulled Britain and the USA into total financial chaos and of a humongous magnitude, Imperial College is still open for business. In spite of the disaster it inflicted on the world it still describes itself as “a global top ten university with a world-class reputation in science, engineering, business and medicine.” I believe that not many academic institutes could compete with Imperial College in inflicting global scientific disasters. To the best of my knowledge, Imperial College’s epidemiology team has yet to be questioned by law enforcement about the theoretical grounds and the evidence at the core of its phantasmic predictions.
Engdahl reports that “Neil Ferguson and his modelling group at Imperial College, in addition to being backed by WHO, receive millions from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Ferguson heads the Vaccine Impact Modelling Consortium at Imperial College which lists as its funders the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Gates-backed GAVI-the vaccine alliance. From 2006 through 2018 the Gates Foundation has invested an impressive $184,872,226.99** into Ferguson’s Imperial College modelling operations.”
In 2002, Arnold S. Relman, then a professor of medicine at Harvard University suggested that ‘’the medical profession is being bought by the pharmaceutical industry, not only in terms of the practice of medicine, but also in terms of teaching and research. The academic institutions of this country [USA] are allowing themselves to be the paid agents of the pharmaceutical industry. I think it’s disgraceful.’’
Maybe, judging Ferguson, Imperial College or any other ‘scientific’ institution in Popperian terms misses the point. What matters to such academic institutions is the amount they can amass from oligarchs, industries, bankers and corporations. This raises the question, what do they give in return? We are basically dealing with Western civilization prostituting its prime intellectual asset, namely its scientific ethos.
If there is a lesson to be drawn from the C19 crisis at this stage, it is that universities, academia and science must be separated from all forms of mammon and mammonites. The word ‘university’ is derived from the Latin word universitas meaning: the whole, total, the universe, the world. Universitas were initially communities of teachers and scholars committed to knowledge and its seeking rather than an extended apparatus attached to pharmaceutical conglomerates, food chains, bankers and other symptoms of the capitalist universe.
For Western civilization to survive it must reinstate its Athenian roots and its commitment to truth seeking. We should, once again learn to differentiate and understand the crude tension between science and technology, between those who unveil the concealed and those who act to appropriate nature and turn every possible occurrence, including corona virus, into a money making machine.
One great philosopher put a lot of work into the understanding of the tension between science and technology or shall we say, between truth and its instrumentalization. I am referring to Martin Heidegger, the philosopher the Guardians of Judea do not think you should pay any attention to.
In my next article I will examine the role of Imperial College and its C19 ‘epidemiology’ in light of the prophecy left to us by Heidegger’s legacy.
*To read another detail account of Neil Ferguson’s prediction history read The Ferguson Effect by Scott Johnson
** GA: though I have seen references to this sum repeatedly mentioned on different outlets, I see the need to mention that I myself didn’t see any official reference that indicates that this number is actually genuine.