Imperial self-congratulations on saving 3 million lives

Late last night there was an article at the BBC that I cannot find anymore on the BBC website. Fortunately my history still has the link.

The article linked to a pre-publication article in Nature from the team at Imperial College – Estimating the effects of non-pharmaceutical interventions on COVID-19 in Europe

On pdf page 16 of 18. Modelled estimates that by 4th May lockdowns across 11 countries saved 2.8 – 3.1 million lives.
From pdf page 6 / article page 5 there are four countries listed on the Fig 1, the last being the UK.

It graphics show that on the day of the lockdowns massively reduced daily new infections & the magic R. For the UK modelled daily infections spiked at over 400,000 on the day of the lockdown and were less than 100,000 the day after. R from around 4 at lockdown to 1 the day after. Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave a very powerful and sincere speech ordering the lockdown, but he did not realize how transformative the power of his words would be.

I believe that the key to these startling conclusions lies in the model assumptions not the data of the natural world. We have no idea of the total number of coronavirus cases in any country at the start of lockdown, just that the identified number of cases. Thus whilst the model estimates of the number of cases cannot be proved wrong, it is very unlikely. I can think of five reasons to back up my claim, with particular reference to the UK.

First, the measures taken prior to the lockdown had no impact on coronavirus cases and hardly any on R. This includes the stopping of visitors to care homes, social distancing measures, voluntary closing of public places like pubs and the start of home working.

Second, Prime Minister Boris going on TV ordering a lockdown had an immediate impact. This is nonsense. People locked down in households, so there would have still been infections within the households.

Third, we know that many of the coronavirus deaths were of people infected whilst in a hospitals or care homes of people who were infected within care homes. The lockdown did not segregate people within those communities.

Fourth, the assumed pre-lockdown spike followed by a massive drop in daily new infections was not followed a few days later by any such corresponding pattern in daily deaths. It is far easier to make the case for a zero impact of lockdowns rather than this extreme impact. The truth, if perfect data were available, is likely to be nearer zero lives saved than 3 million.

Fifth, in Italy the lockdown was not imposed nationally on the same day. The North of Italy was locked down first, followed by the rest of the country some days later. Like with the imposition of less draconian measures pre-lockdown in the UK, this should have seen a less immediate effect than suggested by Figure 1.

Are the authors and peer-reviewers at Nature likely to be aware of the problems with the headline BBC claims and the underlying paper? Compare the caption to “Extended Data Table 1” (pdf page 16)

Forecasted deaths since the beginning of the epidemic up to 4th May in our model vs. a counterfactual model assuming no interventions had taken place.

to the report from the BBC;

Lockdowns have saved more than three million lives from coronavirus in Europe, a study estimates. …….

They estimated 3.2 million people would have died by 4 May if not for measures such as closing businesses and telling people to stay at home.

That meant lockdown saved around 3.1 million lives, including 470,000 in the UK, 690,000 in France and 630,000 in Italy, the report in the journal Nature shows.

from the Evening Standard;

Around three million deaths may have been prevented by coronavirus lockdowns across Europe, research suggests.

from yahoo! News;

By comparing the number of deaths against those predicted by their model in the absence of interventions, the researchers believe that  3.1 million deaths have been averted due to non-pharmaceutical measures.

and from eCAM Biomed – GLOBAL IMPACT FUND

This study found that nonpharmaceutical interventions, including national “lockdowns,” could have averted approximately 3.1 million COVID-19 deaths across 11 European countries.

These press reports is not disimilar to the title of the Imperial College press release

Lockdown and school closures in Europe may have prevented 3.1m deaths

I would suggest that they are different from the caption to Extended Table 1. The difference is between comparison of actual data to modelled data based on some unlikely assumptions and actual lives saved in the real world. The difference is between the lockdowns having saved 3 million lives and having saved many times less. It is between the desisions of governments sacrificing economic prosperity to save hundreds of thousands of lives, and taking ruining the lives of millions based on pseudo-science for near zero benefits. The authors should be aware of this and so should the reviewers of the world’s leading science journal.
Are we going to see a quiet withdrawal, like of the BBC report?

Kevin Marshall

Dumb hard left proclamation replaces pluralistic thirst for knowledge and understanding

Last week Guido Fawkes had a little piece that, in my opinion, illustrates how nasty the world is becoming. I quote in full.


In response to representations from students inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement Imperial College’s President, Professor Alice Gast, has announced they are dropping their “imperialist” Latin motto.

“I have heard from many of you with concerns about the university motto and its appearance on our crest. The Latin motto appears on a ribbon below the crest and is commonly translated to ‘Scientific knowledge, the crowning glory and the safeguard of the empire’. We have removed this ribbon and the motto in a revised crest you can see below in this briefing. This modified crest is already in use by my office and the Advancement team and will be integrated into all of our materials over the coming year. We will commission a group to examine Imperial’s history and legacy. We have a long way to go, but we will get better. We will build upon our community’s spirit, commitment and drive. We will draw strength from your commitment and support.”

The College’s motto, coined in 1908, was ‘Scientia imperii decus et tutamen’ which translates as ‘Scientific knowledge, the crowning glory and the safeguard of the empire’. As Titania McGrath might say this motto “is a reminder of a historical legacy that is rooted in colonial power and oppression”. That’s an actual quote from the college’s President, in the interests of diversity she is erasing the past. As someone once wrote “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.”

UPDATE:This old article from 1995 describes the arms and motto of Imperial College, paying particular attention to the deliberate ambiguity of the Latin:

Thus DECUS ET TUTAMEN translates as ‘an honour and a protection’. The rest of the motto is deliberately ambiguous. SCIENTIA means ‘knowledge’ but is also intended as a pun on the English word ‘science’. IMPERII could mean ‘power’, ‘dominion over’, ‘universal’, ‘of the empire’, ‘of the state’, or ‘superior’; and again is intended as a pun on the English word ‘imperial’.

Because of this ambiguity the full motto can be translated in many different ways. One translation could be: ‘Dominion over science is an honour and a protection’. A more politically correct translation might be: ‘Universal knowledge is beautiful and necessary’.

The Black Lives Matter translation of the motto – ‘Scientific knowledge, the crowning glory and the safeguard of the empire’ – might be valid, but so are many other formulations. Indeed, although Britain at the start of the last century was the most powerful nation and ruled the most extensive empire in history, along with competing with the United States & Germany as the leaders in the pursuit of scientific knowledge, the motto has proved untrue. Imperialists who backed the foundation of Imperial College who thought that scientific knowledge would safeguard empire were mistaken. What is left is an Imperial College ranked about tenth in world rankings of universities so it is a glorious product of imperialist thinking. Given that it is still thriving it is more glorious that the majestic ruins of earlier empires, such as the Colesium in Rome or the Parthenon in Athens.

Deeper than this is that the motto is deliberately a pun. It is superfically meaningful in different ways to those from a diverse range of backgrounds and belief systems. But to those with deeper understanding – achieved through high level study and reflection – know that more than one valid perspective is possible. That also leads into the realisation that our own knowledge, or the collective that of any groups that we might identifying as belonging to, is not the totality of all knowledge possible, and might be even turn out to be false some time in the future. This humility gives a basis for furthering understanding of both the natural world and the place of people within it. Rather than shutting out alternative perspectives, we should develop understanding of our own world view, and aiming to understand others. This is analogous to the onus in English Common Law for the prosecution to prove a clearly defined case beyond reasonable doubt based on the evidence. It is also applies to the key aim of the scientific method. Conjectures about the natural world are ultimately validated by experiments based in the natural world.

Consider the alternative “ideal” that we are heading towards at an alarming rate of knots. What counts as knowledge is the collective opinion of those on the self-proclaimed moral high ground. In this perspective those who do not accept the wisdom of the intellectual consensus are guilty of dishonesty and should not be heard. All language and observations of the natural world are interpreted through this ideological position. Any conflict of is resolved by the consensus. Is it far fetched? A quote from Merchants of Doubt – Oreskes Conway 2010.