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Infectious Disease Modeling: What's the Track Record?

Added 04-05-20 11:31:02am EST - “The London Times has a fascinating story on the tiny, incestuous world of infectious disease modelers. It begins with the two modeling outfits in Great Britain: Oxford University and Imperial College, London. We have all learned about…” - Powerlineblog.com

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Posted By TheNewsCommenter: From Powerlineblog.com: “Infectious Disease Modeling: What's the Track Record?”. Below is an excerpt from the article.

The London Times has a fascinating story on the tiny, incestuous world of infectious disease modelers. It begins with the two modeling outfits in Great Britain: Oxford University and Imperial College, London. We have all learned about Imperial as the source of the two wildly conflicting estimates that the British government has relied on. Now an Oxford professor is questioning Imperial’s model:

The first public signs of academic tensions over Imperial’s domination of the debate came when Sunetra Gupta, professor of theoretical epidemiology at Oxford University, published a paper suggesting that some of Imperial’s key assumptions could be wrong.

It turns out there is some history here. Oxford had the dominant modeling group until Sir Roy Anderson left Oxford for Imperial twenty years ago. He left Oxford because he opposed a colleague’s promotion to a permanent professorship on the ground (apparently false) that she was only being considered because she slept with a member of the panel. That colleague was…Sunetra Gupta. As noted, the disease modeling world is small.

I decided to publish and speak out because the response to this pandemic is having a huge effect on the lives of vulnerable people with a profound cost and it seems irresponsible that we should proceed without considering alternative models. Imperial has a long history of involvement with government and its epidemiological models can have huge importance and translational impact but it’s tricky to use them to forecast what’s going to happen. We need to also consider alternatives.

That is consistent with our repeated call for transparency in epidemiological models, so that we can understand what assumptions are driving the extraordinary actions being taken by many governments. But the Times goes on to ask an important question that I have not previously seen raised: do disease modelers have a track record that deserves to inspire the remarkable confidence that is being reposed in them?

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