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The secret life of Neil Ferguson?


You may not know who Neil Ferguson is, but he is an epidemiologist from England’s Imperial College who some suggest may have single-handedly contributed to the destruction of the world economy.

You see, Ferguson developed a computer model to track the spread of viruses and based on his projections he stated that the Coronavirus could potentially kill 2.2 million people in the US and 500,000 people in England.

These were staggering numbers and people immediately used these projections to push for lock downs around the world that resulted in millions of people losing their jobs.

But some were suspicious and became more suspicious because there was allegedly some resistance to releasing the computer model used for these projections, so others could test it.

Ferguson, who worked on an advisory committee for the UK government, was also pushing the country’s stay at home orders and when he was caught breaking those same orders through a tryst with a married woman, his insulated world started falling apart. All eyes were on him and Ferguson was forced to resign from the government committee.

And now some of his computer-model code has been released to the public and a person who claims to have extensive experience with coding, having worked for Google for several years, had some disturbing things to say about the code.

Now for the caveat, the poster is anonymous, probably for very good reason because he/she and the business he/she works for would undoubtedly come under attack, but still…

With that, here is what he or she alleges:

The code. It isn’t the code Ferguson ran to produce his famous Report 9. What’s been released on GitHub is a heavily modified derivative of it, after having been upgraded for over a month by a team from Microsoft and others. This revised codebase is split into multiple files for legibility and written in C++, whereas the original program was “a single 15,000 line file that had been worked on for a decade” (this is considered extremely poor practice). A request for the original code was made 8 days ago but ignored, and it will probably take some kind of legal compulsion to make them release it.  Clearly, Imperial are too embarrassed by the state of it ever to release it of their own free will, which is unacceptable given that it was paid for by the taxpayer and belongs to them.”

The model.  What it’s doing is best described as ‘SimCity without the graphics’. It attempts to simulate households, schools, offices, people and their movements, etc. ….”

Non-deterministic outputs. Due to bugs, the code can produce very different results given identical inputs. They routinely act as if this is unimportant. This problem makes the code unusable for scientific purposes, given that a key part of the scientific method is the ability to replicate results.”

If I am interpreting the last point correctly, in very, very, very simplistic terms (notice I used the word ‘very’ three times) this suggests if asked multiple times what 1 + 1 equals, it gives the equivalent of a different answer every time. Kind of reminds me of an old, solar-powered, hand-held calculator I once owned.

INTERESTING READ, FROM THE LITTLE I UNDERSTOOD: Code Review of Ferguson’s Model

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