Neil Ferguson is the British academic who created the infamous Imperial College model that warned Boris Johnson that, without an immediate lockdown, the coronavirus would cause 500,000 deaths and swamp the National Health Service.
Johnson’s government promptly abandoned its Sweden-like “social distancing” approach, and Ferguson’s model also influenced the U.S. to make lockdown moves with its shocking prediction of over two million Americans dead.
Johan Giesecke, the former chief scientist for the European Center for Disease Control and Prevention, has called Ferguson’s model “the most influential scientific paper” in memory. He also says it was, sadly, “one of the most wrong.”
With all of his influence, it’s not surprising British media are making a great deal about Ferguson being forced to resign from the government’s virus advisory board yesterday after revelations he had violated lockdown rules he had championed in order to conduct an affair with a married woman. Ferguson admits he made an “error of judgement and took the wrong course of action.”
Ferguson’s hypocritical violation of his beloved lockdown was the least of his errors in judgment. His incompetence and insistence on doomsday models is far worse.
Elon Musk calls Ferguson an “utter tool” who does “absurdly fake science.” Jay Schnitzer, an expert in vascular biology and a former scientific direct of the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center in San Diego, tells me: “I’m normally reluctant to say this about a scientist, but he dances on the edge of being a publicity-seeking charlatan.”
Indeed, Ferguson’s Imperial College model has been proven wildly inaccurate. To cite just one example, it saw Sweden paying a huge price for no lockdown, with 40,000 COVID deaths by May 1, and 100,000 by June. Sweden now has 2,854 deaths and peaked two weeks ago. As Fraser Nelson, editor of Britain’s Spectator, notes: “Imperial College’s model is wrong by an order of magnitude.”
Indeed, Ferguson has been wrong so often that some of his fellow modelers call him “The Master of Disaster.”
Ferguson was behind the disputed research that sparked the mass culling of eleven million sheep and cattle during the 2001 outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. Charlotte Reid, a farmer’s neighbor, recalls: “I remember that appalling time. Sheep were left starving in fields near us. Then came the open air slaughter. The poor animals were panic stricken. It was one of the worst things I’ve witnessed. And all based on a model — if’s but’s and maybe’s.”
In 2005, Ferguson predicted that up to 150 million people could be killed from bird flu. In the end, only 282 people died worldwide from the disease between 2003 and 2009.
In 2009, a government estimate, based on Ferguson’s advice, said a “reasonable worst-case scenario” was that the swine flu would lead to 65,000 British deaths. In the end, swine flu killed 457 people in the U.K.
Last March, Ferguson admitted that his Imperial College model of the COVID-19 disease was based on undocumented, 13-year-old computer code that was intended to be used for a feared influenza pandemic, rather than a coronavirus. Ferguson declined to release his original code so other scientists could check his results. He only released a heavily revised set of code last week, after a six-week delay.
So the real scandal is: Why did anyone ever listen to this guy?
Editor’s Note: This post originally claimed that Ferguson had predicted that 150,000 people could die from foot-and-mouth disease. In fact, that figure was Ferguson’s upper-bound estimate of deaths for mad-cow disease by 2080. It has been corrected and we regret the error.