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UK measures against Covid-19 — cosmetic and inefficient

Summary:
UK measures against Covid-19 — cosmetic and inefficient The error in the UK is on two levels. Modelling and policymaking. First, at the modelling level, the government relied at all stages on epidemiological models that were designed to show us roughly what happens when a preselected set of actions are made, and not what we should make happen, and how. The modellers use hypotheses/assumptions, which they then feed into models, and use to draw conclusions and make policy recommendations. Critically, they do not produce an error rate. What if these assumptions are wrong? Have they been tested? The answer is often no. For academic papers, this is fine. Flawed theories can provoke discussion. Risk management – like wisdom – requires robustness in models …

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UK measures against Covid-19 — cosmetic and inefficient

The error in the UK is on two levels. Modelling and policymaking.

First, at the modelling level, the government relied at all stages on epidemiological models that were designed to show us roughly what happens when a preselected set of actions are made, and not what we should make happen, and how.

UK measures against Covid-19 — cosmetic and inefficientThe modellers use hypotheses/assumptions, which they then feed into models, and use to draw conclusions and make policy recommendations. Critically, they do not produce an error rate. What if these assumptions are wrong? Have they been tested? The answer is often no. For academic papers, this is fine. Flawed theories can provoke discussion. Risk management – like wisdom – requires robustness in models …

Second, but more grave, is the policymaking. No 10 appears to be enamoured with “scientism” – things that have the cosmetic attributes of science but without its rigour. This manifests itself in the nudge group that engages in experimenting with UK citizens or applying methods from behavioural economics that fail to work outside the university – yet patronise citizens as an insult to their ancestral wisdom and risk-perception apparatus. Social science is in a “replication crisis”, where less than half the results replicate (under exact same conditions), less than a tenth can be taken seriously, and less than a hundredth translate into the real world …

So what is called “evidence-based” methods have a dire track record and are pretty much evidence-free.

The obvious policy left now is a lockdown, with overactive testing and contact tracing: follow the evidence from China and South Korea rather than thousands of error-prone computer codes. So we have wasted weeks, and ones that matter with a multiplicative threat.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb & Yaneer Bar-Yam

Lars Pålsson Syll
Professor at Malmö University. Primary research interest - the philosophy, history and methodology of economics.

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