The Future of Health
Wednesday 27 May 2020
Webinar: Data and Delusion after COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has been accompanied by a pandemic of data. Data is offered, analysed, re-packaged and criticised by mighty international organisations and by tiny local outfits. Even private individuals with no prior expertise or interest in data, disease, or statistics spend hours poring over graphs and critiquing case fatality estimates. This proliferation of data and analysis has not yielded effective predictions. Instead, it has demonstrated how ill-equipped we are to deal with this new, non-hierarchical, distributed information context. Leading scientists have proved dramatically wrong. Or perhaps not – it depends who you ask. The unfolding pattern of spread still surprises us at every turn – except those who predicted it all along. Nothing is more common than the common cold, and coronavirus variants are one of its causes: yet we seem unable make reliable predictions about COVID-19. This webinar will explore a range of issues relating to data and trust in science in the aftermath of COVID-19. What went wrong with the modelling approach to prediction – if, indeed, anything did go wrong? How should policy and scientific research interact, and how should policy makers make use of data? Can people without domain-specific knowledge use data to predict better than the experts in that domain? If not, then can data analysts themselves make predictions merely by studying patterns in data? Turning to the generation of data, how does the individual interest in privacy weight against the public interest in private information, notably location, which can be very useful in the context of a pandemic? The event was chaired by Professor Alexander Broadbent, Director of the Institute for the Future of Knowledge, and the panel of experts included: Dr Shakir Mohamed, a Senior Researcher at DeepMind in London, United Kingdom (UK); Professor Charis Harley, an academic based in the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment at the University of Johannesburg. and Professor Olaf Dammann, the Vice-Chair of Public Health at Tufts University in Boston, US, Professor of Perinatal Neuroepidemiology at Hannover Medical School, Germany, and Adjunct Professor in the Department of Neuromedicine and Movement Science at the University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, Norway.