Jeffrey Johnson

Jeffrey Johnson

I am Professor of Complexity Science and Design at the Open University & Vice President of the UNESCO UniTwin Complex Systems Digital Campus. I am interested in interdisciplinary science for policy.

Location Woburn Sands, Milton Keynes, UK

Activity

  • 17 Feb 2021

    We are very happy that so many people have stayed with us to the end of the course. Your comments and discussions have been extraordinary. We will keep working on the course.

    The big news is, of course, that successful vaccines have been developed and are being administered to millions of people across the world. But also new more...

  • 17-Feb-2021

    Hi Everybody. Welcome to the second part of the course.

    It is now nine months since we opened this course. Over this time we have learned a lot about COVID-19. The announcement of effective new vaccines is a game-changer. But so are the new variants of the virus.

    In the UK, after 14 million vaccinations there is great pressure to cease the...

  • 17 Feb 2021

    Hi Everyone,

    The course has now been running since April and a lot has happened in that time. This includes the recent announcements of effective vaccines. And new more transmissible forms of the virus.

    In the UK more than 14 million people have been vaccinated. But to beat the virus we need a high level of vaccination in every country of...

  • 17 February 2021.

    Welcome to the final few weeks of the course.

    We started nine months ago and we have learned a lot about COVID, how it is modelled, and how modelling is used in policy. Also we have learned a lot about ourselves and the lives we lead.

    With the new vaccines we are moving into a new phase and some steps in the course have been...

  • Hi Jasmine, The new restrictions announced today in the UK will make life very tough. I understand your frustration but the vaccines offer us hope that this nightmare will end. We hope you find the course useful - Jeff

  • We are very happy that so many people have stayed with us to the end of the course. Your comments and discussions have been extraordinary. We will keep working on the course.

    The big news is, of course, that successful vaccines have been developed and will be available soon. But also new more transmissible forms of the virus have emerged.

    To stay in...

  • 4 January 2021. Happy New Year!

    Hi Everyone,

    The course has now been running since April and a lot has happened in that time. The includes the recent announcements of effective vaccines. And new more transmissible forms of the virus. We don't really know what will happen next. Thank you for all your thoughtful and informative comments. Keep them coming -...

  • 2nd January 2021. Happy New Year!

    Welcome to the course.

    We started nine months ago and we have learned a lot about COVID, how it is modelled, and how modelling is used in policy. Also we have learned a lot about ourselves and the lives we lead.

    Recently a vaccine was announced but COVID will be with us for many more months. However new variants are...

  • @CliveSims Hi Clive. Bruno Latour makes a distinction between "ready made science" and "science in the making". The ready made science of biology, epidemiology, etc. have given us vaccines in an astonishingly short time. The social, economics, organisational, etc. science of how to handle the pandemic is, I think, science in the making. In this context we are...

  • There are very interesting comments here. The consensus is that hoping for herd immunity without a vaccine is not a viable policy for most countries. Since April when this course started, in the UK we have seen the first wave (that did not overwhelm our Health Service) and a second wave with a new more transmissible form of the virus (that in the UK do...

  • Hi Shirley. I agree - herd immunity is the goal and the new vaccines can help achieve this. Without a vaccine the health service would be overwhelmed, as we are beginning to see in the UK with a new more transmissible strain. 'Flattening the curve' helps to spread the demand on the health service over time. Like you, I am in favour of funding the health system...

  • 5 January 2021. Happy New Year!

    Hi Everybody. Welcome to the second part of the course.

    It is now eight months since we opened this course. Over this time we have learned a lot about COVID-19. The announcement of effective new vaccines is a game-changer. But so are the new variants of the virus.

    We are still supporting the course so please keep adding...

  • Hi Cameron, Congratulations on the new job. It will be interesting to read your comments from the public policy side. Good luck and Happy Christmas - Jeff

  • Hi Colin, Thank you for your feedback which is also very helpful and encouraging. We hope you enjoy the second part of the course. Happy Christmas - Jeff

  • @NourhanSalloum Hi Nourhan, You make an interesting point about the next ten years. I believe the kind of modelling considered in this course will be used to support policy as we "design the future". Happy Christmas - Jeff

  • Hi Gill, Welcome to the course. Since it was written we have seen the first wave subside in the UK and the second wave develop. Vaccines have been developed giving us all hope. But new forms of the virus are appearing. We try to keep the course up to date, for example we have added an update section above. Some parts of the course have been overtaken by...

  • @KARENCOOK Hi Karen, Thank you for your feedback. I am planning to produce an update soon. Email anna.unitwin@gmail.com to stay in touch. Best wishes for Christmas - Jeff

  • @NourhanSalloum
    Hi Nourhan. Iain is referring to a mess made by the UK Government over grading national examinations for 15-16 year olds and 17-18 years. The usual "sit-down" exams in May/June were cancelled this year. But students needed grades for progression and university entrance. It was decided to grade the children's exams by an 'algorithm' that...

  • Hi Eline, In the UK policy has changed from trying to get business going again to severe lockdown to try to control the virulent new strains of the virus that have emerged over the last week or two. Let's hope it works. Best wishes - Jeff

  • Hi Karen, A few weeks ago it seemed that the new vaccines would allow us to control the pandemic. However new strains of the virus have emerged in the UK causing a reversal of policy to relax the lockdown regulations for Christmas. It seems we never learn to expect the unexpected. Best wishes - Jeff

  • Hi Nourhan, Welcome to the course. Scientists have learned a lot from previous epidemics including the four waves of the Spanish flu of 1918-20, the Black Death: 1346-1353, The Great Plague of London: 1665-1666, and many more
    https://www.livescience.com/worst-epidemics-and-pandemics-in-history.html
    In 2015 Bill Gates warned that a pandemic was...

  • Hi Tania, Thank you for telling us what is happening in Indonesia - Jeff

  • Hi Jo. In the Uk we are discovering that R varies greatly in time and geography. It is now becoming more common for figures to be quoted in terms of cases per thousand or hundred thousand in an area. For example, the statistics for Milton Keynes are 303 cases per 100,000 people in the latest week 5 Dec-11 Dec. I live in a village just South of Milton Keynes....

  • Hi Jo, Welcome to the course. In the UK we are seeing an increase in the number of cases, and there is some concern that relaxing the lockdown rules for Christmas will result in a third wave in January. Good luck with the course - Jeff

  • @VictoriaMorgan Hi Victoria, Thank you for the feedback. It will be interesting to see how the vaccination programme works out. UK Government advice is:
    "There's no evidence that pregnant women are more likely to get seriously ill from coronavirus.
    But pregnant women have been included in the list of people at moderate risk (clinically vulnerable) as a...

  • Hi Victoria, Thanks for this and your many comments throughout the course. Jeff

  • Hi Alex, Agent-based simulations can be used to investigate social behaviour. Schelling is frequently quoted as an early example. As Victoria suggests above, the simulations do not necessarily lead to valid conclusions. But they make clear the assumptions and the consequences of the assumptions. Disagreements on the interpretation of the model are normal and...

  • Hi Victoria, Schelling's argument is that ghettos do not necessarily reflect racist views but could result from a mild preference for not being racially isolated. But, as you suggest, 'could' does not preclude that 'mild preference' including wanting neighbours who won't throw bricks through your window. Adam Rutherford gives deep insights into against racism...

  • Hi Tony, What you are doing is very interesting. My thoughts on the usefulness of R are similar to yours. Please use the email address anna.unitwin@gmail.com to send me a copy of your graphs. This may be a good way to investigate the possible outcome of the current UK policies. WIth many thanks - Jeff

  • Hi Tony, I agree that R0 (or R) is not a very good statistic for managing the pandemic. R0 is defined to be the rate of infection divided by the rate of recovery at the beginning of an epidemic. R starts as R0 but changes as behaviour and policies change. R changes with many things including geography. Your approach is very interesting and I would like to...

  • Hi Thomas. Thanks for your feedback and comments throughout the course - Jeff

  • Hi Pepe, Deaths are not so much an afterthought. The SIR model can be extended by assuming a portion of the infected people will die rather recover. This assumes that those who die and those who survive infect others in the same way. This is probably not true since those taken into hospital are isolated with medical staff (hopefully) wearing effective PPE, and...

  • Hi Pepe, I like very much your example of crossing the road. Thanks - Jeff

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  • 25 Dec 2020

    Hi Everyone,

    The course has now been running since April and a lot has happened in that time. The includes the recent announcements of effective vaccines. Even so we don't really know what will happen next. Thank you for all your thoughtful and informative comments. Keep them coming - we love to read them they add a a lot to the course. Best...

  • Hi Ligney, Welcome to the course. It is interesting to know what is happening in Columbia. In England we are in strict lockdown. The rules will be relaxed considerably over Christmas. This could lead to a 'third wave' but I hope not. Good luck for the rest of the course -...

  • Hi Alex, I enjoyed your cartoon. Sometimes it does seem that policy is made by spinning a wheel. Interestingly, when we started the course many parts of the establishment worldwide were against them. Now they are mandatory in many situations. Thanks - Jeff

  • @annehenderson Hi Anne, Thanks for bringing this to our attention:
    https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11606-020-06067-8
    Regards - Jeff

  • Hi Thomas, I find thinking in terms for these graphics is more useful than talking about the R number. The graphics reinforce the idea that if you reduce the number of your interactions then you reduce your chance of getting the virus. Also they show how very quickly infection spreads in the exponential phase. I think this is not well understood and some...

  • Hi Mary, This is a nice example. Complex systems are not entirely unpredictable. You can't make a point prediction that lunch on a particular day with be a particular price. However you can do some sums and forecast the likely cost between limits, for example "it will be about £20, not less than £15 and not more than £25" and that is useful for policy...

  • @SYEDADEELHUSSAIN Hi Syed, I am just reading 'Science in Action' by Bruno Latour. He makes an interesting distinction between 'ready made science' and 'science in the making'. The discovery of 'unknown unknowns' through computer simulation is very much in the category of science in the making. Incidentally, I think we discover unknown unknowns by through...

  • Hi Brian, I think that the numbers are inaccurate because front-line medics and their administrators give a lower priority to data collection and reporting than caring for patients. I agree with the thrust of you question - since reliable data is so important for policy why don't we have better systems to do it. It would be possible to have extra staff in...

  • Hi Thomas, Your risk assessment is a very interesting policy requirement. Common sense is very important. So the first question is "what is the policy intended to achieve". Presumably "no infections". According to Government guidelines a necessary condition for this is social distancing and wearing masks. etc. etc. I'm sure you've been through all this. I love...

  • Hi Syed, You make many interesting points. Since they run on computers most of our models are algorithmic. They may give different results for the same inputs by using random numbers (Monte Carlo methods, as you mention in another post). This enables possible futures to be explored through large populations of outcomes from the model. The statistical...

  • Hi Thomas, Your experience as an NHS contractor is interesting. Do you think the NHS is properly supplied now with what they need? Regards - Jeff

  • Hi Everyone, 25th December 2020

    We are very happy that so many people have stayed with us to the end of the course. Your comments and discussions have been extraordinary. We will keep working on the course.

    The big news is, of course, that successful vaccines have been developed and will be available soon.

    To stay in contact with us after your access...

  • Hi Jiahsin, Which country are you in? Regards - Jeff

  • Hi Syed, We hope the course will be useful for you. Best wishes - Jeff

  • Hi Peta, I have also noticed that people do not always respect the one-ways systems in shops and supermarkets. Like you I don't like like to be too close to strangers, even when I'm wearing a mask. I think the government could explain better how the virus is transmitted, e.g. short animations on the TV and internet might help. Best wishes - Jeff

  • Hi Jiahsin, As you say COVID-19 is a terrible thing. And I agree that vaccination is the best solution. It seems a number of vaccines will soon be available. I think that some people in rich countries understand very well that we have a responsibility to provide vaccination for poorer countries. The pandemic affects us all. Before vaccination becomes a viable...

  • @VictoriaMorgan Hi Victoria, Yes, you are right. R0 is very dependent on social behaviour, e.g. Italians are more physical than Brits, Japanese people bow rather than shake hands, young people like house parties, crowded pubs and discos. The important thing is the number of contacts a person has. Decreasing the number of interactions reduces the probability of...

  • Hi Richard, Thank you for this and your interesting comments throughout the course. With best wishes - Jeff

  • Hi Amber, Hopefully this course will give you factual information to counter hearsay. We will be interested to read your comments. With best wishes - Jeff

  • Hi Steven, I believe a lesson from COVID-19 will be that policy based on science gives the best outcomes. Science is not infallible - the traditional scientific method says that when a theory becomes inconsistent with observation that theory must be rejected. It's more complicated for multidisciplinary socio-technical systems like COVID where policy involves...

  • 25th December 2020

    Welcome to the course.

    We started nine months ago and we have learned a lot about COVID, how it is modelled, and how modelling is used in policy. Also many of us have learned a lot about ourselves and the lives we lead.

    Recently a vaccine was announced but COVID will be with us for many more months. However virulent new variants...

  • Hi Clive, I agree that test-trace-isolate has not been as effective as it might have been in the UK. About 1.3 million people are currently recorded as having been infected in the UK. Even if its double that about 55 million people remain susceptible. Letting the epidemic take its course unchecked could result in a big peak of infections in the new year which...

  • @JiahsinLiu Hi Jiahsin. Taiwan has handled the epidemic very well, e.g. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanwpc/article/PIIS2666-6065(20)30044-4/fulltext , and we can learn a lot from this. Best wishes - Jeff

  • Hi Iain, Winston Churchill said democracy is the least worst form of government. We get the politicians that people vote for. Some politicians know a lot of science, and some members of SAGE are social scientists. As discussed in the course, there is a diversity of scientific views because science works that way. Ultimately politicians must decide what to do. ...

  • Hi Clive, To date about 1.2 million people have been infected in the UK, which means that about 65 million people have not been infected. Without a vaccine it could take much longer for the epidemic to die out. Treatment is important as you suggest, and it has improved a lot. Let's hope the current lockdowns will be successful. Best wishes - Jeff

  • Hi Layla, I agree with what you say. TEST TEST TEST assumes that the tests are reliable. I think it is essential that people have their income protected is they isolate, especially people on low incomes with families to support. The approach to measuring COVID infection through sewage is very interesting and I believe can give an early indication of local...

  • Hi Roosevelt, This is a very good question when modelling. The SIR model works for populations of any size, including 7 billion for the whole world. However, the implicit assumptions in the model for how people interact are not valid for the whole world. For example, air transportation plays a significant role in pandemics, but this model does not include air...

  • My Mary, I think the reason that it takes longer for a larger population to be infected is that each infection takes time, so the more people there are to be infected the longer it will take. Recent announcements suggest that an effective vaccine is very close https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-51665497 - good luck - Jeff

  • Hi Keith, This model makes a lot of simplifying assumptions, but it gives useful insights. It shows that in the absence of a vaccine, herd immunity is not a policy option in the early stages of an epidemic - unless the policy is 'let it rip'. Paradoxically this simple model can make itself inapplicable. It can show that without intervention the health service...

  • Hi Richard, Glad you got the moel working. It is simple but I think gives a good insight into the way infections spread. Jeff

  • Hi Tony, The formula for R0 is given in Steps 2.3 and 2.4. It is the reproduction rate at the beginning of an epidemic and it depends on cultural behaviour as well as the nature of the virus. The exponential phase of the epidemic is very important as you say. Here the problem is that small errors in the exponent can lead to big error in forecasts. Thanks for...

  • Hi Victoria. This is a good question.
    According to the paper 'Quantifying TB transmission: a systematic review of reproduction number and serial interval estimates for tuberculosis': "The range is for years 2005-2012, with the reproductive number estimated at 3.33, 3.72, 3.38, 3.97, 4.29, 3.32, 3.92 and 4.30,...

  • Hi Richard, Thanks for all your comments - Jeff

  • Hi Mary, Australia is doing well. We hope you enjoy the course - Jeff.

  • Hi Kim, I'm hoping to update the course soon with more up to date statistics as you suggest. Thanks - Jeff

  • Hi Keith, I agree. Science is one part of the mix. Common sense is another. I'm sure you can think of other ingredients. Regards - Jeff

  • Hi Tony, In the technical sense of 'chaos', the weather is a chaotic system. These days weather forecasting is very good for a few days ahead, but it usually comes with a confidence level, e.g. if the forecast for tomorrow is rain with 80% confidence I'd take an umbrella, even though I might not need it. Most social systems are chaotic in this technical sense,...

  • Hi Peta, I agree, we have to use whatever information we have and whatever tools we have to try to forecast what might happen. Sometimes in policy the forecasts are very uninformative - my view is that if you don't know the outcome of a policy, don't implement it. However we don't have a choice with the pandemic. Broad brush we know bad things can happen, e.g....

  • Hi Alex, We hope the course will be useful in putting yor concerns into perspective. Best wishes - Jeff

  • Hi Tony, A formula is given in Steps 2.3 and 2.4. but it refers to a simple model. You make an interesting point about WHO publishing a definitive formula(s). In fact epidemiologists and the WHO know a lot about pandemics. Apart from appropriate models, reliable local data is need to make forecasts. This pandemic was foreseen as very likely more than five...

  • Hi Layla, I agree absolutely. I feel more comfortable in a face mask, especially when strangers are close and not social distancing. Regards - Jeff

  • @KeithHardell @CliveSims Hi both - see my comment to Clive above. I agree that the projections underlying the current lockdown in England are questionable. I think the most important thing about the pandemic is that once infection rates enter the 'exponential' phase, things are highly unpredictable - but the number of infected people can increase rapidly. ...

  • Hi Clive, It's not just the Imperial team making forecasts, SAGE (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) has members from many universities and laboratories https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/scientific-advisory-group-for-emergencies . And they don't all agree. There's also an Independent SAGE https://www.independentsage.org/ . This variety of...

  • Hi Richard, Forecasting depends on assumptions and as you say, over-optimistic assumption can lead to incorrect forecasts. Modellers should make their assumptions very clear so that they can be critiqued. This includes assumptions about the data. We know a lot more COVID-19 than we did in March - including that forecasts can be very different to what actually...

  • Hi George and Graham, You are right - the reference to 17.2 should have been to 17.3. I've corrected this. Thanks - Jeff

  • Hi Christina, You are right about the assumptions of the classic SIR model, and right that this is a great simplification. However, when the first UK lockdown ended I think about 10% of the population has been infected and recovered. So 90% were still susceptible. So rather than being at the end we were still at the beginning and susceptible to a second wave....

  • Hi Sarah, Welcome to the club - I was wrong too, and I understand the charts very well. Accurate forecasting is hard, so we need to take this into account when interpreting the outcome of our models. Regards - Jeff

  • Hi Mary, My prediction was also wrong. What this activity shows is that most of us get it wrong - accurate forecasting is often not possible. This is useful to know when interpreting the forecasts from our models. Best wishes - Jeff

  • Hi Kim, This is a good summary of the interplay of the many issues relevant to policy. At its best science can produce models that take all these factors into account, and give useful insights from the available data. Science is not magic and scientists do not have a privileged insight into the future. Science begins with the kind of analysis you have done...

  • Hi Sarah, We're glad you enjoyed the course. I think there are ways we could make the charts easier to understand so we'll be thinking about that. Thanks for your many comments - Jeff

  • Hi Lorraine, It's interesting that France is in this situation. France has some the best scientists and modellers in the world. In the UK it's no longer the case that "we follow the science". There is a clear strain between politicians and scientists, compounded by some politicians and their electors finding it hard to understand that the scientific community...

  • Hi Susan, We got your email - I'm sorry we did not get back sooner. We are planning to update the course. At the same time we intend to edit it into a printable document. We'll be very glad to get your feedback. It will take a bit longer - I am very overloaded with university work at the moment. In the meantime you may find the following...