Statistician and Observer columnist Sir David Spiegelhalter has admitted he was “overly optimistic” at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. The 68-year-old Cambridge University scientist has confessed he “didn’t take it seriously enough”.
Appearing on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs on Sunday, Spiegelhalter says: “I think it’s very important that we have to acknowledge that we can never take an objective view about evidence. We always bring our, I think, personalities into it, and mine is unfortunately very optimistic and that’s why I’m very glad I’m not a government adviser. I don’t think I’d be very good at it because I do tend to hope for the best and sort of expect the best as well.”
But Spiegelhalter adds that his analysis has also shown that the pandemic has been a net lifesaver for younger people. “If you look at people between 15 and 30 in 2020, 300 fewer died than would normally have died, and that includes the 100 that died from Covid, sadly.
“So that’s 300 fewer families mourning the death of a young person because young people were essentially locked up. They couldn’t go out driving fast, they couldn’t go out and get drunk, and they couldn’t get into fights and whatever, and so all these lives were saved.
“I’m not saying this is a good thing because, on the flip side of that, you have a big increase in mental health problems and so on.”
Spiegelhalter was knighted in 2014 for services to medical statistics, including his work with the public inquiry into serial killer Harold Shipman, who was jailed for life in 2000. Official predictions suggest he killed more than 200 people over a 23-year period. “We showed that Shipman could have been caught much earlier. If someone had been looking at the data and had blown the whistle, you might have been able to save 200 lives,” Spiegelhalter says.
He also reveals a surprising love of Europop. Selecting his second disc, Dragostea Din Tei by Moldovan pop group O-Zone, he said: “I do quite like to have a drink and dance around to loud, raucous rock music, and I’ve got particular fondness for sort of Eurotrash and this is a prime example by a Moldovan group. I call it Numa Numa because I can’t pronounce its real name.”