“We Need To Be Humble. There’s Lots We Don’t Know”


Professor Philip Nolan and Fianna Fáil TD Stephen Donnelly

This morning

At the Special Committee on Covid-19 Response, Fianna Fáil TD Stephen Donnelly had the following exchange with Professor Philip Nolan, president of Maynooth University, while Mr Donnelly was asking him about the letter published yesterday involving more than 1,000 researchers and scientists calling for the curve to be crushed.

Philip Nolan: “The strategy is not one of mitigation, I made that clear in my opening statement and NPHET has made it clear in public, it’s not a question of living with an ongoing, significant level of transmission of the virus. The strategy is one of suppression. Suppressing the virus to very low levels…”

Stephen Donnelly: “Sorry, again, just in the interest of time, I just want your opinion as to whether or not they’re right.”

Nolan: “So my opinion is that the strategy, as laid out, as recommended by NPHET to Government and as adopted by Government is the right strategy for this country at this time. I just…”

Donnelly: “Sorry, just to be clear, I’m not asking you about…You’re answering a different question. No, chair, chair, it’s OK, it’s OK…”

Michael McNamara (chair): “Well, it’s not really, I mean I think he has to be allowed to answer his question. Then you can come back in.”

Nolan: “And what I’m telling you is that in the face of incomplete information, different scientists will have different views. NPHET and Government are charged with putting in place a response that’s timely, proportionate…”

Donnelly: “No, sorry, look, we know all that. So in your opinion, am I safe in saying  that you disagree with them?”

Nolan: “I’m giving my view. My view is that the recommendations of NPHET, for how Ireland should manage this pandemic, are the correct recommendations. I support them. They accord with my own judgment and the judgment of my team. And the point that I want to make is no strategy utterly insulates us from the virus reemerging in our society.”

Donnelly: “We all understand that. Thank you. Can I ask you: how likely is a second wave in your opinion?”

Nolan: “So. It’s probable that at some point in the future the incidence of this disease will increase again in our society. How big that increase will be, when it will happen, how difficult it will be to manage is very hard to to predict. But there is something that I can tell you: just one output for instance of a modelling study.

“If we had changed our regime on the 18th of May and the reproduction number, on the 18th of May, had gone up to 1.6, we’d be looking at about 500 new cases by the 19th.”

Donnelly: “Yeah, I know, sorry, just in the interest of time, I’m not trying to be rude. The question I’m asking: I know there is a lot of uncertainty and I know scientists have different views. But you’re the guy leading the modelling work. I’m asking, in your opinion, have…”

Nolan: “And I was about to give you…”

Donnelly: “How likely is a second wave and when might we expect it?”

Nolan: “I want to be very careful with the term ‘a second wave’. Second wave gives the public the impression that some overwhelming reoccurrence of the disease will wash over them into the future. What we do know is that across Europe, there will be renewed outbreaks of the disease of varying size. You could describe them as small second waves or you could describe them as manageable outbreaks. So my view is that we will, across Europe, perhaps somewhat randomly see new outbreaks of disease which we’ll be required to monitor and make sure that they don’t become very significant second waves. And public health colleagues will be required to intervene and control so that the disease doesn’t spread beyond that manageable outbreak.”

Donnelly: “Thank you. Can I ask, how likely, do you think, we are to see a second wave of sufficient scale that we would have to look at closing schools down again, closing businesses down again, restricting civil liberties again. That really is the question a lot of people want an answer to. And I know there’s no perfect answer. I’m just looking for your opinion. ”

Nolan: “I’ll say two things in response to that. First of all, the management of any second wave will be different from the management of the first wave. The wave is likely to be different and we know an awful lot more about how to manage this virus than we did the last time. So one might imagine that there could be more targeted measures introduced to control future outbreaks before the sort of blanket measures that we’ve seen in this context.

“I’m not evading it. I simply can’t give you a probability for a second wave. How likely is it or how unlikely is it.”

Donnelly: “I’m not looking for a number, I appreciate that would be an impossible questions for you to answer. Do you think that it’s extremely unlikely, do you think it is highly likely or have you absolutely no sense how likely it is?”

Nolan: “Honestly, I think it’s possible it would be arrogant of me. We can’t predict the future. And people who do my kind of work and Cillian’s kind of work, we need to be humble. There’s lots we don’t know. So, right now, on a precautionary basis, we need to plan as if it’s possible and make sure we have all of the contingency plans in place to deal with a tough scenario should it eventuate in the future.”


Nolan: “I think this virus will, I think our behaviours will continue to be modified by this virus for some time to come.”

Donnelly: “Sure, but would you see schools, restaurants, businesses opening up to full capacity by the end of the year? The healthcare system?”

Nolan:I honestly don’t have have a crystal ball on that one. I don’t know what we’re going to learn about this virus over the next six months. What we’re going to learn that we can do and what we’re going to learn that we can’t do so it is literally impossible for me to say precisely what the impact of this virus will be in six months’ time…”

Watch live here

Earlier: Meanwhile In The Dáil

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6 thoughts on ““We Need To Be Humble. There’s Lots We Don’t Know”

  1. Dr.Fart

    the time they’d save with honesty. they couldve said:
    – I have a question, here it is.
    – I’m not going to answer that question no matter how often you ask. I’ll just skirt around it in a myriad of different ways.

    end conversation.

    1. ReproBertie

      How about
      – I have a question that assumes we have all the necessary information and are in a position to accurately predict the future of a disease and therefore to judge how we handled it and I will expect you to give an A or B answer.

  2. dav

    what the hell is Donnelly up to, what type of sound-bite was he looking for from Prof Nola – any guesses?

  3. Johnnythree

    what type of sound-bite was he looking for from Prof Nola – any guesses? – Anything at all to justify his salary I’d guess

  4. Orla

    1000 researches and scientists in Ireland, the headline most perceive is 1000 scientists say such and such.
    How or why is a Professor of humanities on this list? The headline implies the “expert” narrative again, social science is not a hard science, this has been highlighted ad nauseam. Social science is a propaganda outlet for our elite types.

    Take a look at the list and pick out actual Irish scientists on it and look at what they have achieved and compare that to the scientists like Nobel prize winners who believe lockdowns are a mistake, the only thing many of the Irish scientists have achieved is tenure by regurgitating the narrative.

    This whole covid saga is a great cover for central bankers and the financial class, it would be great if politicians would focus on ongoing bank bailouts and big corporate bailouts since mid 2019.
    The heads of such banks are now pumping the narrative of a great reset, expect to here this more as the months go on.

    The next big protest will be financial inequality which will be tainted and hijacked with communist leaning outrage types screaming for universal basic income, their attention span doesn’t allow them to see they are commies,they believe it’s equality.
    Suppose the wave model of covid lockdowns will justify shutting down the financial protests if they get out of hand, it’s ok for the poor folks to fight and protest over racial issues but not chance of protest if white and black come together to take on our financial ruling class.

    The covid cult continues until it’s no longer useful.

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