Epidemic forecasting has a dubious track-record, and its failures became more prominent with COVID-19. Poor data input, wrong modeling assumptions, high sensitivity of estimates, lack of incorporation of epidemiological features, poor past evidence on effects of available interventions, lack of transparency, errors, lack of determinacy, consideration of only one or a few dimensions of the problem at hand, lack of expertise in crucial disciplines, groupthink and bandwagon effects, and selective reporting are some of the causes of these failures. Nevertheless, epidemic forecasting is unlikely to be abandoned. Some (but not all) of these problems can be fixed. Careful modeling of predictive distributions rather than focusing on point estimates, considering multiple dimensions of impact, and continuously reappraising models based on their validated performance may help. If extreme values are considered, extremes should be considered for the consequences of multiple dimensions of impact so as to continuously calibrate predictive insights and decision-making. When major decisions (e.g. draconian lockdowns) are based on forecasts, the harms (in terms of health, economy, and society at large) and the asymmetry of risks need to be approached in a holistic fashion, considering the totality of the evidence.
Keywords: Bayesian models; Bias; COVID-19; Forecasting; Hospital bed utilization; Mortality; SIR models; Validation.
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