Coronavirus: is the UK’s 1% mortality projection credible?

903px-an_intensive_care_unit_in_a_hospital._wellcome_l0075034

Italy has twice as many intensive care beds as us. And they’re struggling despite trying to contain the outbreak. We’re going to need more beds!

Yesterday I wrote about the UK’s approach to the outbreak. I’m doing my best to believe it is a good plan, to convince myself it can work. The numbers alarm me, the mortality rate most of all.

The questions I’m asking are:

  •  How many people might need intensive care?
  •  Over what time period?
  •  Do we have enough beds?
  •  Can the most vulnerable in society be protected?
  •  Can the government’s plan limit mortality to 1%?

The China Centre for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 4.7% of cases required intensive care. Now, it seems to me that the real number is probably lower because a lot of people only get a mild disease so aren’t counted because of testing bias, making the crude rates for intensive care and mortality appear worse than they really are. And this effect would be even greater in the event you let it run through your population as the UK intends to do, as most people will overcome the disease without being tested. Indeed, the UK has stopped testing community cases, presumably because the numbers are becoming impossible to manage.

The stats we see reported in the UK are now going to reflect only the most seriously ill. So the proportion who actually get sick enough to need intensive care might in fact turn out to be lower than the crude stats suggest. Might we be optimistic and assume it’s not 4.7% of the infected who need intensive care then, and the real number of infected who require intensive care might be more like – and I’m speculating – 2%. Let’s proceed on that basis but if you’re a super optimistic person you can halve my figures in your head and assume only 1% will need intensive care.

The UK’s plan is for at least 60% of the population to get the virus. That’s 40 million people. The government’s plausible worst case scenario is higher at 80%. We’d best hope that doesn’t happen. At 60% they hope to achieve some kind of herd immunity going forward. And it’s on this basis that they are not yet closing schools, sending employees home, closing leisure activities, and banning mass gatherings etc. If 2% of the infected need intensive care then that’s 800,000 people. That will be too many.

We are already more than 4 weeks in and the government anticipate the peak of the bell curve could be another 14 weeks away. If they can flatten out the curve and push it out then the curve would be skewed to the right. Optimistically then, the total curve might last something like 45 weeks which would carry us to Christmas, with new cases being far fewer in the autumn and winter period on the curve. If we go along with the government’s strategy to let people get infected then it is a good thing if you can spread out the infections over a long period of time, as well as delaying to the summer.

At the start of this year there were 4,123 adult critical care beds, 3,423 were occupied (83%). Spare capacity is 700 then. But let’s assume we clear around half of those occupied by stopping new operations, taking bigger risks and delaying the virus until spring/summer. You cannot clear them all because people have heart attacks, strokes, get stabbed and so on and such people require intensive care too.

450px-rfa_argus_off_the_coast_of_devonport

RFA Argus is the Royal Navy’s hospital ship. Might it lend a hand with the outbreak?

By freeing up what beds we can we might have something like 2500 available beds for coronavirus. And let’s assume that the government quadruples the number by throwing money at it, repurposing non-critical wards, deploying the resources of the armed forces, commandeering some nursing and care homes, everything we possible can do to increase beds and equipment, we do it. We make 10,000 beds available for this. This is a hugely optimistic number it seems to me, but let’s go with it.

Now let’s assume we get all the respirators we need, and the beds are staffed by doctors and nurses from other disciplines, retired nurses, trainees doctors, care assistants, army medics, maybe even flying staff in from other places in the world who manage to crush their outbreaks.

 

Even so, there seems absolutely no way the NHS can handle 800,000 people through intensive care in that time period. But the government are predicting a 1% mortality rate. I can’t see how that can be kept so low unless the number needing intensive care turns out to be much less than 2% of those infected I’m speculating about.

Spreading the infections by flatten the peak helps intensive care cope but to reduce numbers into intensive care you also need to work very hard to protect the most vulnerable. Total dedication to protecting the vulnerable is going to be required. This will be critical if we are to keep the mortality rate anything like as good as 1%. So if the government’s prediction is correct then there will need to be significant measures to protect the vulnerable and lower the number who need intensive care treatment.

Actually this is starting to make a bit more sense to me. Protecting the vulnerable is the single most important thing if this plan is going to work. 1 in 5 people in the UK are over age 65. And most don’t work. So you don’t have to shut down the economy, you just isolate the 20% of older people. And of course those younger with health problems. I do worry the government will not do enough to protect this group. It is essential they identify who is most vulnerable and give them specific advise and support.

But if you need to isolate the old and sick and for quite some time while those younger and healthier catch the virus and create (hopefully) herd immunity then you actually want to wait to do this until the rate of transmission is becoming quite rapid – this requires most people to continue to go to work and school. Only once the virus is spreading well do you then isolate the vulnerable while it transmits between the young and healthy still. You don’t want to isolate them too early because it reduces compliance over a lengthy period, so you do this when the risk of catching the virus is at its highest.

You want the vulnerable locked down and you want the virus to spread quickly and extensively while they are. Else you end up with 800,000 people needing 10,000 intensive care beds. If the plan works then the number in fact needing intensive care will be much lower and far fewer people will die as a result. Get it wrong though and the numbers will get out of control fast. The cost would be hundreds of thousands of lives.

The government’s 1% mortality rate still looks very optimistic though. It assumes control and looks like a best case scenario. It seems to me that 2% would be a very good outcome even with the introduction of better measures to protect the vulnerable. 2% mortality of those infected would mean 800,000 people dying in the UK. Hopefully that doesn’t happen. 1% is bad enough.

So yeah, I can see how the plan could work. But usually what works on paper rarely plays out quite as you hoped. Even if it does there are still questions about whether this really is necessary, whether herd immunity will result, and whether shutting down like every other country is doing might in fact prove to be a better idea. I’m still not entirely sold on the government’s strategy but I respect the plan a bit more than I did previously.

The United Kingdom’s Coronavirus Gamble

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Does the UK hold a wild card or is it a joker?

“Is the government doing enough?” the media asks, but I think it is the wrong question. The real issue is not one of degree of action, but rather what the action plan is, and the reasons behind it.

The government’s strategy to this virus is very different to that of other countries. Most countries have followed conventional instinct which is to try and stop people getting it and to stop those who have it from spreading it to others. And ultimately to stop the outbreak from being too bad. Most people readily understand that approach. While the world closes schools, bans large gatherings, and shuts everything down, the UK is choosing a different route.

The UK government have shunned instinct in favour of scientific thinking. Or so they say. I feel rather uncomfortable with the government advisors talking about science when dealing with a novel virus on a scale we haven’t seen before in modern times. Much is guesswork rather than science. And instinct has served our species well in our evolution. Abandoning it for uncertain scientific ideas carries risk. And when you choose to do something different from everyone else it isn’t normally because you are smarter than everyone else, it is that you think you are but you are wrong.

The World Health Organization and other countries think the science supports social distancing and that it is important to act quickly as delaying makes the outbreak worse. But the UK government is not delaying, it is not taking a measured approach, it is doing something entirely different.

The UK government don’t want to avoid people getting this virus. Positively the opposite is true. Sir Patrick Vallance, the Chief Scientific Advisor, says they want to achieve herd immunity which for this virus they think requires 60% or so of the population to get it. The argument is that the virus will keep coming back otherwise. He says around four months after restictions are lifted, the virus would come back and we’d find ourselves in the midst of winter again with a new outbreak. This is why the government won’t be closing schools and banning large gatherings. Not unless things get totally out of control – it might do so then as a means of controlling the rate of transmission, but its strategy is not to stop transmission from happening, so things are likely going to stay open.

The question is, Is the UK government strategy right, or wrong? Will this gamble turn out to be misguided arrogance, or sober reasoning? And what are the repercussions?

The benefits, if the government is right, are that the country takes its hit all at once when the whole world is in a panic about it anyway, then gains some herd immunity. The economic damage now is less than it would be otherwise, and future outbreaks would be much smaller in the UK, easier to control, less deadly. Overall, less people might die. The UK would potentially gain a significant economic advantage over other countries across the planet if the virus continues on, or returns, the UK being able to stay open and produce while other countries close down again. (or adopt our own strategy the second time around if it is proven successful).

Kids would grow up with some immunity having encountered the virus in youth. Adults grow into old age with some immunity too. Though it seems to me this could be achieved via vaccination in the future. And future mutation means immunity may not be reliable going forward.

The downside is that the elderly and vulnerable are sacrificed in the short-term, they are more likely to get the virus, they are more likely to die from it. Especially if we don’t have enough beds, enough respirators, enough staff. Surely it’s better to have a series of smaller outbreaks and in the meantime improve the resources in the national health service to enable them to save more lives? It seems to me more people are going to die in the short-term because of this strategy. That means the strategy totally sucks if you are elderly or if you have underlying health conditions.

The government predicts that at least 60% of the population will get sick – needs to get sick, is how they put it…The UK population is a little over 66 million people. 60% is a little under 40 million. The government predicts 1% will die. That is 400,000 people. And the government predict a peak in 10-14 weeks. We’re about four weeks in already. So that suggests a bell curve over ~36 weeks. Can the NHS really handle that? If hospital admissions get out of control then that mortality rate will be higher and I suspect the government actually wants more like 70+% to get it for better herd immunity. So 400,000 is likely to be a low estimate. More than half a million people could well die from this outbreak because of the government strategy. That’s the same number as die from everything else in the UK every year. To put this in perspective, flu kills on average 17,000 a year in the UK (range 1,692 – 28,330).

Respecting the importance of the economy I do worry that everything the government says seems to be made in reference to the economy, as if it is more important than lives. The financial markets have already crashed and probably have not yet reached their bottom. A recession seems very likely. None of that is good of course, but individual lives matter. While society as a whole matters, what matters to each individual self is there self. Thats not selfish, it’s just a reality of perspective. Each life really is important and it’s worth sacrifising other stuff to save a life.

I worry about an undercurrent of sentiment in society that although the numbers are large it is “only” old (and sick) people who will die. As if their lives are worth less somehow. I suppose everyone things bad things happen to other people and as long as that looks to be the case the majority will accept it. But there will be other consequences in society. With older people dying, younger people will inherit. And by far the biggest proportion of home owners – over a third – are aged 65 and over. And they tend to live in family-sized homes which the market has a shortage of. This outbreak will see tens- if not hundreds-of-thousands of houses flood the market a year from now, it will help stimulate the housing market and the economy. The government will take their cut through both inheritance tax and stamp duty charges. I hope none of this comes into the thinking of government and their advisors, I hope they are focused entirely on saving the most lives, regardless of whether they get their difficult decisions right or not.

And for the government’s strategy to be right the virus would need to come back once social distancing stops. We don’t have a lot of information to go on specific to this virus. The govt says the science from other outbreaks shows it will come back. In China, so far, with people returning to work the data is not yet showing that. But it may be too early. I personally think it is likely the outbreak will come back sooner or later.

I’m not sure what I’m supposed to think of this approach. I guess it’s too early. If more people die here than anywhere else and the virus is largely halted as it has been so far in China then lives will have been lost needlessly. On the other hand if the UK is right then lives will probably be saved overall. I certainly think the UK’s approach is a bit gamble though, one the populous has not really been properly informed about and consented to, and I don’t think the government is being as direct and transparent about it as they should be.

I have loved ones with health problems. I have elderly relatives. I have health issues myself, including breathing difficulties. So do I believe the UK government have got it right? I want to believe but I’m not sure that’s the same thing. I suppose we’re going to find out.

PACE and the interests of trial participants

disabled courtA tribunal has recently ruled that anonymous data from the controversial PACE trial must be released, rejecting an appeal from Queen Mary University of London (QMUL).

The data in question has been discussed on this blog before and you can read here to understand exactly what data we are talking about. It includes no personal identifiers.

The release of this data would allow for a reanalysis of the primary outcome measures according to the thresholds pre-specified in the researcher’s own published protocol. The recovery analysis in their published papers diverged from their own protocol, and included them lowering the recovery thresholds – this had the effect that more patients appeared to “recover” than if they had stuck to the planned thresholds for recovery. It’s possible that against the original recovery thresholds PACE may fail to demonstrate any significant recovery in patients – which would make the trial a failure.

QMUL can potentially appeal the tribunal’s decision and try again to block the release of the data that would allow this analysis. QMUL have already spent over £200,000 on legal fees on this tribunal case alone, which seems extraordinary considering they are a public institution. Following the tribunal’s decision they released this statement on their website: Disclosure of PACE trial data under the Freedom of Information Act

Prior to the tribunal, QMUL released a similar statement in which they said they were “seeking…the advice of patients”: Release of individual patient data from the PACE trial which led me to write to ME/CFS charities asking them to speak on behalf of patients. I asked patients to do the same, and you did! The effort was a success with 29 charities across the globe writing to QMUL on the request of patients to call on them to release the data and drop their appeal. This was submitted to the tribunal as evidence of the public interest in the data being released. Regarding the clear public interest in the release of the data, the tribunal stated:

“There can be no doubt about the Public Interest in the subject matter which is evident throughout the course of this appeal, and beyond, and we are grateful for the assistance that has been given to us in this regard.”

It was surprising that QMUL chose to ignore such strong public interest in the release of the data, which included thousands of patients, patient organizations, and academics. It appears they were not sincere in their wish to take account of the advice of patients, after all and I note that in their most recent statement, this time they do not invite the views of patients. But their most recent statement does say this (my emphasis added):

“We are studying the decision carefully and considering our response, taking into account the interests of trial participants and the research community.”

Perhaps QMUL will be consulting with participants then. QMUL surely do not mean to decide what is in the interests of participants without consulting them? To not consult participants would seem quite remarkable to me, but for all I know QMUL have been keeping participants informed and are seeking their views following the tribunal decision.

Given the Judge has ruled that they “…are satisfied that the risk of identification has been anonymised to the extent that the risk of identification is remote”, and that there is “…a strong public interest in releasing the data…” it is hard to see how QMUL could claim the interests of participants could be furthered by another appeal.

It must never be forgotten that trial participants are also patients, and members of the public too. However, this has not stopped QMUL in its various submissions from making a number of accusations of harassment from patients. In a separate FOI case, under a section they entitled “Harassment,” QMUL have pointed to the 12,000 strong petition calling for PACE claims to be retracted – most of those signatures are patients and some may be from patient participants in the PACE trial.

QMUL has accused patients in their “further skeleton” submission to the tribunal, where they claim “’highly critical’ and ‘vitriolic’ patient/activist groups” have tried to discredit the research.

One such activist group, according to QMUL, is the patient forum Phoenix Rising. Professor Jonathan Edwards, a member of the Phoenix Rising Board of Directors, appears to have been displeased with this accusation, as evidenced by his submission to the tribunal, referred to in the tribunal’s decision:

“Professor Edwards takes issue with the assertions that Phoenix Rising is allowing inappropriate behaviour, and further takes issue with the  term  ‘activist’ being used for its audience. He distinguishes highly motivated data requesters from those acting inappropriately or unreasonably. He accepts that certain individuals have expressed their frustrations with the misinterpretation of the PACE trial on the website in abusive terms, but this pales  in  comparison with four years of “intelligent and measured critique” provided by the other patients. Rather, the campaign to discredit or hijack the issue has come from the PACE authors and their colleagues in a series of attacks in review articles in the national press, online and in public presentations.”

The tribunal decision notice shows that one of QMUL’s arguments against disclosure of the anonymous PACE data was that “It would cause unwarranted distress to participants and open them to criticism or harassment.”

One document submitted by Alem Matthees as part of the evidence to the tribunal was a document collating the publicly available comments from PACE trial participants who had voluntarily come forward to express their views in public. A copy can be found here. It was submitted to dispute the claims of QMUL that patient participants were in danger of being harassed, and shows that in all cases where patient participants have come forward they have not been harassed, but rather have been praised, thanked and supported. This is no surprise, as we are all patients and we all just want to get better.

The Judge, considering this, and other evidence, found QMUL’s assessment of activist behaviour to be “grossly exaggerated” and QMUL were forced to admit at the hearing that “no threats have been made either to researchers or participants.”

But understandably, patients – including patient who are participants in the PACE trial – may feel rather upset with QMUL about their negative stereotyping of patients.

The tribunal decision includes a sentence about the responsibility of QMUL to participants when it comes to information about the anonymous data, the Information Commissioner pointing out that ” It would be up to QMUL to explain to participants that their data has been anonymised so that they could not be identified from it so as to allay fears that they themselves [QMUL] seem to be attempting to stoke up.”

Again, this makes you wonder what QMUL have been telling patient participants, if anything.


 

 

image credit: welsnet
creative commons licence
changes made to original image

Magna Carta’s 800th Birthday

800 years ago, king John, put his seal to The great charter. His barons demanded this of him; they had had enough of his tyranny.

No longer would they allow him to lock them up without charge, to hold their families hostage, murder who he liked,  steal their lands and possessions, extort them with taxes and have control over who was appointed in the powerful church.

Stephen Langton, the Archbishop of Canterbury had just returned from exile in France, and was instrumental in Magna Carta coming about. He was there when it was sealed.

800 years ago today it was either agree to the charter or have civil war. And the French were waiting in the wings to invade if given half a chance.

Stephens brother Simon (briefly Archbishop of York at the time of Magna Carta) also played a key part, and would later be Chancellor in France and encourage an invasion  of England by the French Prince when king John reneged on Magna Carta.

It seems we have a lot to thank the Langtons for. And yet the history books wrongly state they were born in Langton by Wragby, in Lincolnshire.

The mistake comes from Powicke who in 1928 gives a reference to a manuscript talking of a mill at Langton which he claims is Langton by Wragby. However, manuscripts of this time rarely identified the specific village as the context (the names involved, the other places mentioned) made it clear which Langton village was being written about. In this case, you have a mill (which of course, requires water) which cannot have been at Langton by Wragby as it has no river.

The brothers actually came from Langton by Horncastle where there is a river and a mill as seen in other deeds in relation to the Langtons, including one in 1236 in which Simon Langton is sorting out the dowrie of his brother Walter’s widow. And other deeds exist showing their father Henry Langton, also at Langton by Horncastle. 

There appear to be no deeds which talk of any Langtons at Langton by Wragby in the time period (1100-1300) which is no surprise as it was very small at the time of Domesday and probably was not a significant settlement in the following centuries.

History books should not be taken at face value. Mistakes are often made and it’s important to use your own brain to evaluate the evidence and see if you agree with the conclusions reached. Much like scientific research, such as the PACE trial in chronic fatigue syndrome, that concluded graded exercise therapy (GET) leads to recovery in patients, when in face the opposite is true, as shown in the recently published survey conducted by the ME Association which found the majority of patients had a decline in health following GET.

Thankfully, we are free to challenge erroneous conclusions, in large part due to the work of the Langtons and the Barons in opposition to king John 800 years ago, though with our rights ever being eroded in this modern age, and the voices of individuals increasingly drowned out, you have to wonder if it isn’t time for a new Magna Carta. As was the case 800 years ago though, people have to be pushed very hard before they finally say, enough is enough.

Millions of Fantastic Free Images Added to the Internet

Creative Commons Image by Jonas Tana.

Creative Commons Image by Jonas Tana.

Adding an appropriate, quality image to your blog post can make the world of difference.

But where do you source them? You can’t just help yourself to what you fancy; it belongs to someone – or at least it might. When someone creates an image it is by default copyrighted to them. It is there’s and unless they allow it, no one else can use it. If therefore, you find yourself in need of free images to use alongside your crafted words then this post is for you.

A while ago I put together a list of resources where you can find free images and I had it in mind to tidy up my list and publish it. I hate those “Ten best places to get free images” type posts though, so thought I’d wait until there was an excuse to write about it properly.

Well, today I read about the recent addition of millions of copyright-free images to the internet and the guy who made it happen is Kalev Leetaru. Good on you sir. If he can do that then the least I can do is put my list up on here.

One of my favourite websites is archive.org, the free access on-line library also called the internet archive. I first became aware of this some years ago when I became interested in genealogy – a lot of very important records, including parish records and older deeds are freely available on there and it is well worth a look if you are interested in family history, rather than stumping up for a membership to somewhere like Ancestry or FindMyPast. There is also a wealth of free music there and even better – BOOKS!
Lots and lots of digitized books, which you can read on-line, print off, or even download to your Kindle.

William Tyndale, who died to give the Bible in English to the common man

William Tyndale, who died to give the Bible in English to the common man

Most of the books on archive.org come from libraries from all over the world which have been scanned and read by specialist software, which used optical character recognition to identify printed text and turn it into digital text which can then be adapted into a variety of formats. When it identified an image it ignored it. What Mr Leetaru has done is adapted the software to specifically find those images in the archives database and scan each one as a jpeg. The result is several million new images available to everybody. Works of art (some of which are the only surviving record as the original has been lost), illustration, sketches of this and that, coats of arms, photographs, even library stamps and scans of the book bindings themselves, are available.

Answers on a postcard to...

Answers on a postcard to…

These images become part of the Commons database on Flickr which includes images from additional free sources.

In addition, many photographers upload their pics to Flickr and make them available under the creative commons licence, meaning they can be used without charge so long as the author/creator of the image is attributed. What you can do with each image varies and you’ll need to check in each case.
You can search these via the creative commons area of Flickr.
As well as your search terms, scroll down the page and click the “Only search within Creative Commons-licenced content” and optionally any of the other Creative Commons search options and then hit “search”. When you find an image you want to use, click on it and check what it says below the image about usage.

There will be a “Some rights reserved” along with some icons, and the link can be clicked opening a new window making it clear what you can and cannot do with the image in question. Sometimes you can adapt the image in any way you want and sometimes that right is not given, and sometimes the rights do not extend to commercial use. In either case, they – the author/creator – retain the copyright of the image (they are just letting you use it for free).

When you use an image you need to provide an attribution statement on your post and ideally a link back to their page. See the caption below the image I’ve used above? That tells people who the image rights belong to and if you click on the image it will take you to the owner Flickr profile.

Another large source for creative commons images is Wikimedia Commons: A very good source for images and they make clear where permissions are required on their images. Simply search for the image you wish to use and scroll down, it will outline the image copyright status; you can also click the’use on the web’ link and copy and paste any required citation from here.

It’s also worth checking out Wikipedia’s image resources list.

A few more sources worth checking out

Microsoft Office: All free, photos and good clip art. Most of the clipart is in their own wmf format, which needs converting (it appears weird in most pc viewers):
– open with Office Picture Manager if you have any version of Office installed, File>Export>options inc png formats
– or convert on-line with zamzar.

Pixabay: the vast majority of images are free. Great selection of photographs and Clipart and Vector. Selecting an image will inform you in there is a charge. No requirement to quote source upon reproduction and images may be re-used for any purpose i.e. even commercial.

Clker: uploaded clip art vouched as public by those that upload.

Getty Museum Art Images: this site contains 4600 high-resolution images of artwork, and they can all be used for commercial and non-commercial purposes so long as they’re properly attributed to the museum. When downloading an image, the site also asks for you to share why you’re using it — information the museum wants to see the many reasons that people have for downloading its content.

Free Digital Photos.net: all you need do – where required – is credit the author and site. http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/

Medical journals/papers are another great source of good quality images, especially when an article is about a medical topic. Most journals have a policy already, so check their website. Some have a blanket policy where images can be used unchanged, and without specific formal request, so long as they are correctly attributed to the journal/authors in the way they specify. Other journals have an email address where you can contact them to ask specifically for permissions to use images from one of their papers. Journals get asked this often, so you’ll likely get a reply. Make sure you point out that it is for use by a non-profit charity if you are one.

If you cannot find an image suitable on the aforementioned sites it may be worth doing a google search specifying only images with no copyright on them.

Google’s advanced image search allows you to specify usage rights to find free to use content. Simply scroll to the bottom of the page and under the ‘usage rights’ tab select ‘free to use or share, even commercially’ But beware that sometimes Google screws up and the images aren’t really free to use, so check each source carefully to make sure you really can use them.

Fair Usage

Here is an example of an image used by wikipedia that is under copyright along with their statement for why it is fair usage:
Oetzi the Iceman
Do be aware, however, that the application of this rule is a matter of opinion and someone with a commercial stake in an image may try to stop you using it, even if you claim fair usage rights. You’ll have to make your own judgement what to use, as well as what to do if the owner asks you to stop.

In the spirit of free usage, if anyone wants to use the image I created for my ghost writer article, go ahead, I grant a Creative Commons licence on it. Just remember to attribute it to me when you do.

Know any more good sources? Tell us about them in the comments section!

EDIT: 04.09.2014, Yale University have a cool, interactive, searchable archive of 170,000 free photographs from the Depression era. Worth checking out.

What is an Autodidact?

I am an autodidact. (Ancient Greek: αὐτός “self” and διδακτικός “teaching”, pronounced: au·to·di·dact).

An autodidact is someone who is self taught. This sometimes means that the person may be very knowledgeable on a subject but lack the formal qualifications that evidence this, but not always so. An autodidact will often utilise whichever learning platforms are available to him, which can include formal learning at school or university as well.
Either way, they are probably well read, Their name on their library card all but worn away from overuse, and they probably live in houses full of books. Of course the modern day autodidact, myself included, is just as likely to have a worn out keyboard from all that internet research they do as well.

Now, I suspect that some people consider it a desirable quality and aspire to be one and therefore chose to label themselves this way when perhaps it does not belong, but I am not such a one. I have been an autodidact as far back as I can remember, and it was only as an adult that I came across the term and there was an instant moment of gleeful recognition… Oh, there are others out there like me!

Why I think I became an autodidact is a topic for a future post, but I think people tend to romanticize it, much like the overused cliché of the protagonist in both fiction and non-fiction stories being impoverished orphans who rise above their limited existence by the strength of their intellect alone.

Leonardo Di Vinci was autodidactic, as was the late Ray Bradbury and the fictional character Will Hunting played by Matt Damon in the film “Good Will Hunting” alongside the very recently late Robin Williams, who deservedly won an Oscar for his performance.
Leonardo Di Vinci was also a polymath which to me seems a desirable quality (though I am not a polymath myself) but I’m sure it has its drawbacks as well and my view of being a polymath is somewhat skewed by my outside perspective. But in terms of autodidactism, I always knew I ticked differently to other around me; although I was not strictly academic, not gifted at mathematics for instances, and terrible at spelling and grammar, I possessed a keen interest in a very broad range of topics and had a strong tendency to take up new hobbies or get absorbed in new things, saturating myself in them until there was nothing more to absorb.
And later on, seeking out and engaging true experts in those topics, focusing obsessively on details, striving for perfection and new ground and even ignoring basic needs like water, food and sleep because I was busy learning something new.

As a teenager I had great trouble deciding what to study at university. I looked at all the prospectuses and I thought they all sounded so fantastic I didn’t know which to choose. My parents and teachers mistook this for procrastination but it wasn’t. The model out there in society just didn’t fit me. Eventually I went to Art College at Falmouth University, but only because that was what I was thought gifted in at that time and I could start on a foundation course which covered all aspects of art from advertising and photography to ceramics, fine art and textiles – in other words, I could put off making a final decision for another year while still experiencing a lot of diversity.

Then I did the obvious thing: I left Art College after that foundation year was complete  and applied for a job in computer software, an industry I knew nothing about. Zilch. The agency gave me an exam and I failed all 50 questions. I was good looking (back then as a 19-year-old) and so I convinced the agency girl put me through anyway but I knew the real boss would reject me the next day at the second interview when he saw my test results. So what did I do? What any autodidact would do of course: I stayed up and studied!

Armed with a copy of the exam questions I learned the answers to all of them that night and the next day at the interview the first thing the boss said, with a perplexed expression on his face was, “why are you hear? You failed.” To which I said, “Ask me any question; today I’ll give you the correct answer.” He looked a little reticent at first, but he went along with it and ten minutes later after I had given perfect answers to all the questions he read to me, he gave me the job.
He even put my starting salary on more than I asked him for.

And so began my first career in software, though I went on to specialise in quality and efficiency management because of its wide remit and varied work. I am now a writer. I am finishing an epic fantasy series, a sci-fi thriller and an allegorical dystopian novel, all of which I plan to publish when able and which I will feature on my blog.

I sometimes absorb myself in a new topic for a day, or even a month or so, before dropping it when there isn’t much more to be sucked out of it, but the core fabric of my interest is writing. I also write occasionally for PhoenixRising and ProHealth on topics relating to myalgic encephalomyelitis, which I suffer from. I suffer as well from ulcerative colitis and may write something about that too.

You can expect a post or two about growing flowers and vegetables, an interest that has stayed with me, and the odd film review, but autodidactism seemed a fitting post to start with as I won’t be able to help writing about a few other things as they kidnap my thoughts along the way, such posts as “how to fix your laptop keyboard” when the S letter stops working unless you really whack it hard, for instance (I expect that post will come up in a week or two).