Simula has been through a period of intense stress. The heaviest burden has been carried by a dedicated group of 20 researchers, but other parts of Simula have also been under pressure and felt the stress of public scrutiny. I would think that there are very few left unaffected.
At the time of writing this, the Smittestopp app has been downloaded by 1.343.000 users. Some people may think that the fight against the pandemic is over now. On the contrary - I think that now is a good time for a quote from Winston Churchill: “Now, this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
This fight must of course continue. Everyone must play their part. We should all follow the recommendations of our health authorities, and one such advice is to download Smittestopp. It is a compassionate act to download and use it, and a selfish act not to.
At 1:37 AM today, I was thrilled to receive the first and most interesting glimpse of results from the system. From these early results, it seems that the system is working as it should; the data collected by Smittestopp via both GPS and Bluetooth provide the information needed for effective digital contact tracing. It is, however, far too early to know the exact benefit of the data provided by Smittestopp, and it is also too early to know if the system works precisely as it should.
But it is not too early to express our gratitude.
First and foremost, to our fabulous employees who have endured severe stress and seen constant criticism of their work in the media. The heavy load of criticism from experts – also from colleagues in academia - takes its toll on everyone involved. It is true that critique and debate are at the core of research; they force us to be better, to reach higher, dig deeper and never be content. But the kind of criticism that demands perfection from the outset is not helpful. This is explained very well by Dr. Michael Ryan from the WHO: “If you need to be right before you move, you will never win. Perfection is the enemy of the good when it comes to emergency management. Speed trumps perfection. And the problem in society we have at the moment is everyone is afraid of making a mistake. Everyone is afraid of the consequence of error, but the greatest error is not to move, the greatest error is to be paralyzed by the fear of failure.”
Our employees have worked under the premise that this entire project’s purpose is to help limit the spread of infection through early warning and quarantine of possibly infected people. Limiting the spread of infection reduces the number of people that get ill and decreases the need for severe social distancing restrictions, allowing society to open up once more. In effect, the aim of the project is to save lives and jobs. This is a very tall order and our employees have understood, and accepted this challenge and worked as hard as humanly possible to solve it.
It is also time to thank those who enabled Simula to act when action was crucial. These are first and foremost the Ministry of Research and Higher Education, the Ministry of Transport, the Ministry of Local Government and Modernization, and the Ministry of Justice and Public Security. These ministries have funded our research for a long time and thus positioned us to be prepared to contribute. Every year, I write a short introduction to the annual report for the previous year, and for reasons I cannot reconstruct I wrote about how well prepared Simula is to handle digitization. Perhaps a little cocky. Little did I know this preparedness would be tested in a rather brutal manner just a few short months after I wrote it.
Our preparedness is also founded on close collaborations with the University of Bergen through Simula UiB and with Oslo Metropolitan University through SimulaMet. In developing Smittestopp, SimulaMet has played a decisive role both in the management and development of the app.
I would also like to thank the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, The Norwegian Directorate of eHealth, and The Research Council of Norway for acting so quickly and in an unbureaucratic manner when it was completely necessary. Our collaboration has been a pleasure.
Finally, I would like to thank all the people out there that have downloaded this app, despite the criticisms and debates in the press. There is an element of trust in doing so, and we are humbled by this. By doing so you are contributing to the public health efforts in Norway and to our chance to properly deal with this crisis. I cannot promise perfection, and I cannot promise no more critical news. That is impossible. But I can guarantee that we will continue to do our very best. Every minute.
Professor Aslak Tveito