Saturday, March 14, 2020

"Flattening the curve" is a striking example of innumeracy of the fake news media

Many of us were amazed by the insight of one female journalist – and indirectly all the people in her news outlet – that if a candidate divided $500 million for a campaign among the U.S. citizens, each citizen would get over $1 million! ;-)



This example of the leftists' mathematical skills is extreme but in less extreme forms, we encounter their shocking stupidity many times a day. If you sometimes post something about Covid-19 on social networks, you had to experience a particular reaction or insight yesterday. A hysterical user arrives and says something like
We had to abolish the NHL and NBA in order to "flatten the curve". See the picture above. Without the ban of these sports events, our hospitals get overloaded, but with it, they will always be fine. As you can see on the picture, the 99% of the capacity will be utilized during the maximum.
The stupidity needed to parrot this stuff – and indeed, all these people are parroting it basically verbatim – is just absolutely flabbergasting.



Bill has linked to an article by Joscha Bach and I subscribe to every word in Bach's explanation why the meme is wrong – although I am not quite sure whether I agree with Bach's proposed policies to fight the virus.



The main problems are that

* the promoters of these meme just make šit up and not a single claim they make is backed by any evidence (or imaginable evidence); they just don't distinguish fiction from reality at all
* when you calculate the probability that their statements are all right, it's basically zero due to the vast unpredictability of the growth of the number of cases on one side (the side of the denominator), and the tiny relative effect of NHL and NBA on the other side (the numerator).

So let's be a little bit slow. The snake oil salesmen spreading the meme (and it has appeared in NPR, Wired, and tons of other far left outlets) make several statements such as

A) we will run out of hospital beds if we don't cancel NHL+NBA
B) we will not run out of hospital beds if we do cancel NHL+NBA

Now, there is no evidence supporting A and there is no evidence supporting B. Their negations might be true instead. So the probability that both A and B are correctly could be estimated as 1/2 times 1/2 = 1/4. The snake oil salesman are just inventing things or making guesses. This estimate is based on some agnosticism and the assumption that the two assertions are independent.

However, in reality, the probability that both statements are correct at the same moment is vastly smaller than 1/4 simply because these two assertions are extremely negatively correlated. Why? Simply because they only differ by the negation; and by an obviously small term, the cancellation of NBA+NHL. For example, in Wuhan, you know, they played neither NHL nor NBA matches, and the virus has expanded there, anyway. And they canceled neither NHL nor NBA there and the virus was tamed!



A wonderful 1986 cartoon documentary about the immunity system.

So the statements A and B are almost opposite to each other. For them to be right, you need the small effect of NBA+NHL to be exactly the right one that gets the "maximum number of beds you need" from a point above the capacity level to a point below the capacity level. The probability is roughly equal to\[

Prob = \frac{\Delta N_{\text{due to NHL and NBA}}}{\Delta N_{\text{due to all conceivable changes in policies}}}

\] where \(\Delta N\) are some estimates of the variations of the maximum number of beds \(N\) that you will need. (Maybe \(\log N\) should be used instead of \(N\).) The situation in which the NBA+NHL really changes the qualitative behavior is equivalent to a fine-tuning in the sense of particle physics, and is therefore "unnatural" and unlikely. A small effect is very unlikely to change the answer to a big qualitative question from Yes to No or vice versa.

The same implausible demagogic claims have been made in the case of the climate hysteria, of course. That hoax was a rehearsal for this more heated hysteria that people are undergoing today. In the climate case, you were told something like

A: all polar bears will go extinct if you drive your SUV
B: polar bears will be saved if you stop using your SUV

Every sane person knows that it's ludicrously unlikely that the fate of the polar bear species could depend on one person's (or even one country's) usage of the SUVs. If the SUVs influence the climate in any detectable way at all (and the answer is No), this influence is one of thousands or millions of comparably large influences that will decide about the fate of the polar bears. The fate of the polar bears is far from being "equivalent" to a statement about the climate (polar bears don't really "love" the cold weather, they're just better than other species at dealing with the cold weather). The fate of the climate isn't the same thing as the fate of the CO2 emissions. The fate of the global CO2 emissions isn't the same thing as the fate of the American CO2 emissions, let alone emissions from SUVs only, let alone emissions from one particular SUV etc.

The correlation between "using your SUV" and "seeing polar bears extinct by 2100" is of course basically zero for absolutely all practical purposes and most of the impractical purposes, too.

But here we go again. Some demagogues are just inventing pure šit and millions of people are so stupid that they are consuming this šit while smacking their lips. In fact, these millions of incredibly gullible and stupid people seem to be vigorously helping the demagogues to shove the šit down their own throats!

So the NBA+NHL almost certainly won't impact qualitative questions such as "whether the U.S. will run out of the some quality hospital beds". The total number of cases at one moment may peak at hundreds of millions in the truly worst-case scenario but it may also peak at a number comparable to a few thousand. There is some five orders of magnitude in between. For someone to claim that he "knows" that it must be some number that is much higher than the current one means for him to become a 100% dishonest seller of the totally irrational hysteria.

We don't know whether the U.S. or another country will ever run out of the beds or ventilation devices. We know that they're clearly more needed than they were a few months ago so someone should better produce additional ones. It still won't be clear whether their capacity will ever be saturated. Perhaps even more seriously, the U.S. needs to do lots of tests now, to mimic what we do in Czechia.

Now, look at First it came to Wuhan, a guest blog at Scott Aaronson's website. The degree to which it's just journalistic porn containing zero valid or justified information, just journalistic porn meant to throw gullible readers out of psychological balance, is unquestionably a PhD degree or higher.

In that text, we learn about a funny "most expensive dinner" in China, a peasant ate a bat and the world has already paid trillions of dollars. Fair and funny. Everything else is just terrible demagogy. The virus is exactly the same as the Holocaust, we learn, so some random politicians in other countries are surely on par with the architects of the Holocaust. (How can someone write such a thing? The Holocaust was an intentional campaign while the epidemics probably isn't.) Also, there are various years around 1939 or something and the Jews should start mass migration because of the virus. It will surely help! No, it won't. Too bad that even around 1939, they couldn't predict which places would be conquered by the Nazis so even then, the recommendation to "move" would be useless.

Now, the crackpot wasn't enough which is why Scott Aaronson decorated the story by lots of "scary" extra stuff that he just made up. The lower bound on the number of U.S. casualties is surely 250,000, we learn. The current number is 50 U.S. fatalities but without providing the tiniest glimpse of evidence, Scott Aaronson finds it OK to claim that he has proven that the minimum will be higher by a factor of 5,000. Readers want to see the proof, Aaronsons obviously doesn't give them one, but he still pretends that he has it. We also learn that most colleagues of Aaronson etc. have turned into preppers, selling all assets and buying a log cabin or something.

Many readers are unsurprisingly dissatisfied that Aaronson's blog has turned into this cesspool of absolutely worthless and outrageous deceitful misinformation and porn whose only purpose is to make everyone who is stupid or sensitive enough hysterical. But Scott Aaronson couldn't care less about the proof that he has abandoned all integrity that he could have hypothetically possess at some rare moments in the past that were too special for me to remember them. Instead, he doubled down.

His claims, like the lower bound 250,000 on the number of Covid-19 deaths in the U.S., have already been proven and his critics were proven wrong, he told his readers. How were they proven? Someone in Austin was diagnosed with the new kind of cough. So "obviously" all universities canceled their semesters, we learn. And he, a true American hero, has hid in the basement where he also buried his family, like the Austrian guy, and they will be there at least up to the summer! And he literally brags about being this kind of a cowardly big cousin of a mouse keeping his relatives in the basement, while this asocial behavior that he displays is also pretended to be a proof of his assertions. It proves absolutely nothing about the lying rodent's assertions, of course. It only proves that someone is an asocial big cousin of a mouse.

People are bombarded by such an incredible amount of misinformation and so many people are so stupid that they just buy it that I am pretty sure that the outcome won't be compatible with the restoration of the civilization. For example, some complete aßhole in Ohio, a governor or similar crap, has asserted that there are about 100,000 Covid-19 positive in Ohio. It's ludicrous nonsense, of course. The fatality rate isn't much below 0.1% (look at the cruise ship, for example) so there would already be at least hundreds of deaths in Ohio if the claim about 100,000 were right (there are none or almost none). It's implausible that 100,000 people were infected at almost the same moment so many people would already be in big trouble by now. How stupid do you have to be not to figure out that this is just pure fake news by a complete moron who should be arrested for many more years than the people who scream "fire" in a full movie theater? It's amazing that we punish people for an innocent "fire" in the movie theater but "Ohio has 100,000 infections now" is just fine! Feel free to leave that electric chair, aßhole, why not?

Lying filth is just exponentially gaining power and influence by increasing their production of pure lies, fabrications that they make up that either lack any evidence whatsoever or, like in this case, may be almost rigorously proven to be rubbish. And I see no way to stop it. Honest journalists are being removed by the lying filth. Most recent, some filth fired Trish Regan from Fox News because she dared to say the truth. Now, Fox channels will probably try to outCNN the CNN. Will they also fire Sean Hannity tonight?


P.S.: I wrote that I wasn't sure whether I agreed with Bach's proposals, a China-style containment. I would prefer a global China-style containment if it were prepared globally so that it could be successful. What does it mean? A curfew, face masks for everybody, and intense testing of suspicious people at all times, for a month or so.

But the family of countries in the world is not really ready. The testing isn't done properly in Italy (and not even in the U.S. so far) – that's clearly a big difference that makes the number of Korean fatalities a lot lower and looking even more lower (and similarly it's zero in Czechia now): we just do lots of testing. If you have more than 5% of the tests positive (see testing numbers per countries), it's clear that you are not testing enough. Italy (and even the U.S. now) have a far higher percentage of the positive results of tests so the disease is ahead of their control. You need to produce a greater number of testing devices and give the license to a greater number of labs. That's far more important than the NHL.

And governments should simply prescribe an available replacement for the face masks because those play a big role, too.

It was the concentrated "extreme measures" in China that have reduced the cases to a tiny fraction within a month and China has basically reopened for business. Should you concentrate the fight against the virus to one period, or should you fight less intensely but for a longer time? What do you think about the answer to this question? It's not rocket science, is it?

Well, it's not hard to answer the question but the question and the answer are actually isomorphic to the most important, Tsiolkovsky's problem in rocket science. How do you divide the burning of the rocket fuel over time to achieve a maximum speed or the maximum distance of the rocket from the Earth's surface? The answer is, of course, that you must burn all the fuel as quickly as possible (as allowed by the engines and/or astronauts' stomachs). If you were burning it slowly, you would be wasting your fuel for (if I exaggerate) keeping the rocket at a fixed altitude for some time, and that's indeed wasteful.

It's exactly the same thing with the virus fight. It's the sudden, shocking blow that China gave to the virus quickly enough (weeks) that has changed the dynamics. If you reduce your GDP to 1/2 and ban events, maybe the evolution will still be comparable to some stagnation. We don't really know whether these policies are enough to turn the growing trend to a decreasing one and we shouldn't pretend that we know the answer. You may be shutting down 1/2 of your GDP for a year – or for a month but do it many times a year and again and again – without clear results. China has basically shut down 99% of the Hubei GDP for one month – i.e. paid 10% of the regional GDP as a price – and so far it seems enough. What they did looked terrifying but it has had an effect.

If we don't have a clear plan "what we will do in 2 weeks" (depending on the numbers of new cases and fatalities in those 2 weeks), especially if our half-intense measures won't seem as enough, we shouldn't start these half-intense measures at all! Because we could be just entering a new business-as-usual in which 1/2 of the GDP (and artists' activities and tons of other things) are just killed almost permanently. Instead of that, it's just much better to allow Mother Nature to do whatever She approximately wants to do and adapt (adaptation, not mitigation, has always been the better advise in the contexts of the climate change panic, too).

Even if the virus goes nearly extinct after a month or two, there will almost certainly be places in the world where at least some copies of the virus will survive. Up to some moment weeks ago, the virus was rather similar to SARS 1 by the numbers. But by now, I think that this virus has already won the battle for its place under the Sun and it will stand somewhere next to flu. It will be more harshly fought and a new chance to make it completely extinct may come with a vaccine. But before the vaccine, I am pretty sure that the number of known active cases won't be strictly zero in 2020 or even in 2021. If the nonzero value of the number of active cases is enough for some people to kill 1/2 of the economy, then the world will have killed about 1/2 of the economy on a pretty permanent basis. Do you really want it? Have you lost your mind? Wealth isn't a meaningless number. A poorer mankind won't be able to cure the sick as well, either. On top of that, a mankind that is fully invested to the fight against a virus – mankind without culture, science, and sports – won't be much better than the virus itself, and to root for one side will be a symptom of a bias.



Czechia's singing minister of health has recorded his Plan B for Covid-19. The song is called Let It Be.

If we can't establish a one-month-long China-like cure that is sufficiently close in its efficiency to be nearly sure that it will be enough, we should collectively accept that the virus will find its own equilibrium and we should stop semi-big, self-harming fights against this fact.

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