Take a guess readers. What percentage of Americans live in aged-care facilities? The answer is 0.6 per cent. Now guess what percentage of US corona deaths were suffered by those in aged-care facilities. If you answered ‘half’ then you win the prize. But most Australians, inundated by innumerate fear-porn journalism, wouldn’t come close to the right answer on that one even though it’s well over half in Victoria too.
Here’s another test of your Wuhan virus probabilities knowledge. How many Americans under the age of 16 have died of the Wuhan virus? If you guessed 39 – three dozen plus three – you got it right. But here’s the context. There are over 57 million Americans under the age of 16. For them the corona/Wuhan virus is an irrelevant cause of death, effectively zero risk. Meanwhile since the pandemic started, thousands and thousands of under 16-year-old Americans have died of other things – think drugs, alcohol, cars, suicide and cancer. Of those 39 who died with corona, almost all had other serious conditions. I know that for journalists in the business of fear-porn the Holy Grail is to find an under 16-year-old who dies of corona without any other conditions. That will be plastered all over the front page. Moreover, in a sample size as big as the US there will always be people at the far, far ends of the distribution. But you don’t design public policy around these Transit of Venus cases; you don’t mimic the former East Germany and forbid your own citizens from leaving without some bureaucrat’s approval; you don’t lock down entire economies wholly ignoring the many more net deaths these lockdowns will themselves cause and pretend it’s dangerous to those to whom it isn’t. Well, actually, if you live in Australia with what I’m now thinking are just about the world’s most worthless politicians – and I’m bipartisan in that calumny you understand – then you do.
By the way, if you’re wondering where I got those examples, I was listening this past weekend to a podcast with Avik Roy. He’s a bigtime lockdown sceptic. Now the bedwetting lockdown crowd will probably already be shouting ‘what does he know? He’s not an expert’. So I’ll fill you in. The man went to MIT to get a degree in molecular biology. Then he went to Yale University medical school to become a doctor. He soon moved into biotech investing where, he tells listeners, his main job was to understand statistics and to see where the orthodox experts were getting things wrong so as to make bets on new drugs. He now works in the charitable sector in US health care reform. As I said, he’s been a critic of the non-Swedish approach to corona since early April or so.
Now I don’t want to be unduly rude to the usual left-leaning, GP-credentialled Chief Medical Officer types who seem to be running a lot of the corona show here in Australia but if you want to talk expertise – and is there anything else the ABC believes in other than so-called ‘experts’? – then Avik Roy is a few orders of magnitude more credentialled and knowledgeable than the people driving this country’s heavy-handed, ‘short-termism on steroids’, ‘let’s implicitly try for eradication’ approach to the virus.
Here’s another thing. Dr. Roy reminded me of my days way back in Hong Kong when I had to teach classes on the philosophy of science. You see Avik Roy made clear that predictions aren’t facts. Models, which have looked woeful throughout this pandemic, can never be taken as truths or facts for the simple reason that they’re not. The facts you feed in determine what you get out. Garbage in, garbage out in other words. The facts we thought we knew in March were massively wrong yet still, weirdly, relied on by some. And science is never settled. Anyone who says that it is, to be blunt, doesn’t have a clue how science works. (I like to give the example of Newtonian physics which came as close to looking perfect for over two centuries as you can ever get and then, at the subatomic level, was shown to be wrong.) The gist of science is to offer hypotheses that can be tested and in theory proven to be false. Anyone who says ‘we won’t listen to that hypothesis’ is the one who is against science. They’re playing politics. And Roy noted that politics is all through this pandemic crisis. One example he gave was of top journals not publishing pieces because they might, in the editors’ view, make people too optimistic and not careful enough. But that ‘suppress these facts’ attitude is politics not science. And we’ve seen tons of it in this country too.
Roy also talked about kids going to school. He said the evidence for this in all situations was overwhelming. The Europeans got this one correct. There are almost no examples, by the way, of kids infecting adults. He mentioned that this fact so irked the New York Times that when a study came out in Korea about 41 supposed cases of kids infecting adults they ran it on the front page. When it turned out that 40 of them were in fact instances of the kids and adults being simultaneously infected by someone else, and the 41st was a teenager infecting her sibling, the New York Times (this will shock you I know) did not run the correction on the front page or anywhere prominent.
Here’s my view. Medical knowledge is not the key skill that’s needed in dealing with the Chinese communist Wuhan virus, not unless your interest is in how, say, the virus works by attacking cells. But if your concern is what a modern day democracy like Australia ought to do in terms of policies then what you need is a skill set that is big on knowledge of probabilities, statistics and economics. Maths is key, my friend, and I don’t say that just because I did my first degree in mathematics. I say it because so many journalists and politicians are basically innumerate, clueless about probability and unable (or unwilling) to put things in context.
Let me finish with Avik Roy’s three pieces of advice for handling the crisis had we known all along what we know now. 1. Don’t close the schools, ever, no matter what. 2. Don’t do the New York/Victoria lockdowns. (Florida barely locked down, has had more cases than NY, but well under a third the deaths. Absorb that fact!) 3. Focus on aged-care homes and the vulnerable. Basically that’s Sweden except they screwed up the third of these. But their approach has been right and ours wholly wrong.
What we’re doing is laughable, disgracefully heavy-handed and totally unfair to the private sector. I’m now ready to vote for any ‘no lockdown’ political party that comes along, to hell with their other policies.
If you want change you need to adopt that attitude too.
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