There, I’ve got that headline in before all the wanky retrospectives start to land in the media around early December.
Seriously though, we’re three quarters of the way through, what have we learned (or perhaps had reinforced) this year?
Here’s my personal list, in no particular order:
- All data is shit. All of it. It took a global pandemic to show us that multi-national organisations like the WHO have been collecting unrelated data across countries yet making decisions as if there was even an iota of credibility when comparing, say, China’s medical statistics with France’s and New York’s.
- No politician or journalist can read a chart or has any comprehension of statistics. Understanding the relationship between testing volume, testing results, ICU admissions and fatalities is critical to making informed evidence-based decisions, yet not a single politician or journalist has been able to articulate this properly. The consequence is an epidemic of panicked headlines about rising case numbers without any reference to the possibility this might be a function of increased testing.
- The only models we should trust are made by Hornby and go round a Double O gauge rail track. Seriously, just fuck off with your models predicting the outcome of a situation with an almost infinite number of inputs. “No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy” an’ all that. Keep that shitty model you created using Lotus 123 with a Commodore 64 in your parents spare bedroom where it belongs.
- Experts. If ever there was a devalued noun, expert would be it. Sure, you might be the foremost authority on a coronavirus, or you may know more than any other human about the spread of infectious diseases, but you probably know less than my pet goldfish on how a complicated modern supply chain functions, the impact of reduced social contact on mental health, the long term impacts of a year’s loss of primary school education or the consequences of the removal of economic progress on life expectancy in the third world. An expertise that is twenty fathoms deep but only one inch wide is not what we need to make national level decisions.
- Our neighbours are more bovine than lionlike. They’re happy to take government largesse for months despite the very awkward silence about an obvious change of strategy (“flatten the curve” became “zero cases” without anyone being told, let alone being asked). They’re also really quick to post accusatory pictures and comments on social media damning each other’s behaviour.
The Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect should be at the front of mind from now on for the rest of our lives:
- “Masks don’t work”
- “Flatten the curve”
- “Get tested”
- “Don’t waste tests”
- “Stay indoors”
- “Vitamin D is best”
- “We trust the carbon emissions data from China”
- “Look at and trust our computer model predicting climate change”
As for all our virtue signalling hashtagging fellow citizens….. Jordan Peterson has been proven correct; we all think we’d be Schindler, but statistically, the evidence is we’d be the unquestioning camp guard.