Having 2020 hindsight

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Bill’s Opinion

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.

7 Replies to “Having 2020 hindsight”

  1. If you’d told me on Jan 1 that in a few months a virus with a case fatality rate of 0.6% (tops) would cause the total closure of the world, I would have laughed. I’d have said, no one will put up with that. There’ll be uproar.

    Yet here we are, and most people would be happy to stay locked down, put everyone else’s life on hold and destroy their dreams and livelihood, forever.

    We’re getting to know our neighbours, aren’t we.

    1. “We’re getting to know our neighbours, aren’t we.”

      This is the point for me. At least I have a good idea of who I will need to stab in the face to clear my way for the evacuation when a real crisis hits us.

  2. I wouldn’t be Schindler, that’s for sure, but hopefully I’d have been one of the thousands of people that nope’d out of Europe when it became clear to the cynically-inclined that troubles were ahead.

    Now, if someone would kindly point me to the nearest free country to escape to it would be greatly appreciated. Hello? Is anyone there?

  3. This is a very interesting view, from Billy and in the comments.

    In many ways, I agree – but there are somewhat extenuating circumstances: some of which follow.

    1. This bastard infection has cunningly planned to be deadly, but not too deadly. This means there is real doubt as to whether quarantine/lockdown/the-works is good or bad policy. If only this were SARS or the common cold, it all would have been so much easier to manage.

    2. The bastard infection has also managed to deliver widespread person-to-person infection before visible symptoms appear, to a much greater extent (to my limited knowledge at least, which goes to the one person Typhoid Mary) than pretty much all previous infectious diseases. I think this has discombobulated all the pandemic modellers and medical treatment types – at least for the period it took for the first ten thousand odd to expire.

    3. On understanding statistics and modelling, the accusation of zilch knowledge has been applied well to both politicians and journalists. However (even with their not having my 30 letters of post-nominal credentialisation in STEM disciplines and their application), of late I have been a tad impressed. Some of the journalists at least have been getting to grips with both statistics and binary pattern matching theory. Soon in addition to mentioning Bayes Theorem, they will be throwing around terms such as ROC as if they were never ignorant on the topic.

    4. Many medical experts (and particularly their managers) are still struggling with not being in full control; they should join the rest of us on the whole of life. They need to paddle another boat than the one in which they are searching for and largely failing to find new prescription medicines to feed us – so that we will be grateful for their expertise. If only they had started serious work sooner and pursued more diligently the theory of anti-virals against anything that might mutate. But they were too busy lecturing, nannying, nudging and keeping their eye (and ours) off the ball – while spending all the money in the taxpayers’ medical budget on growing fat and lazy (them not us). Meanwhile, some have noticed that partakers of the delights of tobacco (whether smoked, chewed, sucked or gently warmed) seem to appear less on the casualty lists than do the abstainers. And then there is that prescriptionless heated brandy-sniffing idea. BUT YOU MUST NOT mention those in medical or government healthcare circles – otherwise you will be shunned; or worse, your funding stopped.

    Here’s to most of us still being alive, and not totally impoverished, by the time the vaccines turn up: mid 2021 to never.

    Keep safe and best regards

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