Sometimes it’s never good enough

I’ve, in the past, suggested that climate scientists could end up being criticised whatever happens. If the impact of climate change ends up being less severe than it could have been, climate scientists will probably be criticised for being alarmists. This will probably happen even if the reason why the impacts were less severe was because we actively did things to limit our emissions and to adapt to the changes that were unavoidable. On the other hand, if climate change does end up being severely disruptive, climate scientists will probably be criticised for not speaking out enough.

I may, of course, be wrong and most commenters may appreciate that giving scientific advice about a complex topic is very difficult and that scientists can’t really be held responsible for the decisions that were made. I have a suspicion, though, that we might be about to get some idea of whether or not this is likely on a much shorter timescale than would be the case for climate change.

My guess is that those giving scientific advice about the coronavirus may end up in a similar position. If the mitigation strategies are successful at limiting the impact of the virus, they’ll probably be criticised for suggesting strategies that were too extreme. On the other hand, if the impact is extreme (as I hope it won’t be) they’ll probably be criticised for not having spoken out early enough, or for not having suggested more stringent constraints.

Again, I may be wrong, but it will be interesting to see what happens once this crisis is mostly over. We might expect some criticism from some of the more vocal media critics, but it will also be interesting to see the response from some of the more vocal policy experts. In particular, from those who spend their time suggesting that scientists are naive for thinking that there is a simple path from scientific advice to policy making. You’d like to think that they would appreciate the complexity of this situation and realise that if there isn’t a simple relationship between science advice and policy, you can’t then simply judge the scientific advice on the basis of the effectiveness of the subsequent policy. You might, of course, be wrong.

We’ll have to wait and see. Whatever happens, it will probably still be an opportunity to learn something about the complex relationship between scientific advice, policy making, and how this is then received by the broader public.

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105 Responses to Sometimes it’s never good enough

  1. dikranmarsupial says:

    Yes much like the Y2K thing but with higher stakes and less predictability. Easy for armchair experts with their hindsight-o-scope.

  2. John Hartz says:

    ATTP: Most people are going to focus on what the political leadership did or did not do. For example…

    Leaders who saw the coronavirus threat saved lives. Those who didn’t endangered them.

    World leaders who denied the coronavirus’s danger made us all less safe by Alex Ward, Vox, Mar 30, 2020

  3. anoilman says:

    If climate scientists walked on water, deniers would b*tch that they couldn’t swim.

  4. Everett F Sargent says:

    I give you … The Laptop …

    Looks sort of like two power law relationships with a break point at 29 days.

  5. Steven Mosher says:

    “Yes much like the Y2K thing but with higher stakes and less predictability. Easy for armchair experts with their hindsight-o-scope.”

    High stakes Uncertain facts.

    Post normal science. I should write something. later.

    I have hesitated posting any charts or graphs on this clusterfuck.

    I look at it this way. Making any prediction about the future course of this thing
    amounts to giving medical advice and I am not licensed to do so. heck
    any comment on this could be construed as giving medical advice.

    To tell the truth I have done some charts. And then I just sat there and said
    Stop. Steven. Just stop. Guys/Gals working on this know what they are doing.
    So I play with the numbers because that is what we do, to distract myself.
    I make the chart. I delete it. rinse repeat. I hope the math will have an answer.
    it never does. make another chart. delete it.

    And now I look back and I am sorry I even said anything. Did I convince someone of something?
    is it the right thing to even do? Did I panic someone? did I give them a false sense of security?
    Did I suggest a course of action they have no way of following through on? Did I distract people
    from what they really should be listening to? Did I merely add to the noise? did I amplify social discord in a time when working together might be a thing to try? How much responsibility should I take for my words.

    Some kid said listen to the scientists. She should have said, shut up and listen.
    sounds weird me saying this. Every day I listen (in translation) to the nice lady from civil defense
    in the yellow jacket. She lists the numbers. She honors the dead. She reminds me to
    wash my hands. And because I cannot talk back to her, mansplain something, or ask
    her questions, it works. I am grateful for the translation and happy that I can’t ask her questions
    in my language. I shut up and listen. weird.

    I see Doctor Roy is on WUWT “asking questions”

    And I started to wonder. Maybe folks should be licensed to ask questions.

    there is probably an interesting tie in to “decoupling”, I’ll leave that to Willard.

  6. David B Benson says:

    Everett F Sargent — Thanks for that. Don’t know what to make of it?

  7. “This will probably happen even if the reason why the impacts were less severe was because we actively did things to limit our emissions …”

    Right. And we’ve been so successful to date in limiting emissions …

    w.

  8. Everett F Sargent says:

    DBB.

    Cumulative dailies from the JHU website for confirmed COVID-19 cases for all of Europe plus the USA, plotted in log-log format (where a power law would show up as a straight line), On or about the 29th day into the time series Italy kicks in followed rapidly by the rest of the so-called EU+USA west..

    I can give no real justification (e. g. theory) for what appears to be the two power law relationships, I looked rather briefly on the web and found this …
    https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.02.16.20023820v2
    which mentions a power law relationship, but I really have not read it as of yet.

    I think the real point of the plot though is the rather remarkable inflection point on day 29 (2020-02-20), that first asymptote (in log-normal format) is 58 confirmed cases. Meaning that no one was either testing and/or paying much attention to the COVID-19 virus for perhaps a few days after day 29, at least in the so-called west.

  9. Everett F Sargent says:

    I gift you … The Ladder …

    Starts at day 29, same as the inflection point in The Ladder (could also call that 1st plot …The Lawnchair). I don’t expect either curve to maintain a near linear log-log relationship indefinitely (You can shift both curves to the left by 12 and 9 days, respectively, to obtain the highest R^2 values.
    These offsets (for R^2 hacking) will (or may) change for each new day added (or subtracted for that matter), so don’t go extrapolating these curves, as this is simply a curve fitting exercise).

  10. Everett F Sargent says:

    Flip!

    “… same as the inflection point in The Ladder… “‘

    should be …

    ” … same as the inflection point in The Laptop … ”

    Sorry about that one.

  11. David B Benson says:

    Stephen Mosher — yes, thank you.

  12. Willis,

    Right. And we’ve been so successful to date in limiting emissions …

    I’ve never really understood why people think this is some kind of suitable response. That we’ve failed to reduce emissions doesn’t mean that there aren’t consequences to not doing so.

  13. dikranmarsupial says:

    SM “Maybe folks should be licensed to ask questions.”

    Everybody has a right to ask questions. However rights and responsibilities are flip sides of the same coin, so we need to consider what the responsibilities that go with that right might be.

    “I look at it this way. Making any prediction about the future course of this thing
    amounts to giving medical advice and I am not licensed to do so. heck
    any comment on this could be construed as giving medical advice.”

    This sounds like discharging that responsibility to me.

    “Right. And we’ve been so successful to date in limiting emissions …”

    this, on the other hand, does not. Shabby rhetoric that evades the answers to the questions is not needed (of course Willis knows perfectly well why emissions reductions have had relatively little success to date – it is because some have lobbied/argued vigorously against them – inclding Willis).

  14. …and Then There’s Physics says:
    March 31, 2020 at 8:50 am

    Willis,

    Right. And we’ve been so successful to date in limiting emissions …

    I’ve never really understood why people think this is some kind of suitable response. That we’ve failed to reduce emissions doesn’t mean that there aren’t consequences to not doing so.

    From the head post:

    This will probably happen This will probably happen even if the reason why the impacts were less severe was because we actively did things to limit our emissions

    I was just pointing out that although at the urging of many we “actively did things to limit our emissions” … they were totally ineffective. So they will NOT be the reason that the impacts may be less severe.

    w.

  15. Dave_Geologist says:

    Justin Thingie on the BBC Today Programme is at it already. Yesterday trying to tempt a molecular biology Nobel to say models are rubbish, just before interviewing Neil Ferguson. Today pushing the line that the government got the wrong scientific advice early on. IIRC he’s the interviewer of choice when you get false balance from a GWPF member or a Wakefield supporter.

    I was concerned when Vallance mentioned herd immunity. But then he’s a businessman and manager with less than a decade of clinical experience, decades ago. His knighthood must be for services to the pharmaceutical industry, as a manager not a researcher. But we have to see all the advice. Normal practice is ministers, like business managers, like to see options laid out. Not take-it-or-leave-it. For example:

    A deep recession and 20,000 deaths or

    An economic blip and 200,000 deaths.

    You can choose the second and still claim to be following scientific advice. Of course, we’ll never find out because the convention is that advice is never published, because it would make the advisers less open and forthright.

    And actually the first quote I found is more nuanced: note the crucial words “longer term”

    He described how a majority of the UK’s population of more than 65 million would need to be infected with coronavirus for the risk of widespread future outbreaks to recede.

    “We think this virus is likely to be one that comes year on year, becomes like a seasonal virus,” he told Sky News.

    “Communities will become immune to it and that’s going to be an important part of controlling this longer term.

    “About 60% is the sort of figure you need to get herd immunity.”

    Did he really say go for herd immunity now, up-front, even if it overwhelms the NHS? Or just that we won’t be out of this until we have herd immunity (either by infection or from a vaccine)?

  16. dikranmarsupial says:
    March 31, 2020 at 9:25 am

    “Right. And we’ve been so successful to date in limiting emissions …”

    This, on the other hand, does not. Shabby rhetoric that evades the answers to the questions is not needed (of course Willis knows perfectly well why emissions reductions have had relatively little success to date – it is because some have lobbied/argued vigorously against them – including Willis).

    The reason emission reductions “have had relatively little success to date” is that around the globe, people are totally unwilling to give up the manifold and obvious benefits of fossil fuels in exchange for a POSSIBLE but far from guaranteed tiny temperature reduction in 100 years.

    For example, if the US went to zero emissions tomorrow AND the IPCC estimates and claims are correct, the earth will be cooler in 2050 by … wait for it … a tenth of a degree C.

    And of course, the US going to zero emissions tomorrow or anytime soon would destroy the economy and cost trillions and trillions of dollars … all for a POSSIBLE tenth of one degree C cooling in 2050.

    And you wonder why folks aren’t buying into that brilliant plan?

    Really?

    You’re trying to blame me for the fact that e.g. the Chinese, Brazilians, Indians, and yes, Americans, are simply unwilling to accept some low-class, low-energy, poverty-stricken lifestyle without fossil fuels just because you and your friends have your knickers all in a twist regarding what you imagine will happen in the distant future.

    Sorry, but that has nothing to do with me or with people lobbying. That has to do with people making a reasonable, informed balancing of costs and benefits and deciding against your plan. Too much cost for too little benefit.

    Regards to all, stay well in these parlous times,

    w.

  17. Willis,

    I was just pointing out that although at the urging of many we “actively did things to limit our emissions” … they were totally ineffective. So they will NOT be the reason that the impacts may be less severe.

    Sure, if we continue to increase our emissions (or even simply continue to emit) then it becomes less and less likely that the impacts will be less severe. There’s a chance that we could be lucky and the impacts will be less severe even if we do fail to limit our emissions, but I suspect that this is becoming increasingly unlikely.

  18. Dave_Geologist says:

    Willis: “but RCP8.5 is impossible now”.

    Still, pat yourself on the back over our partial failure, if that’s what floats your boat.

  19. Willis,

    For example, if the US went to zero emissions tomorrow AND the IPCC estimates and claims are correct, the earth will be cooler in 2050 by … wait for it … a tenth of a degree C.

    Yes, if globally we only reduce emissions by ~50GtC relative to some counterfactual world, then the impact on global temperatures will be small. What’s your point?

  20. dikranmarsupial says:

    Willis “The reason emission reductions “have had relatively little success to date” is that around the globe, people are totally unwilling to give up the manifold and obvious benefits of fossil fuels in exchange for a POSSIBLE but far from guaranteed tiny temperature reduction in 100 years.”

    Yawn an why are they unwilling? How many WUWT articles have you written that encourage that uniwllingness?

    “For example, if the US went to zero emissions tomorrow AND the IPCC estimates and claims are correct, the earth will be cooler in 2050 by … wait for it … a tenth of a degree C.”

    so why did you choose 2050? Will the warming from todays emissions have equilibriated by then? No. I said you were posting shabby rhetoric and you are just demonstrating that is what you are doing.

    Of course nobody is asking JUST the US to end emissions, but for there to be a global reduction, so that is just more shabby misleading rhetoric.

    “You’re trying to blame me for the fact”

    This is rhetorical hyperbole. Of youse you as an individual are not to blame for that, but you have played your part in encouraging it, so it is obvious shabby rhetoric to then question why emissions reductions have not been more successful.

    The only person you are fooling is yourself.

  21. …and Then There’s Physics says:
    March 31, 2020 at 10:42 am

    Willis,

    For example, if the US went to zero emissions tomorrow AND the IPCC estimates and claims are correct, the earth will be cooler in 2050 by … wait for it … a tenth of a degree C.

    Yes, if globally we only reduce emissions by ~50GtC relative to some counterfactual world, then the impact on global temperatures will be small. What’s your point?

    My point? My point is that reasonable people don’t want to spend trillions and live wretched poverty-stricken lives in exchange for a POSSIBLE tenth of a degree cooling in the far-distant year of 2050.

    w.

  22. dikranmarsupial says:

    “My point? My point is that reasonable people don’t want to spend trillions and live wretched poverty-stricken lives in exchange for a POSSIBLE tenth of a degree cooling in the far-distant year of 2050.”

    However reasonable people, if they are not mislead by shabby rhetoric, will realise that (i) it isn’t just the US that is being required to make reductions, so the decrease in temperatures will be larger than Willis suggests (ii) that the warming won’t stop in 2050, so the decrease in temperatures will be larger than Willis suggests and (iii) we don’t all live in the developed world and there are places that are ill-equipped to cope with even changes in temperature that seem small to us who have temperate climate and plenty of resources. And they may decide to do something they don’t *want* to do (I don’t either) because they know it is the right thing to do for the greater good.

    However we are dull of cognitive biases, conformation bias being one of the strongest, so people like Willis vigorously arguing against emissions reductions will provide a means for people to place their short term gain over their long term interests.

  23. dikranmarsupial says:
    March 31, 2020 at 10:54 am

    Willis “The reason emission reductions “have had relatively little success to date” is that around the globe, people are totally unwilling to give up the manifold and obvious benefits of fossil fuels in exchange for a POSSIBLE but far from guaranteed tiny temperature reduction in 100 years.”

    Yawn an why are they unwilling? How many WUWT articles have you written that encourage that unwillingness?

    So the people in China and India are unwilling because I write articles? You vastly overestimate my powers. They are unwilling because they’re not stupid, they see what they get from fossil fuels.

    Of course nobody is asking JUST the US to end emissions, but for there to be a global reduction, so that is just more shabby misleading rhetoric.

    The cost is on the order of ten trillion dollars or so plus untold human misery to reduce the temperature by 1/10 of a degree C. Whether you are talking the US or the world, most people are smart enough to realize that that is a really, really bad deal.

    “You’re trying to blame me for the fact”

    This is rhetorical hyperbole. Of youse you as an individual are not to blame for that, but you have played your part in encouraging it, so it is obvious shabby rhetoric to then question why emissions reductions have not been more successful.

    Say what? You just said:

    Willis knows perfectly well why emissions reductions have had relatively little success to date – it is because some have lobbied/argued vigorously against them – inclding Willis

    You first blame me and then say I’m “not to blame for that”?

    Make up your mind, I can’t keep up with your changes.

    w.

  24. Willis,

    My point is that reasonable people don’t want to spend trillions and live wretched poverty-stricken lives in exchange for a POSSIBLE tenth of a degree cooling in the far-distant year of 2050.

    They should, though, be willing to pay the full cost of their energy choices. If so, they might discover that there are ways to generate energy that are both cheaper and that have a smaller environmental impact.

  25. Dave_Geologist says:
    March 31, 2020 at 10:36 am

    Willis: “but RCP8.5 is impossible now”.

    Still, pat yourself on the back over our partial failure, if that’s what floats your boat.

    I’m sorry, Dave, but I have no idea where or in what context I might have made that comment … and google finds exactly zero hits for “willis eschenbach “but RCP8.5 is impossible now””.

    How about a link so we can all understand what was under discussion? Because I don’t believe I ever said those exact words that you claim are a direct quote from me … and if you can’t find a link, an apology will suffice.

    w.

  26. dikranmarsupial says:

    “So the people in China and India are unwilling because I write articles”

    It seems you can’t stop the shabby rhetoric (a straw man on this occasion). No, you contribute to the unwillingness of those that read your articles and the unwillingness of those who promulgate your rhetoric on.

    “The cost is on the order of ten trillion dollars or so plus untold human misery to reduce the temperature by 1/10 of a degree C. Whether you are talking the US or the world, most people are smart enough to realize that that is a really, really bad deal.”

    This time it is evasion. The point that your evading is that the drop in temperatures from fossil fuel reductions depends on the reductions made by all nations, not just the US. Thus you are manufacturing misleading figure to use in your rhetoric. you even repeat the misleading figure again. More shabby rhetoric.

    “You first blame me and then say I’m “not to blame for that”?”

    More transparent rhetorical evasion. You used the straw man of suggesting that you were to blame for the unwillingness. That is (as I pointed out rhetorical hyperbole). I was pointing out that you are not to blame as an individual for the unwillingness, but only for the part that you have played in encouraging it, along with a host of others.

    Sadly, as I pointed out earlier, due to cognitive biases, people who want to find reasons to avoid doing something are easily taken in by this sort of rhetoric.

  27. dikranmarsupial says:

    ATTP indeed “They should, though, be willing to pay the full cost of their energy choices.”

    Indeed they should. Unless government thinks there are good reasons to subsidise their energy choices and tax the general public via other means to meet the full costs. Would Willis find that more palatable, I wonder?

  28. Ben McMillan says:

    I’m wondering if, after this year, hysterical rhetoric about how awful it would be for our lifestyles to get to net zero will become less common. A little perspective maybe on something that is actually not very disruptive and requires a very small proportion of total human endeavour. And that after all, grooowth is not the only thing that matters.

  29. Joshua says:

    dikran –

    > It seems you can’t stop the shabby rhetoric…

    And this will not change.

    I invite you to look at Willis’ rhetoric about COVID-19.

    He pleads for the government to stop issuing shelter in place restrictions, under the argument that doing so will differentially cause suffering

    He does this with total confidence, fully certain that these restrictions will differentially cause suffering.

    In so doing, he ignores the failures of our government to implement policies that would enable a viable alternative to shelter in place restrictions.

    In fact, he deleted my comments at his site pointing out the importance of those government failures. Why? Because he said that my doing so was “political.”

    Think about that, he made useless pleas at his blog to our government, knowing that doing so won’t change government policies (he acknowledges above his pleas will have no real influence). He makes similar pleas at WUWT – a site where, he frequently boasts, his opinions will be read by a lot of people – even as he explains that his doing so won’t actually influence policies.

    Willis is an addict.

    He’s addicted to the rush he gets from Trump, and he can’t face Trump’s deficiencies because doing so would reduce his rush.

    He’s addicted to the rush he gets from pissing you off, and joining with his tribe in hating on “alarmists,” and can’t face the reducing the rush by actually addressing Anders’ point in the OP.

    As with discussions about climate change, where he ignores the uncertainties about the DIFFERENTIAL impact of mitigation policies, he ignores the uncertainties about the differential impact of social restrictions to limit the spread of COVID-19.

    And he is politically focused even though like a snowflake he won’t face politically incorrect implications if his politics.

    This will not change.

    Willis is an addict.

  30. Joshua says:

    Oops. I hit post too soon.

    I meant to go back to directing that comment to Willis, rather than pretending it is only a comment to dikran about Willis. In reality it is both and I don’t like it when people direct comments to me, while pretending they are targeted at someone else

  31. Dave_Geologist says:

    It was not meant as a direct quote Willis. Merely as a gentle hint that if you investigated why RCP8.5 was created, what it is often called, and why contrarians say we shouldn’t call it that any more, you might challenge the idea that attempts so far to limit emissions have been fruitless. If you really want to educate yourself on the subject, you could do follow-up research on emissions per head, and emissions per inflation-adjusted unit of GDP, and on the energy mix of power-generation and transportation, and all sorts of other interesting stuff.

    And also on why, although not fruitless, our attempts have been less successful than they needed to be. There’s a whole literature to examine there, from a huge and mostly false grey literature (blogs, press and think-tank articles, even the odd Congressional report containing falsehoods and plagiarism), to a smaller but mostly true academic and investigative literature examining the nexus of interests and players involved in the former. You could then move on to political science and ask yourself to what extent the former had influenced those unhelpful public attitudes you mention. Hey, for fun you could even see if you fit in somewhere!

    Not holding my breath, mind.

  32. Joshua says:

    Willis –

    I’ll note that your addiction overrides your natural empathy towards doctors and nurses on the front lines, who are exposing themselves to horrid illness, for the sake of helping sick people.

    Your addiction overrides your natural empathy for people dying alone in hospital rooms because their families can’t get in to be with them.

    I’m not suggesting you don’t have that empathy. I’m saying your addiction to the rush you get from your identity-related political ideology overrides that empathy to the point that it leads you to embrace obviously shallow reasoning to aggressively advocate policies that ignore obvious and important uncertainties.

    Think of the power of your addiction, that it leads you to override your natural inclinations towards empathy.

    You have the power to counteract your addictive impulses. It is within you, if you choose to disempower your addiction, rather than feed it.

  33. Joshua says:

    Anders –

    I know some people involved in infectious disease policy formation.

    They have long said that they can’t win – that they’ll either be blamed for not doing enough or for doing too much. It’s the nature of the beast.

    And of course the same would be true for people offering advice on climate change policies.

    It’s the nature of the beast,and even more so when issues become overtly polarized politically. This should be expected, and thus proactively integrated into how people address year issues (not that it’s a mechanism that’s easy to effectively address).

    It seems that more of these kinds of issues are naturally trending towards political polarization. I’m not certain that trend exists, but I think it does.

    I think it’s a serious problem.

  34. Chubbs says:

    Like climate scientists we could blame epidemiologists; but that would be misplaced, since they have been warning of the pandemic threat for years, and about this specific virus since January. We could have had sufficient travel restrictions, testing, social distancing, contact tracing, PPE, hospital resources, etc to minimize the impact on citizens and the economy. But “we have flu epidemics every year” or “won’t happen on my watch”. Sounds familiar doesn’t it.

  35. In the US, the “RCP 8.5 business as usual” model is 1-2 million deaths. The experts- Brix and Fauci- say a 100-200,000k are possible (a tenth of the RCP8.5) and most people are applying the alarmist adjustment and worrying about the 30-80k who will die.

    Those loudly claiming today that 2 million will die in the US will tell us in a few months, no matter the final total, that they were absolutely right, even though no expert in the subject believes them today. If they follow the “peak oil” style of argumentation, they’ll claim 2 million was right because eventually over the next 100 years or so some variation of Covid19 will kill that number globally so they only got the date wrong.

    From a public health perspective, the biggest problem is the lag time to getting people to accept that “this time they are serious about the danger.” As much as the partisans want to say that was an elected official thing, it’s not- the beach near my house was packed last weekend despite the mayor, governor (D), and president (R) specifically saying, daily, “don’t do that” and threatening to arrest people. The beach was packed because young people think they’re invincible, Americans like to do the opposite of what they’re told to do, and people are used to applying an alarmist adjustment. It was so bad over the weekend that our governor and mayor upped the ante on Monday and issued “lock-down” orders which means that they’re double-serious about arresting people on the beach (you’re allowed to walk on the beach, but not sit).

  36. Joshua says:

    > Those loudly claiming today that 2 million will die in the US will tell us in a few months,

    There are missing projections of death in the absense of mitigating policies.

    Make sure you don’t mischaracterize what people are saying.

  37. Joshua says:

    Missing = modeling.

  38. Joshua says:

    > In the US, the “RCP 8.5 business as usual” model is 1-2 million deaths. The experts- Brix and Fauci- say a 100-200,000k are possible (a tenth of the RCP8.5) and most people are applying the alarmist adjustment and worrying about the 30-80k who will die.

    This is so completely full of shit.

    Fauci and Brix are predicting as many as between 100,00-200,00 deaths “even if we do everything almost perfectly.”

    Stop being full of shit.

    Do you even know what number of deaths they consider possible as you characterized?

  39. jacksmith4tx says:

    Let’s join the Extinction Rebellion with the STRIKE 2020 movement.
    COVID-19 has already upended the world order, US elections and eviscerated federal and local laws (EPA,Dept of Justice,Dept of Energy). Now is the time to loosen the grip the elite.
    Of all the tactics and plans I have seen used to change the status quo since the dawn of the industrial age the labor strike has shown to be very effective in reversing extreme wealth and power inequality.
    Thus saith Donald J Trump; “What have you got to loose?”
    https://www.genstrike.org/

  40. jamesannan says:

    Yes and no. It is very clear that some of the advice was complacent and unrealistic. This was obvious to people like me, it should have been obvious to the experts. They simply didn’t seem to approach the subject in a responsible and competent manner.

    Specifically, failing to reasonably explore and describe the uncertainty in their predictions. And being strongly biased through a lack of validation. I think it’s been a really extreme failure of the process.

  41. JCH says:

    Professor Curry says congressional aides read her blog. On the day after I said the answer was to panic and do something, Trump followed my orders: he panicked and imposed social distancing, etc. So I have the most influence.

    Do nothing, which was Fauci’s original plan, and there is no reason for the spread to stop. They were looking at China and were thinking, “we can’t do that, and it can’t work anyway, so why try, and, THE ECOMONY.” Political types saw the China curve bending over, and they thought the disease was self limiting on its own.

    These were gigantic and deadly miscalculations.

    Now we’re doing a milk toast version of what China did, and Jeff wants to take the credit.

    Do nothing, and mortality could approach 5% of the US population by the time herd immunity finally prevails (an unknown percentage.) That would mean millions of dead people, maybe more, depending on the ability of the healthcare system to keep up. Nobody getting paid. Potential failures in the water system and electrical grid, etc., the death toll could could soar to a much higher number.

    I don’t know how Ferguson topped out at 2.2 million, but he never spent a day on a farm.

    The highest death toll I saw in animal herds was 100%. There was one virus, when it was diagnosed, we killed every live animal in the herd. We didn’t wait for the virus to take its toll. We killed it in its tracks. And if it popped up down the road, we killed every live animal in that herd.

    The NYC metro population is about 20 million, around 1/3rd of Italy’s. The death toll looks like it could easily hit 5,000, maybe more.

  42. James,
    I did wonder if you would hold a slightly different view 🙂

    I certainly don’t think that science advisors should be free from criticism. Ultimately, though, policy makers are the ones who makes the decisions and who should endeavour to be informed. So, I do think that care should be taken when critiquing the contributions made by scientists who are – ideally – doing their best to inform policy makers.

  43. Joshua,

    There are missing projections of death in the absense of mitigating policies.

    Make sure you don’t mischaracterize what people are saying.

    Given that “missing” should be “modelling”, what you highlight is indeed one of the potential issues. The modelling suggests something really dreadful could happen if we don’t do anything to avoid this outcome. We end up doing something to avoid this dreadful outcome. We avoid the dreadful outcome. The scientists then get criticised for predicting an outcome that didn’t materialise.

  44. James,
    To be fair, I do realise that there probably aren’t simple rules in these kind of circumstances. There may well be circumstances where the advisors deserve to be strongly criticised for not giving suitable advice, and others when the advice was sound, but the decisions made were not. There probably isn’t an easy way to determine which situation applies.

  45. anoilman says:

    Did anyone else notice that Willis Eschenbach’s graph is itself a cherry pick which shows emissions reduction? (I’m not testing the providence of that graph..) It starts with a false premise that the switch is somehow instantaneous, and not meeting that straw man is failure. In reality most countries (including India and China) are investing heavily in both fossil fuels, and renewables in order to meet Growth demand and clean their grids. Renewables are now taking up more and more of national energy portfolios which reduces emissions. (Texas comes to mind.)

    Meanwhile, emissions have indeed climbed…. much slower thanks to use of renewables;
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_energy_consumption#Renewable_energy

    Indeed Willis Eschenbach, doing the same thing over and over again is the definition of insanity. So could you please stop doing the same thing over and over? 🙂

  46. Dave_Geologist says:

    I knew your post was going to be entirely untrue, jeff, when you used “alarmist”. And sure enough, you proved it in the next paragraph with “even though no expert in the subject believes them today”. Not that you would know an expert if she bit you on the nose.

    Find an online maths course. Learn about the exponential function. Inspect the US deaths curve. Pick the exponential section, no need to agonise over whether the measures have had an effect in the last day or too, the trend will be dominated by the previous three weeks. Extrapolate to late April/early May. Like the experts did, absent any containment measures. Admit you were wrong.

    If you’re wondering if the logistic curve would have flattened out by then, back-track two weeks for the infection-to-death interval. Don’t use the tests, they’re too few. Multiply deaths by 100 for the infection rate. Slide the curve back two weeks from the fatality curve, and extrapolate to the same dates. Test whether herd immunity has been reached yet (60-80% of the US population). Then come back here and admit you were wrong.

  47. jacksmith4tx says:

    One of the last places I would think loosening regulations makes sense in a pandemic would be operating nuclear reactors with a stressed out and over worked workforce. But here we are:
    I bet they had a scientist model this right?
    “For example, not inspecting steam generator tubes “increases the possibility of a tube leak or rupture during operation that might required a costly shutdown or worse,” Lyman told Utility Dive. “The key question here is how much additional risk will the NRC allow nuclear plants to accept in order to keep them running during this crisis?””
    https://www.utilitydive.com/news/nuclear-regulators-ease-some-power-reactor-regs-in-response-to-covid-19/575000/

  48. anoilman says:

    jacksmith4tx: That makes no sense to me. I’m in oil and technically I’m considered ‘essential services’ and allowed to work. So I guess I can’t imagine why they wouldn’t try to set up full protection against COVID-19 as base load power is more than a little bit critical.

    On the other hand… if its not melt down critical equipment, then the operators themselves probably know how well the equipment works, and probably don’t want to lose what will their most profitable quarter ever.

    Honestly (and I hate to play into opposition beliefs) many regulations are performed as a requirement, and not necessarily because it will really help anything. My own work has indeed butted up against those kinds of regulations. The reason many of those regulations were put in place is often because of poor performance from companies in the past. Hopefully they are paying attention now?

  49. jacksmith4tx says:

    anoilman: I’m just pointing out a White Swan. The current regime has wiped out decades of regulations and yet there seems to be plenty more to come. Flocks of B&W Swans await us. Oh look, another above average hurricane season is the forecast.
    “many regulations are performed as a requirement, and not necessarily because it will really help anything.” <= send a memo to the Defense Dept. ASAP!

  50. “…the trend will be dominated by the previous three weeks. Extrapolate to late April/early May.’

    Anybody extrapolating today’s data isn’t worth listening too. In my area of my state, Virginia, you may get tested if, and only if, you have recognizable Covid symptoms and have talked with a medical professional who told you to go for the test. The fact of the matter is that we know the actual infection rate in Virginia and New York and everywhere else is much higher than the reported number today, right now.
    Let’s repeat that – the number of people infected right now is much, much bigger than the reported number in the US and those infections happened as much as two weeks ago.
    When you see today’s increase in cases over the prior day, it is not the number of people it spread to yesterday, they are showing you the number of people it spread to last week or the week before and who just now got sick enough to go get tested. The numbers of cases over the next few days will grow very rapidly. The percent of cases hospitalized and dead will continue to drop.
    That’s why we’re staying home. The number who got it before the lock downs is bigger than we thought and if you don’t have it yet you don’t want it, and if you did get it last week, you need to isolate from everyone else.

  51. Joshua says:

    Jeff –

    Please address how [snip -W] you were when you wrote the following.

    > The experts- Brix and Fauci- say a 100-200,000k are possible (a tenth of the RCP8.5) and most people are applying the alarmist adjustment and worrying about the 30-80k who will die.

  52. Joshua says:

    Jeff –

    Please address how completely full of it you were when you wrote the following.

    > The experts- Brix and Fauci- say a 100-200,000k are possible (a tenth of the RCP8.5) and most people are applying the alarmist adjustment and worrying about the 30-80k who will die.

  53. Joshua says:

    Oops. Thought I needed to self-isolate that comment.

  54. Canman says:

    Here’s the only person I see who’s offering a concrete plan for dealing with rising CO2. — a green nuclear deal:

  55. JCH says:

    Lockdown by effectiveness,

    70% and below – little different than zero lockdown – the virus will readily continue spreading into those people. An example on my street, they have their maid coming twice a week. Presumably she works at other houses. Typhoid Maidy. In addition, frequent shopping, small bible study, work, etc,

    The above is a large percentage of Italy, so it chewed right through them.

    Once it’s nearing the end of eating that crowd, then it will slow down.

    College girl filmed in Wuhan had been inside her apartment for 43 straight days.

  56. Joshua says:

    JCH G

    > An example on my street, they have their maid coming twice a week. Presumably she works at other houses. Typhoid Maidy.

    You’re treating all conditions equally. The degree to which she’s a vector depends on her behaviors also. It isn’t simply matter of whether she goes in and out of multiple houses. Does wear gloves or a mask? Does she wash her hands a lot? Is it infectious through being aerosolized?

  57. anoilman says:

    Canman: Just so you know most folks here support nuclear so… not sure why you’re hanging around. Personally I don’t like nukes since they’ve never made a profit, without massive massive subsidy, and lets face it, few other technologies can wipe an economy clean (Chernobyl, Fukushima?). However it should be in the final mix for a low carbon grid.

    As the grid takes on more and more renewables its carbon footprint will increase considerably. This is for reasons you probably never bothered trying to figure out for ideological reasons. However rounding out the grid with nukes is a happy medium. And personally, if it is going to be heavily subsidized, I’d rather see that in the hands of government operators. (I’m probably in the minority on that point.)

  58. Canman says:

    Chernobyl and Fukushima (both older designs) did not wipe their economies clean. Chernobyl still kept the other three reactors going for a decade. Fukushima is probably being over cleaned. Also any increase decrease in carbon footprint from renewables will come with a considerable increase in environmental footprint.

  59. David B Benson says:

    anoilman, actually in the USA many nuclear power plants are profitable, even without capacity fees. Indeed, one company has chosen to have an older nuclear power plant re-licensed for now a total of 80 years. Well maintained ones are assets for the owners.

    There are many sources of misinformation regarding nuclear power. Stick to reliable sources such as the World Nuclear Association website.

  60. anoilman says:

    David Benson… Insurance is capped. You can’t get insurance for nuclear power plants its just not possible on this planet. That means, the public must pay for anything over that cap. This is universal for all nuclear power plants, but the legal frame work is different from region to region.

    The US Insurance cap for instance;
    https://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/fact-sheets/nuclear-insurance.html

    So no. Nuclear isn’t profitable, and never has been. Its always required subsidy (insurance cap, with public paying anything over that) to remain solvent.

  61. David B Benson says:

    anoilman — “Privatize the gains; socialize the risks.”

    The Price-Anderson provisional have never been invoked and the private insurance for the nuclear power plants has proven adequate for needs.

    As the books are kept, many nuclear power plants are profitable and the ones which are not are closed.

    Do read pages on the World Nuclear Association website, please.

  62. anoilman says:

    David.. The Price Anderson Act is in force now and is subsidizing nuclear energy in the US. (Provisional accident clauses have nothing to do with it.) I recommend you read it. Do you not see that it is currently capping their insurance to $450 million? That it is a law in effect now? That cap is reducing the cost of electricity, and it is a subsidy? It is a subsidy because the public is on the hook for a (major) accident.

    In event of an accident, other reactor owners top up to 12 billion for clean up. After that, the public pays. There’s a stark difference in insurance cost between covering an accident for $0.45 billion, and say, $12 billion, and say $200 billion for say Fukushima.
    https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/clearing-the-radioactive-rubble-heap-that-was-fukushima-daiichi-7-years-on/

    The law is in use now in order to keep electricity prices low.

  63. Steven Mosher says:

    China will start to report daily cases INCLUDING asymptomatics

    http://www.bjnews.com.cn/opinion/2020/03/31/711499.html

    Their numbers will jump up. not much ~1000 or so, but infection continues there

  64. JCH says:

    “Does wear gloves or a mask? Does she wash her hands a lot? Is it infectious through being aerosolized?”

    She’s a maid. She can’t afford gloves and masks, so no, she doesn’t wear them. If you want >70% isolation, you can’t have that. I doubt there were maids working the houses in Wuhan, though, apparently there were in the royal family in the UK. You have to be pretty careful to hit >70%.

    On the insurance, there used to be a guy from the nuclear industry posting at Climate Etc.. He described the same thing oilman is describing.

  65. David B Benson says:

    anoilman — How about human life? Read
    https://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/economic-aspects/externalities-of-electricity-generation.aspx

    Price-Anderson is a non issue as over the limit is an unquantifiable event. And clearly Tepco is going about Fukushima cleanup in the most expensive possible way, a result of Japan’s radiophobia.

    Let us try to use reason rather than just emote.

  66. David B Benson says:

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Price%E2%80%93Anderson_Nuclear_Industries_Indemnity_Act
    See the section entitled Compared to other industries

    Incidentally Clinton Anderson was my senator in my days in Los Alamos, so at the time Price-Anderson was first formulated and passed.

  67. Everett F Sargent says:

  68. izen says:

    @-David B Benson
    “Let us try to use reason rather than just emote.”

    A power plant that has long since payed back its original capital outlay, that requires few staff to run and maintain it, and has an infrequent need for new fuel would seem unlikely to make a loss.

    However if new nuclear power plants were a profitable, or even just viable, proposition then capitalism would be building them.
    Without massive government grants and guaranteed future energy prices.

  69. David B Benson says:

    izen, in the electrical power industry there are many forms of interactions with government. Even so, quite a few nuclear power plants are under construction around the world. The World Nuclear Association website surely sports a list. However there are currently only two under construction in the USA.

  70. Dave_Geologist says:

    jeff, read my post again. For understanding this time. Especially the bit about using deaths rather than confirmed cases, and why. Granny already knows how to suck eggs.

    Extrapolation is fine when the kinetics are first order*. That’s one of those situations like the inverse-square law, where there’s an underlying physical reason it’s exponential and it’s not just any old curve fit.

    Think about the distinction between unmitigated deaths and mitigated deaths. And consider how unutterably stupid it would be to claim that a (relatively) low number of mitigated deaths, achieved through mitigation, means that there was no need for the mitigation in the first place and the pre-mitigation trend (appropriately lagged) would have magically flattened off all on its own. Or perhaps you were thinking “thoughts and prayers”? Or that Birx and Co. were unaware of the mitigation measures?

    * IOW for as long as the assumption of no memory in the system is satisfied. In a physical or chemical reaction until the reservoir starts to get used up and it becomes important how much there was to start with and how much is left. In an epidemic, when the reservoir of non-immune people gets used up and it matters how many had the infection, not just how many currently have it. Oh look! I even covered that with my herd immunity comment.

  71. Dave_Geologist says:

    anoilman says: Do you not see that it is currently capping their insurance to $450 million?

    Bet Tony Hayward is jealous!

  72. Dave_Geologist says:

    JCH, there are few farms with millions of animals. More important, there are no cattle ICUs. They just get euthanised. Probably long before they’d have qualified for a bovine ICU. Also, the extent to which this disease spares the young and kills the old is very skewed, even by flu standards, and most farm animals are slaughtered young anyway. So apart from the prize bull, who’s probably in a sperm bank and no longer bellowing, there are few old animals for a disease to cull. I’m reminded of a comment from Dolly The Sheep’s cloner when she got arthritis at seven years old “is that unusual: not enough data, most sheep don’t see their first birthday”.

    Ferguson topped out at 2.2 million because that model assumes herd immunity sets in at 60% or so (it’s more transmissible than flu, but much less transmissible than measles). That, of course, assumes we can become immune, and that immunity lasts through the following season. So it’s not a worst-case model. It’s a worst-case model assuming herd immunity. Absent herd immunity, that would be about 2 million in year two, 1.8 million in year three, 1.7 million in year four, etc. It should eventually plateau, on the basis that the top whack for the top deciles is about 10%, about the same rate as new individuals move into the next decile.

    The common cold coronaviruses don’t bode well for immunity. I did come a cross a paper on SARS or MERS coronaviruses where antibodies from infected humans or lab animals were effective in vitro and in vivo at killing the vaccine. I presume that work is already ongoing for Covid-19. If it’s like those, the question would be whether the vaccines can achieve the right activation in humans, not whether the antibodies would work. If you only get a season’s immunity, it will be like picking next year’s flu vaccine but with much higher stakes. On the plus side, the cold is harmless and SARS and MERS containable, so the level of effort applied and the incentive to succeed will be higher with Covid-19. The market for a vaccine which treats a few million people and a few thousand health workers every few years is smaller than that for one that treats billions, perhaps every year. Of course the need to avoid another thalidomide is also larger.

    It may mutate to something less harmful, but this looks like a particularly nasty (i.e. effective) piece of evolution, with a low selection pressure against lethality. By killing the old, past their reproductive and productive lifespans, it can sustain a high reproduction rate and a high mortality rate without depleting its host population. The breeders will keep on breeding more hosts.

  73. Joshua says:

    > She can’t afford gloves and masks, so no, she doesn’t wear them.

    Her employers can afford them. Unless they’re idi*ts (they may well be), they’re providing them to her. Of course, that wouldn’t eliminate the risk but may lower it.

  74. JCH says:

    Again, I helped kill 100’s pigs, many of whom were perfectly healthy. They did it worldwide. We killed them to stop the spread of the virus, and to eradicate it. The virus originated in the United States in the 19th century. It spread worldwide. There were safe and effective vaccines. It kept coming back, so they switched to eradication. There has not been a sick pig in the United States since 1976. True is many other countries as well.

    The Chinese did exactly the same thing via extreme countermeasures. I recognized that instantly. The CDC did not. China’s goal was/is eradication. A herd immunity strategy with a lethal virus is murder, and China never considered it.

    The scientists and politicians of the west went with murder. They thought SARS-CoV-2 would be like a bad seasonal flu.

    Now they’ve pivoted a half-assed version of China’s countermeasures.

    The population of SARS-CoV-2 inside of China is now at a very low number, and shrinking toward a number little different than zero quickly.

    Joshua – there is not a single mask for sale in DFW. And, the masks need to go to medical workers who are working face-to-face with patients who have COVID-19.

  75. BBD says:

    James Annan said:

    Yes and no. It is very clear that some of the advice was complacent and unrealistic. This was obvious to people like me, it should have been obvious to the experts. They simply didn’t seem to approach the subject in a responsible and competent manner.

    Specifically, failing to reasonably explore and describe the uncertainty in their predictions. And being strongly biased through a lack of validation. I think it’s been a really extreme failure of the process.

    Earlier, Dave Geologist said:

    Of course, we’ll never find out [exactly what scientific advice government chose to follow] because the convention is that advice is never published, because it would make the advisers less open and forthright.

    This is right at the heart of it: did government make a politically motivated cherry pick of the advice it followed while disingenuously claiming to be ‘following scientific advice’ as if this was homogeneous?

    Perhaps if this is the case, and Cummings and Johnson made… ideologically expedient choices early on, it would explain the odd slowness to react, the outlier view that laissez faire and herd immunity was the way to go, and the subsequent somewhat stuttered U-turn.

    I think a public enquiry is absolutely necessary in due course, and advisors should be required to disclose what they said. The matter is far too serious to allow precedent on advisor confidentiality to obfuscate what happened.

  76. BBD says:

    ‘public inquiry’.

  77. Joshua says:

    JCH.

    Masks are periodically available online – not N95’s.

    A student of mine (she’s Korean and had been telling me I was wrong about wearing masks – seems she was right) sent me 15 she bought online and implored me to use them if I go out (or have others in my pod go out).

  78. JCH says:

    As I understand it, the Chinese had to wear masks when they were allowed to go out. All of their essential workers wore them. During a painting project last year I bought a pack of 6 Home Depot masks which actual seal very well. I started wearing them on my rare trips out about a week ago. My daughter has been sewing masks. We bought the highest rated HVAC filters we could find, and placed the filter cloth in a pocket between two pieces of cotton fabric. My son was worried inhaling fibers from the cloth could harmful. It’s for HVAC, so I doubt that, but encapsulating it in cotton should mitigate that risk. We were doing ours long before the famous designer was on CNN. We’re sewing in pliable wire to make them seal a face better. Very good masks.

    Shipments of masks from China have resumed, so soon all these startups will probably be broke.

  79. Cue Neo-Millerites marching back up the mountain with WE WERE RIGHT ALL ALONG banners.

  80. Everett F Sargent says:

    In twelve days (or less) the US will be #1 in deaths …

    In 30 days, with a doubling time of 6-days, the World will enter seven figure territories …

    … where the World means essentially the EU+US.

  81. Poor SARS-COVID-19 outcomes (such as death) correlate with diabetes & age.

    There are many aspects which may contribute to this, but consider:

    Diabetes leads to ectopic fat such as fatty liver disease.

    Age is correlated with thymic involution.

    The thymus gland, where T-cells go to mature, is peak at puberty but atrophies and fills with fat with age. Without new mature T-cells, immune response, particularly to new pathogens, is compromised. There is evidence that thymic involution is accumulation of ectopic fat. Like fatty liver disease, thymic involution may be fatty thymus disease:

    Evidence for this includes the fact that thymic involution can be reversed with human growth hormone and insulin sensitizing metformin:

    The best news is this: one doesn’t need external human growth hormone or metformin. Strength training and fasting increase human growth hormone and fat loss and muscle growth increase insulin sensitivity.

    To improve one’s chances against not only SARS-COVID-19 but indeed most causes of morbidity and mortality, lose fat and gain muscle. Eat for nutrient density, avoid energy dense foods and do resistance exercise.

  82. Steven Mosher says:

    “The Chinese did exactly the same thing via extreme countermeasures. I recognized that instantly.”

    yup. folks didn’t need to see a single number after watching the actions on Jan 23.
    it got serious fast

  83. anoilman says:

    Turbulent Eddie: Thanks for that ‘factoid’. “Poor SARS-COVID-19 outcomes (such as death) correlate with diabetes & age.” When in doubt blame someone else, am i right?

    Poor outcomes also correlates rather strongly to;
    1) getting infected,
    2) not having hospital beds,
    3) running out of equipment like ventilators.

    The US is just one big Cluster Trump these days.

  84. An_older_code says:

    The recent outbreak does seem to provide yet more evidence for crankmagnatisn

  85. Ben McMillan says:

    I’ve also been struck by the crankmagnetism on this. People that I previously had a glimmer of respect for.

    I’m just waiting for someone to turn up and say it is due to solar variation. I mean, colds are worse in winter…

  86. Willard says:

  87. Everett F Sargent says:

    A_o_c, BMcM,

    WTFUWT? takes the booby prize on that one, Compared to them, there can be no other entrants. Like that latest WE post, as in, let’s make up a subjective list of unitary things (or let’s call it what it really is, randomize the lockdown stuff), that’s actually very dangerous stuff, if anyone is actually stupid enough to believe what they write, that is.

  88. JCH says:

    In NYC the comic ray deaths are being incorrectly categorized as COVID-19 deaths.

  89. Everett F Sargent says:

    Well, you could go out and get skin cancer. Must expose yourself to massive doses of UV 247. Let’s just get rid of the ozone layer.

    We need a new Bingo card and call it something like CovidBall Bingo. 😉

  90. John Hartz says:

    Read it and weep…

    Partisanship is the strongest predictor of coronavirus response

    Among Americans, partisanship has been a stronger predictor than age, gender, geography, even personal experience, a new study shows.

    By David Roberts, Energy & Environment, Vox, Mar 31, 2020

    ithttps://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2020/3/31/21199271/coronavirus-in-us-trump-republicans-democrats-survey-epistemic-crisis

    In my opinion, most hard-core Republicans have been brain-washed over the years by the Far-Right Propaganda Machine. They can longer think for themselves and are programmed to regurgitate whatever poppycock is feed to them by the Machine.

  91. An_older_code says:

    the problem is “Expert” in the this current Covid 19 context is meaningless

    The term has been so debased by the idiotic media, pandering to the brain dead idiots who elevate blog/media science to something that it is clearly not

    ( Dunning and Kruger writ large)

    I mean you dont go to an expert ENT specialist to treat your lung cancer, or an oncologist to treat an in growing toe nail, or an expert plumber for a tooth extraction

    So the government can say they have consulted “experts”, but is that a dendrochronolgist or an epidemiologist?

    Both experts, one in the spread of infectious diseases the other in tree ring dating

    (it turns out its modelers and economic nudge theorists)

  92. Everett F Sargent says:

    “The term has been so debased by the idiotic media, pandering to the brain dead idiots who elevate blog/media science to something that it is clearly not

    ( Dunning and Kruger writ large)

    I mean you dont go to an expert ENT specialist to treat your lung cancer, or an oncologist to treat an in growing toe nail, or an expert plumber for a tooth extraction”

    No, you go to …

    … Donald Trumpkin, MD

  93. anoilman says:

    John Hartz: I kinda noticed that in my linkedIn feeds. Red necks and far right busy bodies were regurgitating misinformation that its no big whup. The other one is that Trudeau is trying to make a power grab to take over Canada. (Its a hazard of working in oil, those kinds of folks are among my peers.)

  94. Joshua says:

    > Here’s the tricky part: When an epidemiological model is believed and acted on, it can look like it was false. These models are not snapshots of the future. They always describe a range of possibilities—and those possibilities are highly sensitive to our actions. A few days after the U.K. changed its policies, Neil Ferguson, the scientist who led the Imperial College team, testified before Parliament that he expected deaths in the U.K. to top out at about 20,000. The drastically lower number caused shock waves: One former New York Times reporter described it as “a remarkable turn,” and the British tabloid the Daily Mail ran a story about how the scientist had a “patchy” record in modeling. The conservative site The Federalist even declared, “The Scientist Whose Doomsday Pandemic Model Predicted Armageddon Just Walked Back the Apocalyptic Predictions.”

    But there was no turn, no walking back, not even a revision in the model. If you read the original paper, the model lays out a range of predictions—from tens of thousands to 500,000 dead—which all depend on how people react. That variety of potential outcomes coming from a single epidemiological model may seem extreme and even counterintuitive. But that’s an intrinsic part of how they operate, because epidemics are especially sensitive to initial inputs and timing, and because epidemics grow exponentially.

    https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2020/04/coronavirus-models-arent-supposed-be-right/609271/

  95. John Hartz says:

    Things are going to get worse before they get better and then the entire process will likely repeat itself beginning in the Fall. Mother Nature always bats last.

  96. Amazing how climate skeptics apparently have a remarkable degree of expertise in epidemiology as well… https://t.co/s9TGP9UdOx

    — Zeke Hausfather (@hausfath) April 2, 2020

    Some of us have years of experience in compartmental modeling.
    http://peakoilbarrel.com/the-oil-shock-model-and-compartmental-models/

  97. An_older_code says:

    “All models are wrong, but some are useful”

    Who knew!!!

  98. Dave_Geologist says:

    An_older_code: “All models are wrong, but some are useful”.

    How true. And in fairness to the Ferguson team, they’re not just random modellers who’ve developed curve-fits because the crisis is in the news. They’re epidemiologists with decades of individual and centuries of collective experience who’ve developed models to ply their trade. The current one was developed over a decade ago for flu, and has just had new numbers plugged in. Numbers which, because it’s new, have larger uncertainty ranges than with hindcasting.

    I find theirs convincing, but I’m biased because of my own history. I sympathise with the messy C code they want to clean up before releasing, because early in my career I spent a year or two writing messy FORTRAN code to perform and display a variety of structural geology operations. The code is messy because I’m not a professional programmer and even where I knew the “rules”, I’d wilfully break them to get a quick result. But I know there was no garbage out, because I’d have recognised garbage out in a heartbeat. Oddly enough, when similar code was commercially available I often didn’t use it, and when people asked why I said I could do it in my head. Same with 3D visualisation. I find 3D screens a hindrance not a help. I just wiggle the 2D projection a few degrees and the 3D image pops into my head. It’s just the way my brain is wired. I appreciate most brains aren’t wired that way, hence the need for software assists. I can do the same with stereo pairs, aerial or satellite photos or SEMs of fossils. I used a binocular viewer so I had a hand free for writing or drawing, but I could hold the images in front of me and draw them apart until the 3D object popped out. There used to be a joke in Shell that if you had to dodge someone walking blindly down a corridor with two photos held in front of him, it was a micropalaeontologist.

    The Atlantic piece referenced by Joshua is excellent on what these models are useful for. And I say this as someone who used to subscribe but dropped it because half of it was full of crap. I did the same with the Economist, because when it came to science or engineering matters or the industry and subjects I knew, half of theirs were full of crap*). Unfortunately the people who should read it, won’t, because it’s “fur librulz”. And after all, there was no need to cut out CFCs because the ozone hole has stopped growing and is recovering 😦 . Just another greenie hoax to wreck the economy and stop Trump winning in November.

    * Because most of the Atlantic crap was soft social-science stuff and opinion, whereas the Economist tended to be wrong about hard verifiable facts, the Economist’s crap was more objectively crap.

  99. Chubbs says:

    Interesting how many feel a need to kick the tires, question the experts, have their own #. I do it myself. Provides a certain comfort. Just like RCP45.

  100. Chubbs says:

    Now that I think about it a bit, more like EBM, a do-it-yourself climate model

  101. Dave_Geologist says:

    A very good summary of the Ferguson models is on Nature. Models plural: agent-based, differential-equation based, even some Bayesian; what changed in the UK decision-making (China data indicated half of ICU patients could get by on positive-pressure oxygen but Italy showed most need intubation); European R factors were looking higher than China as they came in; other teams were consulted; capacity to expand ICU capacity was initially over-optimistic; etc.

    IOW they started by not by using made-up numbers but by using China data because it was all they had; then added Italy data as they were the European canary; then added more European and UK data as it came in; are continually updating; it’s not a single model; and it does have uncertainty ranges. As Keynes (allegedly) said: “when the facts change I change my mind: what do you do?”.

    Most of the new data is not yet peer reviewed, but a panel of dozens of epidemiologists and clinicians is the best peer review team there is, worth 20 pairs of journal reviewers. They’re well able to sort the wheat from the chaff, for all but data fraud which peer review doesn’t pick up anyway.

    Ferguson is polite and cagey but

    Ferguson says the significance of the model update might have been exaggerated. Even before that, he says, models already indicated that COVID-19, if left entirely unmitigated, could kill in the order of half a million UK citizens over the next year and that ICUs would be stretched beyond capacity. Advisory teams had discussed suppressing the pandemic by social distancing, but officials were worried that this would only lead to a bigger second outbreak later in the year. Widespread testing of the kind seen in South Korea was not considered; but, in part, says Ferguson, this was because Britain’s health agency had told government advisers that it would not be able to scale up testing fast enough.

    As for the Chinese data on ICUs, clinicians had looked at them, but noted that only half the cases seemed to need invasive mechanical ventilators; the others were given pressurized oxygen, so might not need an ICU bed. On the basis of this and their experience with viral pneumonia, clinicians had advised modellers that 15% was a better assumption.

    The key update came the week before Ferguson briefed government officials at Downing Street. Clinicians who had been talking to horrified colleagues in Italy said that pressurized oxygen wasn’t working well and that all 30% of the severe hospitalized cases would need invasive ventilation in an ICU. Ferguson says the updated models’ mortality projections didn’t change hugely, because many predicted deaths are likely to occur in the community rather than in hospitals. But the understanding of how health services would be overwhelmed, and the experience of Italy, led to a “sudden focusing of minds”, he says: government officials swiftly pivoted to social-distancing measures.

    rather suggests that the herd immunity approach had been seriously considered and it was only when the full scale of what it implied confronted minsters and advisers that they had their “oh shit” moment. Footage of people dying when they could have been saved with more ICU capacity has a way of focusing the mind.

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