Bad Science and Even Worse Theology


The Federalist reports that Nancy Pelosi wants to keep churches closed. When asked to comment on her archbishop’s statement that the state and local governments’ restrictions on worship violate the First Amendment, the Speaker said,

With all due respect to my Archbishop, I think we should follow science on this. And again with faith and science, sometimes they’re countered to each other.

Mrs. Pelosi is wrong in multiple ways in her statement. First, there is less science involved the medical response to the Wuhan virus pandemic than many people imagine. Good medicine, like good engineering, uses scientific knowledge and principles to the extent they are available and applicable to the case at hand, but sometimes a new problem must be dealt with without existing good scientific knowledge available. Guesswork based on experience may or may not give an optimal solution, and some guesses will be wrong. Today’s news about Nashville’s wrongheaded response in closing certain business is just one example of how fallible public health officials, mayors, and governors have been. Continuing to act as if a failed hypothesis is correct in bad science.

Second, while her invocation of science is bad science, her theology is even worse. Without exception, apparent contradictions between what we think we understand from science and theology wind up being caused by a lack of clear understanding of what one or both of them are trying to tell us—or from asking one of them to answer questions about which it has no answers. Science tells us how. Religion tells us why. (See the posts under the Science and the Bible tab in the menu above for more on this point.)

Third, her due respect for the pastoral authority of her Archbishop requires that she submit to his spiritual leadership. If she can not or will not, she has a limited range of options. She can go full Karen and speak with his manager. The Pope would probably take her phone call. (Come to think of it, she might even get support from Pope Francis.) Her other honest choice is to leave the Catholic Church. I expect she will do neither.

The voters of San Francisco are getting what they voted for. Good and hard.

Who Wants To Go To Work?


I don’t especially want to go to work. I’m doing just fine, sitting in my office at home and telecommuting. As long as I keep getting paid with money that has sufficient purchasing power in the economy, I’d just as soon not have to drive to someone else’s office to do what I can to across the hall from my kitchen. (And my coffee is better than the Folger’s junk that seems to infest so many workplace coffee pots.)

Looking around the neighborhood, I can see several other professionals who have moved their work into their homes and who are continuing to do well economically. Other neighbors aren’t doing so well. They normally engage in businesses, trades, and professions that require close one-on-one interactions with people. Some of them haven’t earned anything for weeks.

Gentle Reader, can you guess which group is more favorably disposed to reopening the economy quickly?

On the leading edge of the Wuhan virus pandemic, most Americans were willing to put up with some significant disruptions in their personal lives in order to protect the public health. There really was a sense of “we’re in this all together,” but that has dissipated as people who want to feed their families are told by a governor that they can’t buy seeds to plant in their gardens because of a virus lockdown. Another governor’s sending Covid19-infected patients to old folks’ homes has not increased the public’s trust in government’s competence either. Thus, we have a large group of Americans who are wanting to and are ready to go back to work—and who are losing or have lost patience with the “experts.”

Meanwhile, those of us doing “essential” work have been paid all along—at least so far—but now, the lack of tax revenue is eating away the ability of many states and localities to make payroll. Oh, and advertising is now down, resulting in media layoffs. It may be that some of the less protected members of the “essentials” may begin to favor reopening the economy as well.

So, who is still in favor of broad, non-targeted lockdowns? Cui bono?

That should be an interesting topic for research by a good investigative reporter.

You know, I once saw a movie about investigative reporters. The line in the film that helped them put their big story together was the advice, “Follow the money.” I’ll bet that would be good advice for this story.

Crudely Modeling Herd Immunity


So what is this “herd immunity” that people keep talking about?

It works something like this:

Adam becomes infected with some disease. We’ll call it Batpox for this example. It turns out that the statistics of Batpox’s transmissibility are such that it is about as contagious as measles. Measles has a basic reproduction number (R0) of about 12. When Adam goes to visit his friends Betty and Chuck, the odds are high that they will both become infected as well—unless they are already immune because of a previous encounter with the disease or a vaccine. OTOH, if enough of the people Adam contacts while he’s sick are immune to Batpox, the disease isn’t likely to spread any further. A population has reached herd immunity for a disease when enough of the population is immune to prevent the disease from easily spreading.

The percentage of population required for herd immunity is greater for larger values of R0. The formula for the approximate percentage of immune individuals necessary for herd immunity is

X = (1 – 1/Ro) X 100

For measles X is about 92 %. That’s why it’s important for kids to be vaccinated in order to get the number of immune individuals as high as possible.

The initial estimate of R0 for the Wuhan virus was around 2.7. That would imply that we’d need about 63 % of the population to be immune in order to achieve herd immunity. However, the Real World data for Covid-19 shows much lower values for R0. That’s values, plural, because different places have different factors that affect transmissibility.

Take a look at these charts of how R0 has varied over time in various states. (Source: rt.live) The solid lines represent the calculated values for R0 and the shaded areas around the lines show the confidence intervals for the calculations based on the amount and quality of the data. These plots are for entire states; the New York and Michigan numbers would be even lower with the effects of New York City and Detroit removed.

Note that these states have all achieved an R0 of about 1. Plugging that value into our formula for herd immunity gives a required immunity percentage of … pokes at calculator …  zero.

Now, I’ve been engaged in modeling here, and we know how problematic that can be, but I believe this gives us a hint about why people are ready to get back to their normal lives in large swaths of the country. Certainly, a value of R0 below 1 explains why the death toll hasn’t spiked in Georgia.

There are still places in the country struggling to contain the Wuhan virus outbreak, and they should be supported in their efforts. However, the data support letting the rest of the country get on with our lives.

I’m So Old …


… I remember when they taught this sort of stuff in ECON 101.

What happens when people are out of work and lots of stores are closed? Income tax and sales tax revenue drops. Bloomberg is reporting that New York’s tax collections have dropped by over two-thirds. Meanwhile, over on the left coast KPIX reports that Governor Hairgel is proposing pay cuts for California state workers because state revenues are down over 20 percent.

As the old Russian proverb says, “Го́лой овцы́ не стригу́т. (One doesn’t shear naked sheep.)” I suspect that we’re about to see a large portion of the bureaucracy begin to favor an expeditious reopening of the economy.

Fighting the Last War


There’s an old adage which states that most armies are prepared to fight the last war. It has a deep basis in Reality. After our 1892 medium-power Krag rifles were outclassed by the full-power Mausers used by the Spanish in 1898, we adopted the Mauser-clone 1903 Springfield for World War I. The lessons learned about firepower in that war led to the adoption of the M1, which would have been a superior weapon in WW1, but was outclassed by the German Strumgewehr 44 (the original assault rifle) by the end of WW2. We entered the Viet Nam War armed with the M14, which would have been a great weapon for WW2, only to be outgunned by the other side’s AK47s, true assault rifles. I went through basic training with an M14, but was finally issued an M16 in Viet Nam.

Armies aren’t the only bureaucracies that cling to outdated “solutions.” The public health response to the Wuhan virus pandemic is a case in point.

The 1918 influenza pandemic was worse than it had to be, in part, because of the failure of some communities to take proper measures to prevent rapid spreading. The proper lesson from that pandemic is that dangerous communicable diseases must be contained by reducing interpersonal contact until other means of fighting it are available.

The initial restrictions imposed as public health measures dealing with Covid-19 were reasonable and cautious responses to a potentially catastrophic situation. They would have been excellent in combating the 1918 flu, but it appears that they’ve been overkill in vast swaths of America with disastrous unintended (I hope) consequences. For many the cure is worse than the disease.

Most Real World situations don’t track well with our attempt to model them because we never seem to be able to understand all of the ways that things interact. Experience and common sense and a willingness to take risks are necessary live in the Real World. Credentials are not the same thing as experience, and non-expert expertise has failed. It’s time to get back to living in the Real World. That will require that public health concerns take their rightful place among other factors to balances with economic realities and civil rights.

Phase One Starts at Close of Business Friday


Governor Larry Hogan has announced the Maryland will begin dialing back Wuhan pandemic restrictions at 5 pm of Friday evening. The Gentle Reader may remember I reported a few days ago that the state’s new case and death rates began to flatten around 23 April. Over the past few days, deaths have shown a noticeable decline. Hmmm, things are beginning to proceed a bit faster than i had foreseen. I had expected Maryland to wait another week before loosening up.

I am pleased.

Bending the Curve


Here’s the Wuhan virus stats for Maryland as found around noon today at the State Department of Health’s Covid web page. These show for confirmed cases and confirmed deaths.Note that the moving average death rate has been flat at roughly 46 (±2) per day for the past two weeks. It will be useful to learn what factor or factors caused that abrupt downward bend (from the +2 deaths/day slope of the previous three weeks), and why deaths have plateaued rather than falling as initial modeling predicted.

Stay tuned.

A Karen Named Patricia


Reason has a post up about what happened in St. Louis when the identities of the tipsters who had reported businesses operating in violation of a shutdown order were posted on Facebook. Their complaints were matters of public record and were obtained under Missouri’s sunshine law by Jared Totsch, who was interviewed by a local TV station.

“I’d call it poetic justice, instant Karma, a dose of their own medicine,” he responded. “What goes around, comes around. They are now experiencing the same pain that they themselves helped to inflict on those they filed complaints against.”

The station also interviewed one of the tipsters, a woman named Patricia.

“I saw a lot of businesses that were non-essential that were open and had lines outside, parking lots filled as if the order didn’t matter to them,” she explained to the station. “And that was kinda frustrating.”

Patricia says she has lupus and is particularly at risk during the Wuhan virus pandemic. She may be, but lots of other people are also especially at risk, including me. I’m elderly and have heart problems. However, I need to weigh my risks against the risks of the people around me; I need to take reasonable precautions for my own health while imposing the least possible bother on others.

People like me may have special risks, but everyone has general risks caused by curtailing “non-essential” activities for too long.

People are being impoverished by layoffs and business shutdowns, and that artificially induced poverty is stealing away resources required for healthy living. Children are missing well-child medical visits, delaying vaccinations and increasing their risk of childhood diseases. Taxes needed to finance the operation of public health infrastructure won’t be paid on income that isn’t generated. The list goes on.

The time has come to begin moving to more targeted responses to the pandemic. There are probably communities and activities that still should remain locked down, but most of the country is ready for less heavy-handed measures.

The Karens have had a nice run for the past couple of months. It’s time for them to let go.

Bending the Curve


Earlier this week, I posted day-by-day graphs of the Wuhan virus cases and deaths reported for Maryland by the state’s Department of Health. Here are updated charts.

First, the daily new confirmed cases—Over the past few days the curve was trending downward, but the large spike of new confirmed cases on 1 May has pushed the moving average up again. I don’t have any information about the 1 May data other than the raw number. It may have been caused by the state’s testing program finding a large at-risk population, or it there may have been a burst of new cases.

OTOH, the number of confirmed COVID-19 deaths is beginning to trend down.

If the spike in new cases is just noise in the data, then Maryland may have turned the corner on the pandemic.

We shall see

Bending the Curve


I went over the the Maryland Department of Health’s coronavirus website and found the daily numbers for confirmed new Wuhan virus cases and deaths. Here’s the data. The green bars are the daily raw numbers. That data is rather noisy. The blue lines are the 5-day moving averages.

First, the confirmed new cases day by day—

Second, the daily deaths—Eamining the case data, it looks as if the number of cases hasn’t diverged far from a linear rising slope. Projecting the trend present around the first of this month onward yields about the same rate as we actually have now. If the was exponential growth, the exponent wasn’t much more than 1. Maryland hasn’t turned the corner on new cases yet, but it appears that we’ve kept the rate of increase from exploding as it did in New York City.

The downward bend in the death rate over the last few days is a hopeful sign.

Maryland’s response to the pandemic hasn’t been perfect, but we have achieved better results than some without having to go to full-tilt, nanny-state fascist as have some jurisdictions. Now comes the hard part. We need to reengage the economy without reinvigorating the virus.

Collateral Damage


The elderly (like me, I’m 72) are particularly at risk during the Wuhan virus pandemic. However, it turns out that children maybe especially at risk from the side effects of the worldwide lockdown response. Issues & Insights has a post up about some of the ways kids may be vulnerable.

The U.N. report notes, for example, that polio vaccination campaigns have been suspended. The crippling childhood disease has not been eradicated from Afghanistan and Pakistan, and there have been outbreaks in Africa, East Asia and the Pacific.

Measles immunization campaigns have been suspended in at least 23 countries that had targeted more than 78 million children, the report says, which will lead to more measles oubreaks. Keep in mind that more than 140,000 people died from measles in 2018, according to the World Health Organization. Most of them were under age 5.

Such problems initially may seem more acute in the third world, but as impoverishment increases in America because of suspended economic activity, it may indeed be our children who are hardest hit by poor nutrition, missed vaccinations, etc.

Compared to What?


Johns Hopkins University has a site up that is tracking the spread of the Wuhan virus pandemic. Some of the data are very detailed. For example, county by county confirmed case and death numbers for the U. S., and the data is well presented.

One page I found interesting shows the cumulative case and death rates for the ten hardest hit countries. These graphs are of five day moving averages. Note that all of curves in both graphs (except for China’s, but they’re lying about their data) seem to be converging into a single, but broad, band. Some countries are doing better than others, but cases seem to be settling down at about 100 to 300 per 100,000 and deaths around 3 to 30 per 100,000.

The data show that America’s performance versus the virus is about average. They also show that countries that did not take proper public heath precautions (Iran, Italy, Spain, Belgium) have seen the most rapid onset of the disease, but that taking proper measures does begin to arrest the spread and perhaps constrain the total cases and deaths to within only about 3 to 10 times what could have been achieved with earlier prevention. That’s a lot of unnecessary illnesses and deaths, but not as bad as it could have been.

So it appears that we got enough ahead of the Wuhan virus pandemic to prevent it from becoming a public health disaster on the order of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. That’s good. Now, we need to act wisely and prevent those public health measures from provoking an economic and social decline on the order of the 1930’s Depression.

Who Was That Masked Man?


Beginning at 7 am on Saturday morning, the answer to that question here in Maryland could be anyone riding on mass transit or patronizing a food service or retail establishment. Governor Hogan has ordered that a face covering that covers both the nose and mouth shall be worn by anyone using public transportation or by anyone older than 7 in a food service or retail establishment until the end of the current Wuhan virus emergency. Willful failure to comply will be a misdemeanor punishable by a year in jail and/or a $5,000 fine.

It seems to me that this sort of public health intervention makes more sense than some parts of the stay-at-home order, particularly as we pass the peak in the pandemic curve. Going to about our business wearing masks will be less economically disruptive than hiding. Perhaps this can be a first step to easing up on some restrictions as it becomes more obvious that some are doing more overall harm than good.

“Chinese Chernobyl”


The Gentle Reader has no doubt heard of a catastrophic reactor accident that occurred in the Soviet Union in 1985 at a place called Chernobyl (now in Ukraine). The reactor was a typical example of Socialist engineering—the RBMK-type was in common use throughout the USSR—with an inherent design flaw related to the core’s cooling system. The Chernobyl reactor exploded during a reactor test of the core’s cooling system. This risk of a core meltdown was not made evident in the test operating instructions, so the operators proceeded with  testing the reactor in an unstable state. Upon test completion, the operators triggered a reactor shutdown, but a combination of unstable conditions and reactor design flaws caused an uncontrolled nuclear chain reaction instead. Poor design, bureaucratic inertia, and operator carelessness created history’s worst peacetime nuclear event.

It’s being suggested that the Wuhan virus pandemic is China’s Chernobyl. If the virus got into the wild because of improper procedures in a Chinese laboratory, it would be a striking parallel example of Socialist bureaucratic incompetence acting with disregard for public safety. However, even if the actual source is something else, a wet market or whatever, the Chinese Communist Party’s attempts to strong-arm reality so as to avoid blame for the meltdown resulting from their carelessness and mendacity is a nearly perfect example of why socialist systems all fail. Wishing won’t make it so. Facts are stubborn things.

The Laws of Thermodynamics, when compounded with Murphy’s Law, assure us that bad stuff will happen on a random basis. It’s wise to take steps to protect ourselves from such events. “The battle is not always to the strong, or the race to the swift, but it’s the way to bet.” History tells us that competition in free markets has the best track record for generating the resources needed for healthy living.

The Chinese people will have to sort out their own political destiny. It may be that they will grow tired of their current masters and that the CCP virus pandemic will inch them along a path to something new.

Meanwhile, the Wuhan virus pandemic has given many Americans a 30-day free trial of nanny state control.

Modeling Versus Real World Data


I went over to the IHME web page for their Covid19 modeling for Maryland to check out their predictions for the state for yesterday. (The web page says that the results shown used their model as updated on Wednesday.) I then went the Maryland State Health Departments Covid 19 page to look up the actual data reported by the State.The Gentle Reader can see that the Daily Deaths and Total Deaths are within 10 % of the model’s predictions (pretty good performance for such an immature system), but the New Hospitalizations are well below the predicted value . In fact, they’re just barely above the model’s low side estimate of 63.

This suggests that Maryland’s current response to the pandemic has been effective in reducing transmission of the virus to people with who would likely require treatment in a hospital, i.e., the elderly and people with other medical complications. If the rate of hospitalizations continues to decline over the next week or so and falls completely out of the predicted range, then it’s going to be time to start making the political decisions about restarting Maryland’s economy.

As I’ve noted before, impoverishment resulting from economic stagnation will sentence many to misery, despair, and poorer health. At some point, we will cross the line beyond which the current method of dealing with the pandemic will do more harm than good. The data above are a hopeful sign that day is coming sooner than some interpretations of the model predict.

I hope so.

What to Learn to Code


COBOL.

Yep, there’s still a substantial market for COBOL programming, and the Wuhan pandemic has resulted in a spike in the need. Of course, the State of New Jersey thinks they should be bailed out of their programming problem for free (by “volunteers”). Joseph Steinberg reports—

That’s what the State’s Governor, Phil Murphy, apparently meant today, when he said at a press conference that the State needed volunteers who with “Cobalt” computer skills to help fix 40-year-old-plus unemployment insurance systems that are currently overwhelmed as a result of COVID-19-related job losses.

Uh, no, Governor, your state shouldn’t get away with having its obsolete IT infrastructure saved by volunteers. “Winter is coming,” is not just a warning from a cable TV show. It’s also a part of Aesop’s The Ant and the Grasshopper. Winter is here.

Time Constants, Half-Lives, and Modeling


My podcasting partner Stacy McCain has a post up, MSNBC’s Doomsday Crisis Theme, that looks at the actual rate of increase in Wuhan virus infections and deaths in North Carolina and notes that they are increasing more slowly than the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation model predicted.

Well, as someone who uses modeling as one of his principal professional tools, I’m not surprised. Mathematical models work well when they accurately describe the Real World system under study and they’re fed with data that represents the Real World system’s actual parameters. They’re like sewer pipes in that if you put garbage in, you’ll get garbage out.

Radioactive decay is a statistical process which is well described for every isotope of every element. Physicists speak of the half-life of an isotope meaning the time it takes for half of the atoms in a given sample of an isotope to undergo radioactive decay. Half-life doesn’t vary between two samples of the dame isotope.

Now, consider the discharge of an electrical capacitor. The voltage across a discharging capacitor will drop at an exponential rate, and the value of that exponent is determined by the reciprocal of the product of the capacitance in farads and resistance in ohms. Because farad X ohm = second, engineers refer to that exponent as the circuit’s time constant. If I’m analyzing an electrical network that might have widely varying values of capacitance and resistance, my model will give me a broad range of possible time constants. Knowing the possible range of part tolerances (and how they might vary over time, temperature, phase of the moon, or whatever) is important in predicting how a circuit will perform.

While the models used to predict the spread of viral disease are relatively straightforward and perform reasonably well when driven with good data, the Covid-19 pandemic is too new for sufficiently good data to have been acquired.

Here’s what we do know—1.) The disease is spread by person-to-person contact. 2.) Taking little or no protective measures produced disastrous results in China, Iran, Italy, and Spain. 3.) Thus far, it appears that several protective schemes work well. See, e.g., Taiwan and South Korea. 4.) In the U. S., densely populated areas with more opportunities for person-to-person contact have seen the majority of cases.

So, here’s what I’m doing—I have complicating factors (age and coronary artery disease) that make me high risk. I live in a state (Maryland) that’s under a mandatory stay-at-home order, but I’ve been telecommuting since it became an option. My son does my shopping for me, and if I do go out, it’s at odd hours when I’m likely to see fewer people.

Do I think the lockdown is necessary? I don’t know. There isn’t enough data yet.

Several people have spoken of the response to the Wuhan virus pandemic as if it were a war. It isn’t, but there is one bit of wartime ethics which may be applicable. When we are at war, we know that some people will suffer and some will die in order to save other lives. At some point, shutting down the economy will cause ongoing problems that will weaken our ability to maintain and improve our agricultural, transportation, medical, and other business and infrastructural systems. That impoverishment, in turn, may sentence more people to misery and possible death (in the long term) than might be saved by continuing economic disruption. That will be a difficult choice if it comes.

I hope and pray that the pandemic will not be so severe that we have to face that sort of ethical dilemma. It appears that drugs are being found for treatment, and a vaccine is possible.

Meanwhile, I’m being careful.

Good Advice—From China


My training as a military officer included reading Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. The most famous quote from that ancient Chinese classic is probably

是故勝兵先勝而後求戰,敗兵先戰而後求勝。Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.

Patricia McCarthy has a post over at The American Thinker titled The unbearable pettiness of the Washington press corps which looks at the disrespectful manner in which the press treats Donald Trump at the manner in which the President turns their futile behavior back on them, especially during the Wuhan virus pandemic briefings. Throughout her piece, she quotes Sun Tzu.

What makes these briefings so entertaining is when the president calls them out for their dishonesty.  He has a steel-trap mind and remembers what he has said.  When they twist or edit his words, he knows it and humiliates them.  But they seem not to realize they are being humiliated.

President Trump has been teaching us all.  It is only the men and women of the media who fail to learn.  Donald Trump, as John Perazzo has written, is a superb and unappreciated president.

“Engage people with what they expect; it is what they are able to discern and confirms their projections. It settles them into predictable patterns of response, occupying their minds while you wait for the extraordinary moment — that which they cannot anticipate.” —Sun Tzu

This is that moment.

Read the whole thing. I’ll add this—

上兵伐謀 What is of supreme importance in war is to attack the enemy’s strategy.

The Art of War is available from Amazon.