(Last) Weekly Roundup: The Plural Of Trash Anecdote Is Garbage Data Edition

The Internet got pretty excited last week about a piece entitled COVID-19: Evidence Over Hysteria, written by former Mitt Romney staffer and “Silicon Valley growth hacker” Aaron Ginn. The article went, ahem, viral because it said a lot of things that people desperately wanted to hear, whether they are true or not. The ensuing backlash was fairly weapons-grade and it came from a lot of people with letters after their names so the article was unpersoned by Medium and banished to the Internet ghetto of ZeroHedge, which is where you can read it at the above link.

I don’t know enough to say whether or not Ginn is right — but I am also fairly sure that Ginn also doesn’t know enough to say whether he is right. My purpose here isn’t to discuss the article, but rather to suggest that much of the world is being run into the ground by people like Ginn thanks to what I can only characterize as a shared and immensely powerful delusion. Let’s call it the fake law of isomorphic data, or “Ginn’s Law” for the moment.

The first clue that Ginn is out of his depth appears so early in the essay that it would be above the fold here at Riverside Green:

I’m quite experienced at understanding virality, how things grow, and data. In my vocation, I’m most known for popularizing the “growth hacking movement” in Silicon Valley that specializes in driving rapid and viral adoption of technology products. Data is data. Our focus here isn’t treatments but numbers. You don’t need a special degree to understand what the data says and doesn’t say. Numbers are universal.

Emphasis mine, because “virality” isn’t a real word. It’s a Silicon Valley Culture Word coined to describe the rate at which something “goes viral”. This Ginn fellow considers himself an expert on “virality” and, in a truly staggering case of Midwit Thinks He Understands The Subject Because He Understands The Analogy, decides that he is also an expert on how actual viruses are spread. This is worse than my current delusion that I would be a great SpecOps soldier because I’ve become a half-decent CounterStrike player, which is frankly stupid; it’s more like me becoming a decent chess player and figuring that I’m ready to get in a time machine and face off against Machiavelli in the ol’ Florentine Republic.

Remember this delusion — that you understand something because you understand something analogous or related to it — because you’re going to see it again, and shortly.

Ginn tell us that “numbers are universal”. He could also say that many equations are universal, or at least widely spread. Here comes a brief math lesson, delivered by an English major…

Some math problems have solutions which “scale” pretty well. Consider these two:

5 + 5 = ?

1,234,955,332 + 4,534,843,201 = ?

The answer to the second problem (‭5,769,798,533‬) is over half a million times bigger than the first answer (10, dummy!) but it doesn’t take us half a million times as long to answer the first problem as the second, even if you’re a first-grader.

Now let’s look at two more problems. They’re both the same problem, actually.

Problem 1: A salesman has to visit three cites today. Atlanta, Boise, and Chicago. Atlanta is 150 miles from Boise and 200 miles from Chicago. Boise is 300 miles from Chicago. He can start in any of the three cities. What’s the quickest route?

As a normal human being, you might decide to solve this in a hurry by trying all the combinations. Let’s do that:

ATL -> BOI -> CHI : 150+300 = 450
ATL -> CHI -> BOI : 200+300 = 500
CHI -> ATL -> BOI : 200+150 = 350

There are three more combinations, but they are basically the same thing in reverse, so there you go! That takes a minute to do, doesn’t it? Surely there’s a way to do it quicker, right?

There isn’t. You have to try all six potential combinations. Even if you’re a computer.

Which leads us to the second problem, which is the same as the first, except now that our salesman has thirty-one cities to cover. Surely there’s some kind of shortcut to do that, right? Not quite. For a long time, mathematicians thought that you would have to go through all potential combinations — which is pretty close to the very big number of (31-2)! which is also 8222838654177922817725562880000000 or something like that, I used a Web calculator which loses interest after a certain number of digits.

My choice of 31 cities wasn’t random; it comes from a 1962 contest held by P&G. The winner could get $10,000, which would buy you a Porsche or a decent home. If P&G were to put the same contest up today, however, they’d have to give the money away a minute or two after they did so, because there is now a technique called “Branch And Cut” which combines two earlier methods (“Cutting Plane” and “Branch And Bound”) to perform the solution much more quickly. These two techniques work by eliminating obviously stupid choices (like starting by going from New York to Seattle and back to Philadelphia) each step of the way. The technique of “branch pruning” is also used by computer chess programs, which simply “fail to consider” any moves which are obviously poor as they “look ahead” towards a strategy. Human beings have a little of this built into us; only the completely insane thing it would be a good idea to start a business meeting by defecating on the table or screaming their own name a dozen times, even though there is possibly a “future” in which doing so actually sets up a favorable resolution to the meeting eventually. It’s also why chess grandmasters could beat good computer programs for a very long time; they had a better sense of how to sacrifice pieces for a victory down the road, so they would follow “branches” of strategy which the computer might immediately discard as a waste of processing time.

Anyway, even the very best programs don’t solve the “traveling salesman problem”, or TSP, very quickly. More importantly, as you add cities to the list, their calculations tend to also increase in time. In theory, the navigation programs in your car and phone are “solving” TSP, but they are actually using mathematical shortcuts which provide a very close approximation to the correct answer, not actually solving the problem, in much the same way that most of us can guess the answer to some pretty big math problems without being spot on.

(For much more, read this, why dontcha.)

Anyway, one of the “holy grails” of mathematics is an equation or process which quickly solves the TSP regardless of how many cities are involved. This magical equation would solve a million-city TSP about as quickly as it solves a 100-city one, the same way that the calculator app in your computer solves pretty much all multiplication programs in nearly the same amount of time.

Now here’s where it gets crazy. There are a lot of problems out there which are just as hard as the TSP for a computer to solve, and most of them are isomorphic to TSP. Which means that they can be “translated” into, and out of, TSP. Here’s an example of such a problem: it’s the same as TSP after you apply some complicated transformations. (Don’t ask me how: I’m just an old guy on a BMX bike.) So if you could figure out a way to easily solve TSP, you could also solve this problem, and many like it.

Let’s start working our way back to Mr. Ginn and his “virality”, shall we? For obvious reasons, mathematicians are eager to reduce the number of potential problems out there to a comprehensible number. Therefore, it is common for a mathematician to look at a new problem which arises from real or theoretical studies, quickly prove that it is isomorphic to TSP, and then leave it alone so they can get back to working on TSP.

Now, do you remember when you were a kid and you heard an older kid say something really cool and so you decided to say it yourself? That kind of attitude is common among scientists, who are children in many ways. So all the people who work in lesser disciplines than pure mathematics — and they are all lesser disciplines, when you get down to it — like to consider things as isomorphic, too. Much of “data science” consists of using the same tools to hack on widely different sets of data. For instance, “machine learning” is super-hot right now in the job market; a few years ago I was doing that for a certain very large bank before I wandered off the job to go World Challenge racing. All the popular examples of machine learning you’ll find on the web work on images. The images are reduced to numbers, and then we use number-crunching algorithms on the numbers to “recognize” things. (Here is a great example of this.)

It’s very easy to use machine learning to distinguish between photographs of a firefighter and photographs of policemen. This leads people to conclude that machine learning is very smart. Allow me to show you a picture that a machine learning algorithm will unfailingly identify as a police officer:

Ah, but that’s not a police officer, is it? That’s the Joker. Viewed another way, it’s an actor. In no way is it a policeman. You can tell the difference, but the machine cannot. Even if you don’t know that movie (The Dark Knight) there are a lot of cues that you’re looking at something wrong here, from the photo’s framing to the slight unreality of the scar tissue on the face. The kids on 4chan are having all sorts of fun with this image, and the fun is based on the idea that not everyone is smart enough to be in on the joke:

We would say that the people being trolled here are naive, wouldn’t we? That’s the problem with machine learning: it’s fundamentally naive. It doesn’t consider that an image might be deliberately subversive or mis-represented. It simply reads the image and notes similarities. In theory, a sufficiently powerful machine-learning system might come to recognize all the signs of subversion and mis-representation, to the point where it would be as good as a person. It will take some time. People are a lot better at processing images than they are at chess. Machine learning will be naive for a long time to come — frighteningly, it will be naive long after some equally naive people have decided to hand the control of our planes, trains, and automobiles to it. (What happens next? I wrote a story about that.)

Data science, like machine learning, is naive — but it is even more deeply naive in the sense that it absolutely relies on purity of data. There is no error-correction algorithm out there which can fully account for genuinely compromised data, the same way that people who have gone on “bad trips” courtesy of LSD or ecstasy or edibles report back that they were unable to distinguish reality from their own internal nightmare.

Our current Silicon Valley fetish for data science grew out of a desire to do something with the firehose of data presented to their servers every millisecond. There are billions of people generating thousands of data events per day. Every Like, every flick of a mouse, every physical motion while carrying a GPS- or heart-rate-enabled device. The data is immense. I’d be willing to bet that the human race generates more image data on a daily basis now than it did at all times in history combined up to, say, 2000 or so. Think of all those high-definition phone cameras and webcams. Their endless stream of products and sex and animals doing funny things.

Given access to this torrential and almost entirely truthful stream of data, the algorithms can perform amazing tasks, although our society being what it is we mostly use the algorithms to sell or shame, depending on how we make a living. It knows when you’ve been sleeping, it knows when you’re awake. Facebook and Google could easily determine when you’re about to kill yourself, but they choose not to. Instead, they use that acumen to figure out when you need a new razor blade.

Data science is easy because there’s so much data. Give me access to your browsing history and even an Atari 800 could probably figure out a lot about you. Many years ago I operated the Web proxy for a few small businesses. I saw what they looked at and I could tie it to individual computers. I ended up learning a lot about those people, trust me — and I don’t have the kind of on-demand data access capacity of the Google Cloud.

It’s no wonder that many data scientists consider themselves to be quite intelligent. I thought I was a decent basketball player in fifth grade, until I had to play against schools where not everyone made the basketball team. Data science is so easy, and the tools are so effective, that its proponents start to think it has universal application. But it doesn’t.

Witness, if you will, Aaron Ginn. I can’t fault a lot of his methodology. He looks at the data being presented, he hacks on it a bit, he looks for patterns, and he says some things which are both interesting and reassuring. Here’s the problem: when it comes to the Virus Which Cannot Speak It’s Original Name, all the data is trash.

Have you taken a COVID-19 test? Has anyone you know taken such a test? For most of my readers, and for myself, the answer is “No.” Did you know that not all of the tests work? Did you know that the hospitals are seeing insane divergences in the percentage of positive results… like a 10x divergence? In some places, one percent of people who take the test are positive. In others, it’s ten percent. We aren’t sure that it isn’t just the tests themselves. Let’s not get into the fact that the methods of selecting people to take the test vary widely across the globe: some cities test everyone, others test people who drive through a special queue at the hospital, others tell everyone to stay home so they don’t overwhelm the system.

There is no amount of statistical smoothing which can account for these variations. You’re not flipping a hundred coins and recording the results here; you’re adding up your children’s birthdays, picking the IP address that is that number divided by the last number of your stepfather’s F-150’s VIN, finding the online community closest to that IP address, then asking the people in that community who are frightened of ducks whether or not they have tattoos. The interference is too high to get over; the signal-to-noise ratio is too low to see.

What frightens me about Aaron Ginn is that he didn’t bother to consider any of that before he started writing his paper. He just treated the data as being utterly trustworthy — even the stuff from the Chinese government. It makes me wonder how many other decisions this powerful and influential fellow has made in similar fashion, and with similar ignorance of the corruption infesting his source data. Is that why Romney lost? Is Ginn’s obtuse stupidity the flapping butterfly which changes the world?

I’m not as frightened of COVID-19 as I am of its knock-off societal effects. And I’m not as afraid of those near-term knock-on effects, even the so-called Boogaloo, as I am of a future in which people like Aaron Ginn have all of the decision-making power. I fear a world where some blithe idiot looks at numbers on a screen, says something about “all numbers are numbers,” then proceeds to destroy humanity with the resulting assumptions. Garbage in, garbage out. Which is funny — until you find yourself eating garbage.

* * *

Last week, I wrote about the right time to buy a Corvette and a free Ross Bentley seminar. Since we are “reprinting” some of our older magazine articles to give people more reading material, I also posted my Bandit and Continental pieces.

60 Replies to “(Last) Weekly Roundup: The Plural Of Trash Anecdote Is Garbage Data Edition”

  1. AvatarCJinSD

    I still don’t understand why a normal human being doesn’t look at the Atlanta, Boise, Chicago problem and immediately recognize that they don’t want to drive between Boise and Chicago, making Atlanta the second stop. Trump is our president by the grace of God. Let’s not squander this extra chance.

  2. AvatarJohn Van Stry

    You know, he doesn’t have a lot of letters after his name, but the people that do, at the CDC and the FDA? Look at how good of a job they did. The problem with all of this is that ALL of the data is bad.
    Where are the dead bodies in the streets? Why aren’t the hospitals full to over-flowing with the dead and the dying?
    Because we’ve been sold a story that’s more fantasy than reality. Will people die? Certainly. Will they die in greater numbers than most flu seasons? Doubtful.

    And no, I don’t have a bunch of letters after my name, other than a BSEE. But I worked in medical research for quite a few years, and it was the stuff that -I- the lowly engineer came up with that saved the most lives of anyone in the R&D group. All those guys with all the letters? They were never as smart as they seemed to think they were.

    • AvatarRonnie Schreiber

      I’m neither a statistician nor an epidemiologist, but I have to admit I was put off by Ginn’s cavalier dismissal of the fact that he knows little of the actual science of viral diseases.

      Plenty of folks with bunches of letters after their names disagree. Larry Brilliant, who helped eradicate smallpox, says we have to massively scale up testing to avoid a disaster, but I question his credibility because he repeats lies about Pres. Trump. Michael Levitt, a biophysicist and Nobel laureate, says that we’re going to be fine, that the pandemic will crest sooner rather than later in the United States. So far he’s been accurate in his predictions about the death tolls in Italy and China.

      As I said before, it’s time to be prudent. That includes consideration of just how long we can suspend the economy. If Levitt is correct, we can do that sooner rather than later.

      • AvatarJohn Van Stry

        The thing is, Ginn is right, you don’t need to know anything about viral diseases in order to model them. If you know the transmission model, that’s it. That’s all you need to know.
        Do you know what the systems that control vehicle traffic are modeled on? Fluid dynamics. Yeah, we’re not all particles in a pipe, yet the models work and don’t involve human nature at all.
        So I see these people get upset at Ginn and I realize that they’re guilty of what they’re accusing him of (though I will be honest and admit I didn’t read most of his article – I just don’t care that much about it) they’re attacking him because they just don’t like the fact that he’s smarter than they are (and he is) but he doesn’t have the politically correct degrees.

        I’ve had the opportunity in my life to work with many of these kinds of people, some of whom are quite famous in certain fields for specialty knowledge. And it tends to be true that the noisier they are, they less they know. Look at Paul Krugman. Perfect example. Wouldn’t trust him to balance my checkbook, yet he’s supposed to be an ‘expert’. Make you wonder how he ever won that award when he’s been wrong about every last thing he’s said, doesn’t it?

        The truth is just, most experts held up by the media, aren’t. And if what they’re saying goes against common sense, then it’s probably wrong. Also, we all have brains, people need to engage them more, none of this stuff is rocket science and let’s face it, biology isn’t hard. The -real- experts will tell you that this is a scam, just like global warming. This is going to be about as bad as the Hong Kong flu was back in ’69, and they didn’t shut the country down for that, did they?

        The only reason, ONLY reason, they’re shutting things down is political. There is no science behind it. None. The CDC is a joke (Obesity is a disease! So is drug addiction and racism!). This is just so many people’s hatred of Trump, and a last ditch attempt to keep him from being re-elected. Hell they’ve told us for months now that they need to crash the economy to stop him, and now they’re cheering that they can do it.

        The fallout from this farce is going to be something that no one expected or foresaw. And I daresay none of use are going to like it.

        • AvatarKevin Jaeger

          The problem with trying to make this about Trump is that the entire western world is largely reacting the same way. First – a total institutional failure of the public health systems to react and contain the virus at source, and then a panicked response to quarantine their entire population once it was obvious their initial response was a total failure.

          This is true of all affected states – Democrat or Republican, and essentially all western countries whether they are governed by nominally conservative or liberal governments. We finally have a real problem to manage that really isn’t about Trump, though it seems impossible for many to conceive of an issue that isn’t about Trump.

        • AvatarRonnie Schreiber

          As I said on a different thread, I believe in the power of “and”. The left is using this to try and take down Trump *and* this is a serious public health threat.

          How serious? Michigan’s biggest hospital group is nearing capacity for handling COVID patients, including the number of ventilators they have on hand.

          Beaumont Health is caring for 635 patients with confirmed or suspected COVID-19, putting pressure on the eight-hospital system as it nears capacity for staffing, protective equipment and ventilators, the Royal Oak-based health system said Tuesday.

          The health system has been transferring patients between hospitals to find space and is beginning to convert some operating rooms into intensive care units, Beaumont Health Chief Operating Officer Carolyn Wilson said.

          “We have been actively transferring COVID-19 patients within our system to other Beaumont hospitals, as appropriate, if one hospital has more capacity than another,” Wilson said. “However, across our system, we are facing limitations and nearing capacity with our staffing, personal protective equipment and mechanical ventilators.”

          Nicholas Nassim Taleb also knows a thing or two about modeling, perhaps more than Ginn. Taleb says this is a real problem.

          • AvatarKevin Jaeger

            I have certainly never suggested it isn’t a real problem. I’ve been closely following the events in Wuhan since January and have been marveling at the total failure of the western world to take the threat seriously, as Taiwan and South Korea did.

            But taking it seriously means responding with means that are both effective and sustainable. Indefinite lockdowns are neither.

            When we get through this it must never be forgotten that the response of so many in authority was to issue lectures about the real problem being stigmatizing Asians, assuring us that travel restrictions don’t work and are driven by racism, and that masks for the general public don’t work.

            We will need to correct all of those official lies and then get on with actually combating the virus.

    • Avatardejal

      When no one is worried, then you should be worried. When everyone is worried you no longer have to be worried.

      Where’s the dead? Still early. Everyone is home, so they aren’t out cutting down the opportunity to get sick.
      We should loosen up.
      Everyone is out and more people get sick, we should stay home.

  3. AvatarJohn C.

    I really enjoyed the homage to the fading C7 Corvette. Like you, what I loved was how traditional it was. I worry not that the C8 isn’t a good car, I worry that it will be what the 928 was in 1978, competent car but just not something that the 911 buyer could relate to. They had the designor of the C8 in C/D a few months ago and he was a European. I bet he would not get your Route 66 reference. To some that may seem unimportant, the engine lump under glass got the 0-60 time down after all, but creating a route 66 experience is why people of all ages buy Corvettes.

    • Avatarstingray65

      I can’t help but wonder if the Corvette will be or already is irrelevant. If the typical Corvette buyer remembers Todd and Buzz they won’t be buying many more cars before they take the highway to heaven, and does anyone under 40 even want a Corvette? I’ve owned a Corvette (while in my 30s), and it was my dream car as a child and teen, but now if a car doesn’t have 8 inches of ground clearance, AWD, and a boxy practical shape it doesn’t sell. The fact that an outstanding car such as the C7 can be purchased brand new with full warranty at 20-25% off its already bargain sticker price says it all. Instead of a mid-engine supercar, GM would probably have made much more money shifting away from C7 and putting the Corvette name on a CUV platform with a BMW X5M or Porsche Cayenne type body and performance envelope.

      Back in the 80s there were hardly any teen boys who didn’t have a Countach, 911, or Corvette poster on their bedroom wall. What do they have now – a poster of an iPhone?

      • AvatarJohn C.

        When we moved out of the suburbs after our daughter went off to college around 2012 we had decided to buy a smaller condo in our historic downtown (Savannah). To be sure we would like the change, we rented an upscale apartment there while our house was selling. The 12 unit apt building contained 6 apartments where young male army officers rented, two per unit. Among them were 2 quite recent Corvettes, no Porsches, but a few also of those ultafast Japanese subcompacts and some Jeeps. Those young men, all under 30 and most in between multiple war deployments, were beyond impressive. The ladies took notice and seemed to line up for them. Where it is still possible, a wholesome , respectable, but hyper successful youth is still possible and the dream of that still includes Corvettes and not vintage ones.

        I argued against the Blues Brothers movie here a few weeks ago because it presented a road trip adventure movie as anti heros riding roughshot through a seedy world. Route 66 presented a more sane respectable version before the powerful had to openly spit at the average. In that world, there is a big place for a Corvette in the mind of the young hero. I am not cynical enough to believe the sane world is over, just as always threatened.

  4. AvatarCliffG

    The reason we are wandering around in the dark in late March is because of one simple problem: the government of China is fundamentally evil. The things we are trying to learn now we would have understood by late February if the Chinese government had not deliberately withheld and destroyed evidence. And they continue to lie every second of the day. I do believe that by the beginning of May we may understand the 3 things we need to know: Is it contagious through casual contact? What are the most effective medical treatments? What are the vectors of growth? Alas, because the 3 most stricken countries on earth are either not reliable (Iran and China), or perhaps a very strange outlier (Italy), we have to create our own solutions. The fundamental problem of Ginn’s is he based his conclusions on either premature or unreliable data. And, sheesh, really, mentioning the Romney campaign as a positive? Meanwhile, stay safe, preferably at home.

    • Avatardejal

      I agree. I don’t think it’s a bio-weapon. They F’d up. Thought they had a handle on it and they’d look like genius. They lied and it was too late. WHO was telling the world deep into January that there was no proof of human to human transmission. Because all the world had to go on was China + WHO, you think they would be telling the truth because no one is that stupid. That’s how I think Trump got suckered in. The CDC can’t go there. WHO says “Nah, Bra’, dey got dis”. CDC tells Trump and says probably true, Trump tell us.

      Remember when Trump started pulling back. Racist!!!! International travel bans, racist!! He was earlier than most. in the world. China and WHO today are still saying that China had it under control, WHO is saying that international cooperation shouldn’t be stopped. I guess WHO never heard of spreadsheets and PDFs and word DOCs over the internet. You still see a bunch in the EU who say international travel bans are immoral.

      The US has a history of a tree and a rope for criminals. Europe has one for politicians, ropes and lampposts.

  5. AvatarDirty Dingus McGee

    I’ve not yet ran into a duck with a tattoo, but if I did it would certainly give me something to think about.

    I have 2 friends, firefighters, who have been exposed to the Kung Flu. I most likely have myself, given my travels over the last 3 weeks. None of us in my immediate circle have been tested, and unless someone shows symptoms none likely will be tested. So we are like most all of the rest of the population, speculating whether we are contagious or not. The tough thing is dealing with the other folks out there who seem to have lost their collective mind. I needed to go to the grocery store today, as there were some things I needed after having not been at home for 3 weeks (eggs, fresh produce, etc). Certain aisles were stripped bare; zero toilet paper or paper towels, canned vegetables and canned meat almost bare, rice, pasta or frozen food very limited selection.I’ve seen stores with more stock when a hurricane is forecast. I’m not a prepper, but common sense, at least to me, was to keep at least 2-3 weeks worth of basic food stuffs in my cupboards. Guess most folks don’t see it that way.

  6. AvatarTyler

    Thank you, a thousand times thank you, for this one.

    In a way, the COVID-19 data problem is the Enron data problem. The “grand deceptions” were perversions of basic revenue recognition and cash flows calculations that could have been identified by a couple of undergrads. But: clean audits are expensive, and slow. Much easier to take the company at its word and “price in the risk” that they fudged by discounting your projections 5%. Which works fine. Until it doesn’t.

    What’s true of financial data is doubly true of health care data. Ask the nice people who got fired from IBM Watson Health. You simply can’t add up a bunch of test results and outcomes, for a brand new virus, recorded by different people in different systems run by different labs IN DIFFERENT COUNTRIES and arrive at a meaningful conclusion anymore than I can multiply a doorknob by my cat. There isn’t a middling hospital quality assurance flack alive who would take these reports to his bosses with a straight face, and yet there they are, driving infographics for that guy who wears jeans and sportcoats on CNN like they came straight from the burning bush.

    But we want to believe there’s a narrative, and that we’re in it, and hey there’s a map with Ohio lit up. The problem may not be just that data scientists want to run their stat packages on everything, but that people are envious of how smart they get to look doing it, in the way that every other shared service function in a big company is envious of how comparatively indispensable the good IT people are.

  7. Avatarscotten

    Sorry Jack, you lost me at Zerohedge. I’ve read them daily and found 1) their predictions of doom and gloom rarely come true and 2) they don’t provide sources for most of their wild content and claims (and linking to another post on ZH is not a proper source.

    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      I apologize for being unclear. This article, with which I do not agree, was kicked off another website and landed at ZeroHedge, which is the only place to read it. I’m not recommending ZeroHedge or its sources.

  8. Avatar-Nate

    Further more :

    “Think or others will think for you, take power from you….and sterilize you.”

    F Scott Fitzgerald

  9. Avatarstingray65

    Just came across one of the most interesting analyses of the virus from Italy (see link). 97% of the dead had at least 1 other serious disease or illness (50% had 2 or more), and more people over 90 have died than all those under 60. In other words, most of the Kung Flu dead were already in the medical system as patients, and their close proximity with sick people and the staff who treat them together with already frail health is why the Kung Flu infected them and pushed them over the edge. So people are hysterically clearing shelves of toilet paper and canned food because 60+ year old sick people are dying a few months early, and governments shut down the entire economy to save a bunch of senior citizens with 1.75 feet in the grave already? I’ve got some family members that have the age and health issues that make them high risk, and even they think this is stupid. On the plus side, Italy’s fiscal health should improve as a bunch of non-tax paying people sucking lots of pension and medical benefits from Italy’s Uncle Sam (Uncle Guido?) are now off the books permanently.


    • Avatardejal

      Until you see for yourself, you don’t know. I’m 63. Live alone. Pretty decent health. I’d probably live through this.
      I have no intention of getting out and about any time soon. I’m in an essential industry, worked from home for years. Other than my 401K tanking more, I’m not freaking out, just depressed. I still have more than most people will have. My plan with the more was, if I don’t spend it, the nephews and my sister can have whats ever left. There will just less of it. I’m not a big spender.

    • AvatarRick T.

      I’m 67 but with no underlying issues fortunately. I go out and about shopping as needed but on off times after the early hordes clear out. I’m willing to take the double digit risk of getting the virus multiplied by the single digit risk of dying from it if it means the country gets back on its feet more quickly in general and specifically not reducing my impending retirement to a life of poverty with a wrecked economy.

  10. AvatarEri L.


    This early review from Chinese scientists indicates a lot of the hoopla concerning asymptomatic virus carriers may have been, oops, false positives. Obviously, if you’re designing the screening for a virus that is feared to be The Worst Thing Since Spanish Flu, wouldn’t you err on the false-positive side over the false-negative side?

    Since reading that the possibility that each positive test result, in people without symptoms, is essentially a coin flip… That answered a lot of my questions as to how so many random famous people ’round the world, who are not sick, are turning up with positive results.

    • AvatarKevin Jaeger

      Indeed the testing errors – either false positives or false negatives – are a huge contributor to the uncertainty in how to respond to the virus. Without a really good reliable test and suitably large sample size it’s hard to estimate the real case fatality rate. The doomsday forecasts are driven off early estimates of a CFR of 3 to 10%, which would certainly have been a catastrophe but it’s becoming clear that those estimates were much too high.

      Unfortunately it will take some time to really get a good handle on the real numbers of those asymptomatic or very mild cases. It’s possible we’ll discover that few of them really had it at all.

      • AvatarJohn C.

        I would agree that all the numbers are suspect. To push aside the high fatality rate may be a mistake. It forgets that they come from Italy and Spain, not from China. Real, advanced countries with centralized health care systems that got their cases early because it would have been racist to close borders.

        • AvatarKevin Jaeger

          What’s happening in Italy is clearly tragic and an unfolding health care catastrophe. It appears the hospitals nursing homes themselves have become major vectors and infected many old and ill patients that were already near death.

          But even in Italy how large is it, really? It appears many of the deaths are being counted as virus caused when the primary cause could easily have been a pre-existing condition. And Italy is a large country that experiences about 1,700 deaths/day from all causes – so the roughly 700/day they’re reporting is certainly a very significant event but I haven’t seen reliable numbers that show how much of a spike in the excess deaths they’re really experiencing right now.

          Again, without reliable data within the full context it’s hard to evaluate the situation.

    • Avatardejal

      The tests are meaningless on a personal level. You get tested in the morning. A few hours later they say Lucky you. You hit the grocery store, get infected. You won’t be tested until you show symptoms. No point, you were tested. The tests are great for stats. Who/where/when. Which is very important. If you think you are sick, but not sick/sick stay further away from people than what you should already be doing. If you need a test, then you are sick/sick. If you are coughing up a lung around your family pre-test you are an idiot. The test isn’t going to save them, maybe just give them some piece of mind.

      The only way tests work is if you give everyone tests, every day. No way. I believe that was an initial reason that testing wasn’t being done because they weren’t accurate. I thought I read last week, there’s a new one much more accurate and much faster coming on line. Makes no sense to test with a coin flip.

  11. AvatarKevin Jaeger

    Good points on the Gunn article. Unfortunately the ruling classes of the entire western world are making decisions based on an equally useless doomsday model which has been run with data inputs that also have all of the defects you describe.

    The problem is no western country had the basic competence in the public health institutions to replicate the containment of the virus like Korea, Taiwan and other places in Asia did. They gave us lectures on racism instead.

    So now we have to endure a full blown pandemic spread and we really don’t have good data on just how bad it will be. It may actually turn out something like Gunn’s article. Sometimes a flawed methodology and bad data come out with something approximately right. Maybe the Chinese bat plague of Wuhan will indeed cause mass death on the scale of the 1918 Spanish Flu but I would say early indications are that it will ultimately be no worse than 4 times a bad flu season. Which is awful, but something we can endure.

    I’m much more concerned at the response since containment efforts have obviously failed. Simultaneously quarantining the entire population of the western world is economic suicide, and is ultimately no solution to the spread of the virus. In three or four weeks we’ll crawl out of our houses broke, unemployed – and the virus will still be out there. Then what? They’re committing economic suicide while praying some kind of medical miracle will emerge in three or four weeks. Just how likely is that?

  12. Avatarhank chinaski

    The local Trans Am club ran Solo 2 with the school club in the parking lot behind my freshman dorm. All brash, noisy, and sideways and on one occasion brutally beaten by an old Mini on slicks. The driver, a bean pole, was crammed in like Bubba Smith in the Civic in ‘Police Academy’. One student’s Rabbit landed oily side up on at least one occasion.

    WuFlu is likely airborne, not droplet. It’s going to tear through the NY metro area.
    They will not unwind these measures willingly. Prince Andy is dangerous.

  13. AvatarJames

    I think you are right. Years ago, I heard a talk by the “Small Data” author, and agreed with his thesis. The data scientist’s naivete is fundamentally different from the mathematician’s: the mathematician applies axioms to his daily life, but sometimes overlook crucial axioms because he cannot see why they are relevant. Reality doesn’t always provide feedback, when you’re used to arguing from first principles.

    The data scientist’s naivete is based on the hope that if he just had enough numbers, all patterns would be obvious. That mindset is distasteful to the mathematician, who judges himself on his ability to see obscure patterns in small amounts of information.

    In parallel, many engineers–even in computers–believe in Murphy’s law, but a shocking number do not. We used to refer to this phenomenon as “Dunning-Krueger,” but I think “midwit,” as you use, is a better term. This hope is a midwit hope, that external factors will one day make things clear to him, and does not seem to be as closely related to general ignorance.

    • AvatarJames

      Clarifying (I wrote the previous comment on my phone!):
      (1) The value judgment concerning “big data” scientists is my own, not the Small Data author’s.
      (2) He argued for detecting patterns using narrow but deep data, plus an expert, in market research (his field)–rather than relying on wide but shallow, “big,” data. Mathematicians naturally have the same view, with respect to their field. “Expert” here just means, able to detect subtle patterns.
      (3) The dimwit/midwit/topwit classification predates the Dunning-Krueger effect being formalized, and is related but different. Dunning-Krueger says people overestimate their skill in areas where they are unskilled. Separately, it has been observed for years that the midwit faces much stronger social pressure to overestimate his skill than the dimwit does.
      (4) Mathematicians, I think, are more likely to believe in Murphy’s Law than are data scientists, because most of them quickly discover that their view of the world (derived from first principles, which is the only technique they know!) disagrees sharply with reality. Murphy’s Law fits into their pessimistic view of the broken world outside.

  14. Avatar-Nate

    ” Everyone is out and more people get sick, we should stay home.”

    From a buddy of mine who’s daughter is an E.R. nurse :

    As you likely know already, my daughter Rachel is an emergency room/trauma nurse at a major hospital. Today she reported to work for her first 12 hour shift after having six glorious days of reprieve from her stressful job which she loves so much. As is usually the case, she luckily checks in with us to decompress and touch base a few times during the week after work. Knowing how crazy things have gotten lately, we asked her what it was like today.

    Her assignment today, which switches a bunch to other positions within the unit just as important, was to be in the trauma bay, where the life and death decisions are made for patients one step away from death’s door whether from stabbing, gunshots, accidents, or near fatal conditions.

    My daughter is very experienced, having attained a good degree of seniority among her coworkers and much training in her field. She is also very self driven to do things as best as she possibly can. For the reason I tell you this following fact, you will soon see.

    Rachel has done hundreds of intubations in her career. Those are the tubes forced down the throat of a nearly unconscious or totally unconscious patient due to acute breathing problems. As you may know, this is the big issue being talked about these days as relief for all these record number of patients or are projected to be done as a result of the Covid-19 virus so they can be hooked to these ventilators that are so desperately needed.

    Bear in mind that patients who come in are to be tested for the virus, but because the results are far from immediate, the tests are done on suspected cases, but until those cases prove positive or negative at a later time, every situation is a “rule out”. In other words, treat them as a virus patient until you can with certainty rule them out having the virus.

    Today, a very seriously ill patient was so close to death from breathing problems on the trauma bay operating table, that they desperately needed to be incubated immediately or certain death would occur. As one nurse called out to use PPE, personal protective equipment, the doctor plunged the tube down the throat into the person. Not one person had the opportunity to suit up but likely saved the patients life, although likely we will not know for the purpose of this story.

    I tell you this because this exact procedure is what everyone is talking about, that medical staff needs face shields, gloves, masks and gowns. It takes time to don those items even in a slow approach. The reason to use them is because the patient can reflexively vomit, expel virus laden air droplets, or mist, thereby exposing everyone in the room to the virus laden contaminants.

    Obviously, everyone in the room has now been exposed. But it is unknown if the patient had been sick to start with or the respiratory problem was caused by some other problem.

    Rule out………..

    Obviously I am fearful for my daughter and others, but the doctor needed to make a split decision so it is hard to fault him I guess.

    We have resigned ourselves to the fact that we may not personally see our daughter especially for many months to come, but this is an accepted risk my daughter has always taken and acknowledged, whether it be SARS, MERS, TB, or Ebola.

    When people talk about heroes, believe them. They are in the front line for all of us.

    Please share this with whoever you choose. I have no problem with it.


    BTW : my sister was an E.R. nurse in Washington D.C. where she got splattered with blood from the daily gunshot victims, most of who hated her just for being White, after a few years she caught hepatitis C and nearly died, the hospital of course fired her so they could side step the responsibility of her medical care .

    Now she’s one more old disabled near broke woman you’d all like to die .

    Good thing she salted away lots of ca$h when she was making $100,000 + yearly .

    When you idiots and your family members begin dying we’ll see which side of your mouth you’re talking out of .


    • AvatarKevin Jaeger

      There is a fallacy in your logic. If staying home for a while eradicated the virus we could have this conversation. The virus is out and globally exists and until there is a vaccine we will have to endure its existence.

      You can impose an extensive lockdown but the future fantasy world where the virus is gone doesn’t exist.

      So we need to discuss how we plan to earn a living while combating it.

      • AvatarRick T.

        I wonder if a quaratine has ever worked for an already widespread, highly infectious disease? Hard to find an answer.

        • AvatarKevin Jaeger

          I’ve heard of quarantining sick people, as well as quarantining those who have been exposed to sick people. I’ve heard of quarantining a town to protect the surrounding region.

          I don’t believe there’s any precedent in history of quarantining the healthy population state-wide or nationwide. I believe it’s as ineffective as it is economically catastrophic.

          • Avatarrambo furum

            I support voluntary quarantine camps that would get the suckers out of our way so we can go back to regularly scheduled living. I have no interest in appeasing the paranoid ninnies, especially when all the facts don’t even rise to “it’s just the flu, bro.”

    • AvatarJohn C.

      This was a powerful story Nate of people fighting for the lives of the old. As a Republican. I wonder when the the party stopped standing up for the idea that life is sacred and started just hoping a reopening announcement would make the stock market go back up. You would think the rally of the last few days before any announcement would show how much the fix is in with that, as it was of course was on the decline.

      • Avatar-Nate

        I keep trying to explain the difference between the actual Conservatives and the alt right nitwits who hide behind the flag, gutted our public education system and are happily looting the treasury right now whilst throwing a $1,200 bone to the American people who actually do the works that allow the 1% to live in luxury with out doing much actual work .

        FWIW, the mouth breathers and emotional/mental children here have now made it so we’ve had another spike in infected people and convirus19 deaths in Los Angeles County ~ if it remains at this level, in only 6 days Los Angeles will be the worst place in the U.S.A. for this, the envious haters of California will rejoice when we’re wiped out .

        Me, I’m avoiding others although I’m still staying away from others .

        Most of the clothing manufacturers in the U.S.A. are right here in Los Angeles, the city is working with them to begin manufacturing cloth, washable face masks, once we’re all dead you can blame California for this…..

        Los Angeles County is also the manufacturing capital of all of North America including Canada but that’s O.K. if we all die, right ? .

        FWIW, Baby Boomers are the ones who made all this good life and financial security, they’re not standing with their hands out like the younger Americans are, once we’re all gone good luck to the whiner kiddies, please be nice to my grand children.

        As mentioned, I’m old and was supposed to die several times over long ago so unlike most, I’m ready to go if it’s my time .


        • AvatarKevin Jaeger

          Nate, I know this is a stressful time for many but have you considered that your thoughts are not entirely logical at the moment. You live in California and are under a state-wide lockdown order that includes Los Angeles county.

          Some people on the internet debating the optimal quarantine response aren’t spreading any viruses in Los Angeles County. You live in a jurisdiction ENTIRELY governed by Democrats, not the alt-right. When restrictions are ultimately lifted it will be done when your Democratic governor and county officials decide to do it.

          And as for the bail-out I’m not a fan of it. It’s exactly as I expected, since Congress can be counted on to serve its donor class, especially when acting in a bipartisan way. But when the senate is voting 96-0 for something consider the possibility that they are not acting on behalf of the alt-right. This is the normal bipartisan lobbyist process at work and no, it isn’t pretty.

        • AvatarJMcG

          The alt right, whatever you imagine that to be, has not one iota of power anywhere in the USA. Guys like Bill Ackman have the power. He gets screen time on the networks to set fire to the economy, then makes billions by shorting it. He’s the second coming of George Soros.
          And you’re worried about a handful of guys in their basements?

          • Avatar-Nate

            No ;

            I worry about the gop that quietly and sneakily slipped thorough legislation to CUT unemployment benefits while every one was watching the half assed relief bill that favors the rich, funny how the LIB’RAL MEDIA managed to miss that, huh ? .

            Anyone who says the alt right has no power is either LYING or incredibly and deliberately ignorant .

            The U.S.A. now has more infected people than three other countries combined .

            I’m waiting to see how you idiots try to spin this to blame the “leftists” .

            I hate the left too but reality is after all, reality .


          • AvatarKevin Jaeger

            I am the last person to defend the pork in this or any bill but living in the real world is important. The senate voted 96-0. When you’re calling Bernie Sanders alt-right something has gone tilt.

            The Speaker of the House is a California Democrat, and the bill was passed by a voice vote with a lone Republican objecting to the sordid process.

            Bloated with pork and full of handouts to the rich – yes it is all of that. And there’s a big expansion of unemployment benefits. Can you point to the section that cuts unemployment benefits?

          • Avatar-Nate

            It’s a different bill passed just before so it wasn’t noticed, just how they planned .

            They all voted on it because, once again the !LIB’RAL MEDIA ! managed to make sure every one in America knew it was up for a vote so no one dared to be the one who voted against it….

            This isn’t rocket science folks, it’s you being played for fools .


        • AvatarJMcG

          Nate, I don’t necessarily disagree with you. I just don’t think that the alt right is what you think it is. I don’t think the alt right is ok with the crony capitalism you correctly condemn. I’m a working man, use my tools every day. The finance guys are my enemy, guys like Mitt Romney, and Schumer, and the Clinton’s, and Ackman and Soros. All the crowd that offshored my country in the last thirty years. Not you, and not the guys like Jack.

  15. AvatarRonnie Schreiber

    If you have a 3D printer, you can print a respirator mask (STL and parametric CAD files at the link below) that you can fit with a N95 filter or its equivalent. It takes about four hours to print at 0.3mm resolution. Since it only uses a 2.5″ square of filter material, it can extend the use of the material in a full size N95 mask, cutting those up. You can possibly use a HEPA rated vacuum cleaner bag or furnace filter. While HEPA is a different standard than N95, if the HEPA filter is rated at .3 microns, that the same as N95. BTW, if you have access to industrial filters, R95 and P95 rated filters work as well against viruses as N95.


  16. AvatarMike

    It’s a virus, not a Zombie Plague chasing Brad Pitt, Will Smith (or Charlton Heston). Chances are when I and my family get Covid 19, most of us will survive after a couple weeks of being sick. The ones who don’t are the ones who already actively avoid getting colds, flu, etc anyway because the experience could kill them. At least my family members realise this and have come to terms with death for a while now. “I have to die of something” says my grandfather.

    More certain than death from C19 is starving because I can’t buy food in two months either because of lack of supply or a lack of money because I will be laid off in a couple weeks. More certain than dying of C19 is that my family will be at risk of losing our home because I can’t or am not allowed to make money to pay the mortgage. More certain than death from C19 is that the week we finally can get back to work, everyone who has been self isolating is going to come down with every cold and flu their neighbours and coworkers had already gotten used to (see NASAs YouTube channels where they explain how new astronauts bring germs with them and make everyone sick for a week and then are fine until the next staff change). More certain than death from C19 is that people, who a generally stupid, will panic over those minor illness and reignite more social instability. More certain than death from C19 is that politicians world wide will at some point find a way to take advantage and the power the panicked masses are begging to give them- perhaps to sell even more big data to big business, or to expand the safety of the masses so they can track suspected criminals using their own personal property. More certain than dying of C19 is that all of our children’s financial security is at risk.

    I sympathise with everyone who actually going to see death coming to their door, but as my grandfather says, “You have to die of something.” All I can hope is that when death walks me out that door, I can look back and see that I made some effort to clean the mess I for those I am leaving behind.

    • AvatarGianni

      I doubt Cuomo, Newsom, Inslee, etc. are going to suffer any financial consequences personally. They continue drawing their salary as they face C19 with steely resolve and their defined benefit pensions will be just fine at the end of all this.

      • AvatarDirt Roads

        Insley is a twat. Let’s not keep people from coming in because racism.
        How about let’s not bring people in because viruses don’t give a damn what color you are?
        And Washington state started as the epicenter of this disease for the country.

  17. AvatarScottm

    I’m pretty sure I had it back in December. I travel to Korea regularly for business and was there for 3 weeks in December, returning home on the 17th. Inwas sick with a fever, muscle aches, and a horrible dry cough until after the new year. I was bedridden for most of Christmas week. My daughter was home from school and she caught it too. She went to the doctor and tested negative for flu A, flu B, and strep throat. I don’t trust the Chinese and am convinced covid19 has been circulating for several months longer than the WHO admits.


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