Sunday, March 22, 2020

GWPF Newsletter - BBC: Have UK Experts Over-Egged Coronavirus Deaths?

"Heated" Debate Between Scientists Forced Boris Johnson To Act On Coronavirus

In this newsletter:

1) BBC: Have UK Experts Over-Egged Coronavirus Deaths?
BBC News, 21 March 2020

2) Ten Days That Changed Britain: "Heated" Debate Between Scientists Forced Boris Johnson To Act On Coronavirus
Alex Wickham, BuzzFee, 21 March 2020

3) If COVID-19 Killed 1.4% of People With Symptoms in Wuhan, the Overall Fatality Rate Is Likely to Be Much Lower Than People Feared
Jacob Sullum, Reason Online, 20 March 2020 

4) David Zaruk: Coronavirus Shows Our Reliance On The 'Precautionary Principle' Has Ruined Our Ability To Manage Risk
Science 2.0 Europe, 21 March 2020

5) Gillian Tett: Coronavirus, Ray Dalio And Forecasting In An Age Of Uncertainty
Financial Times, 18 March 2020

6) Matthew Paris: Crashing The Economy Will Also Cost Lives

The Times, 21 March 2020

7) Judith Curry: Coronavirus Uncertainty

Full details:

1) BBC: Have UK Experts Over-Egged Coronavirus Deaths?
BBC News, 21 March 2020

“There is certainly evidence to suggest the modellers have underestimated the ability of the NHS to increase intensive care capacity.”

The drastic measures taken in the UK to tackle coronavirus have been justified because of the need to save lives.

Modelling by Imperial College London – used to inform government – suggests 500,000 could die if we do nothing.
Even the government’s previous strategy to slow the spread was likely to lead to 250,000 deaths, the research showed.

The warnings prompted ministers to announce on Monday the most draconian crackdown on freedom in peacetime with the public told not to go to pubs, clubs or theatres, and to work from home if possible.

The move has hit the economy, putting jobs at risk and prompting schools to be closed and exams cancelled.

No other option – experts

Professor Neil Ferguson, one of the lead academics involved in the modelling, told the BBC’s Today Programme this week there was “no option” if 250,000 lives were not to be risked.

Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, said in an appearance before the Health Select Committee, that the hope was to keep the death toll below 20,000 by suppressing the virus.

That would still be worse than those killed by flu, he said, giving a number of 8,000 per year.

He said limiting deaths to 20,000 would be “horrible” but still represented a “good outcome” given where we are.

Would these people be dying anyway?

The figures for coronavirus are eye-watering. But what is not clear – because the modellers did not map this – is to what extent the deaths would have happened without coronavirus.

Given that the old and frail are the most vulnerable, would these people be dying anyway?

Every year more than 500,000 people die in England and Wales: factor in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and the figure tops 600,000.

The coronavirus deaths will not be on top of this. Many would be within this “normal” number of expected deaths. In short, they would have died anyway.

It was a point conceded by Sir Patrick at a press conference on Thursday when he said there would be “some overlap” between coronavirus deaths and expected deaths – he just did not know how much of an overlap.

The flu comparison

In contrast, the figure he gave for flu deaths to MPs – 8,000 – is different. It is actually the number of deaths over and above what you would expect to happen in any given year.

Many more die with flu, but the figure gives you an indication of how many more die because of flu, whereas the 20,000, 250,000 and 500,000 figures for coronavirus are simply the number of deaths linked to coronavirus.

The testing which has been done in many countries means we know when a patient dies with the virus inside their body. What it does not tell us is to what extent coronavirus contributed to the death.

Why better intelligence is needed

There are, of course, other factors at play here. Left unchecked, the deaths would come very quickly.
The 500,000 deaths could all occur in the UK by August, the modellers said.

This in itself would overwhelm the health service – if they were right – putting even more lives at risk, because care would not be available for others.

But there is certainly evidence to suggest the modellers have underestimated the ability of the NHS to increase intensive care capacity.

NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens suggested intensive care capacity could be doubled, after this modelling came out.

What else has not been done is a proper assessment of the economic and social costs of the measures taken, which themselves will put lives and health at risk.

Full post

2) Ten Days That Changed Britain: "Heated" Debate Between Scientists Forced Boris Johnson To Act On Coronavirus
Alex Wickham, BuzzFee, 21 March 2020

“If you think the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies is a cosy consensus of agreeing, you're very wrong indeed”.

It was on Wednesday March 11 — 10 days ago — that some of the experts on the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies began to realise that the coronavirus was spreading through the UK too fast for the NHS to cope.

Over the next few days, Britain’s leading epidemiologists were embroiled in a series of extremely tense — and until now private — discussions among themselves, with the UK’s chief scientific advisor Patrick Vallance, and Boris Johnson’s government over what to do.

There was no consensus. Several of the scientists frantically argued that the UK must immediately introduce social distancing to halt the spread of the virus. Some pleaded with the government to change tack or face dire consequences.

But others continued to believe that introducing social distancing now would be unsustainable for a long period and would lead to a more disastrous second wave of infection.

The days-long debate between the experts themselves and with the government was “heated” and “extremely difficult”, multiple sources familiar with the discussions told BuzzFeed News. Vallance admitted as much at a health select committee hearing this week: “If you think SAGE is a cosy consensus of agreeing, you're very wrong indeed”.

The extent of the disagreement between the nation’s top scientists and the government can be revealed at the end of one of the most extraordinary weeks in modern British history.

As chancellor Rishi Sunak unveiled an unprecedented package of state intervention in the economy, and Johnson enforced the closure of pubs, restaurants, theatres and gyms, it also emerged that: Ministers have criticised the prime minister's senior aides for “outsourcing” leadership on coronavirus to a small group of experts; Downing Street is still considering a partial lockdown of London in the coming weeks; and cabinet secretary Mark Sedwill introduced a series of new Whitehall structures after concerns that the government was acting too slowly on both its health advice and its economic response.

While the scientific debate was raging last week between experts, officials and ministers in face-to-face meetings and over emails and text messages, Johnson’s government was publicly insisting that the scientific advice showed the UK did not yet have to bring in more stringent measures to fight the virus.

Political aides tacitly criticised other countries who had taken more dramatic steps, claiming Britain was being “guided by the science” rather than politics.

Towards the end of last week, some ministers and political aides at the top of the government were still arguing that the original strategy of home isolation of suspect cases — but no real restrictions on wider society — was correct, despite almost every other European country taking a much tougher approach, and increasing alarm among SAGE experts.

The thought of months or even a year of social distancing was simply not feasible, some in Johnson’s team still thought at that point. They continued to privately defend the controversial “herd immunity” approach outlined to the media by Vallance, even as other aides scrambled to claim the UK had never considered it to be policy.

And there was fury behind the scenes among members of Johnson’s team at the likes of Rory Stewart and Jeremy Hunt, who had been publicly saying the government had got it wrong.

But data from Italy — presented to the government before it was published by experts at Imperial College on Monday — changed all that. Their report confirmed the earlier fears of the epidemiologists who had been calling for more drastic action.

It showed that the NHS would indeed soon be overwhelmed if the UK’s “mitigation” strategy continued. The country had to move right away to a “suppression” approach with much more social distancing and restrictions on normal life, Imperial concluded.

Vallance and Johnson accepted the chilling findings and the prime minister finally advised social distancing on Monday. The experts who had been demanding this for days wondered what the lost time would mean in terms of deaths.

They also raised concerns that the government must be completely transparent with the public, questioning why Vallance later chose to describe the difference between the mitigation and suppression strategies as “semantics”. “This will all come out in the mother of public inquiries,” a source said.

"If you want to know how much we underestimated this, last Wednesday Rishi's budget gave a £30 billion stimulus for the economy, six days later he had to spend another £330 billion," said a Whitehall official. [...]

While the crisis that Johnson faces is undoubtedly unprecedented, there is significant criticism of Number 10’s handling of the situation across the government and the Conservative Party.

Chief among them is the view — expressed by several ministers and Tory MPs to BuzzFeed News over the last few days — that Johnson and his chief aide Dominic Cummings have effectively “outsourced” the government’s decision-making process to Vallance, the chief medical officer Chris Whitty, and a small team of scientific advisers.

While Downing Street’s deference to the experts won plaudits early on, this approach has turned out to be lacking, the ministers and MPs said, because the scientists themselves disagreed on what to do. One minister said that it was then the political responsibility of Johnson and Number 10 to decide which scientists to back, but described a “vacuum of leadership” among aides.

The minister told BuzzFeed News that Cummings and Vallance were “close allies” and claimed the government had “bet” the future of the UK on advice from a very small group of scientists that for a long time differed from the wider international consensus, and other members of SAGE.

Full story

3) If COVID-19 Killed 1.4% of People With Symptoms in Wuhan, the Overall Fatality Rate Is Likely to Be Much Lower Than People Feared
Jacob Sullum, Reason Online, 20 March 2020 

The big unknown is how many people are infected but aren't counted in the official numbers because their symptoms are mild or nonexistent.

new study of COVID-19 cases in Wuhan, China, estimates that the death rate among people who were infected and developed symptoms was 1.4 percent. That is far lower than the crude case fatality rate (CFR) produced by dividing total deaths into total confirmed cases (4.5 percent) and far lower than the global CFR initially calculated by the World Health Organization (3.4 percent). The study, reported yesterday in Nature Medicine, suggests that the overall CFR—including people who are infected but do not develop symptoms—will prove to be much lower in the United States than many people feared.

During congressional testimony last week, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, estimated that the overall CFR in the United States would be about 1 percent. The worst-case scenario sketched by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) imagines 214 million infections and 1.7 million deaths, which translates into a CFR of about 0.8 percent, similar to the crude CFR in South Korea, which has a much more robust testing program than the U.S. has managed. But all of these estimates exclude people infected by the coronavirus who have no symptoms or symptoms so mild that they never register in the official numbers.

John Ionannidis, an epidemiologist and biostatistician at Stanford University, notes that the CFR among passengers and crew on the Diamond Princess cruise ship—"the one situation where an entire, closed population was tested"—was 1 percent, but "but this was a largely elderly population, in which the death rate from Covid-19 is much higher." Given the age structure of the general U.S. population, he says, "the death rate among people infected with Covid-19 would be 0.125%." But since that estimate is based on a small sample of just 700 people, Ionannidis suggests that "the real death rate could stretch from five times lower (0.025%) to five times higher (0.625%)." Taking into account delayed deaths, he says, "reasonable estimates for the case fatality ratio in the general U.S. population vary from 0.05% to 1%."

That's a very wide range, highlighting the weak empirical basis for aggressive, economically ruinous COVID-19 control measures. If the CFR is as low as 0.05 percent, which is half the estimated CFR for the seasonal flu, the number of deaths in the CDC's worst-case scenario would be 107,000, meaning the projection is off by a factor of 16. If a third of the population is ultimately infected, rather than the 65 percent assumed in the CDC's worst-case scenario, the number of deaths plummets from 1.7 million to about 55,000. It is impossible to assess the cost-effectiveness of mass interventions such as statewide or nationwide "shelter in place" orders in the face of such uncertainty.

The Nature Medicine study confirms that COVID-19 death rates vary widely by age. The estimated fatality rate in symptomatic cases was 2.6 percent among patients 60 or older, compared to 0.5 percent for patients in their 30s, 40s, or 50s, and 0.3 percent among patients younger than 30. To put it another way, patients in the oldest age group were about five times as likely to die as those in the middle age group and more than eight times as likely to die as those in the youngest age group.

The researchers caution that the symptomatic CFR for Wuhan cannot necessarily be extrapolated to other parts of China, let alone other countries. "Given that Wuhan is no longer the only (albeit the first) location with sustained local spread, it would be important to assess and take into account the experience from elsewhere, both domestically in mainland China and overseas," they say. "These secondary epicenters, having learned from the early phase of the Wuhan epidemic, might have had a systematically different epidemiology and response that could impact the parameters estimated here."

The study's main symptomatic CFR calculation assumes that half of the people infected by the COVID-19 virus develop symptoms. If that's true, the number of infections is at least twice as high as the number of known cases, and that's assuming everyone with symptoms gets counted, which is certainly not the case, since people with mild symptoms may never seek medical attention or testing. But that factor alone means that the overall CFR is dramatically lower than it appears to be based on reported cases and deaths.

"One largely unknown factor at present is the number of asymptomatic, undiagnosed infections," the researchers note. "Estimates of both the observed and unobserved infections are essential for informing the development and evaluation of public health strategies, which need to be traded off against economic, social and personal freedom costs. For example, drastic social distancing and mobility restrictions, such as school closures and travel advisories/bans, should only be considered if an accurate estimation of case fatality risk warrants these interventions, which seriously disrupt social and economic stability."

4) David Zaruk: Coronavirus Shows Our Reliance On The 'Precautionary Principle' Has Ruined Our Ability To Manage Risk
Science 2.0 Europe, 21 March 2020

Last year I worried the only way to solve Europe's "precautionary" policy disaster is for bodies to "start piling up”. It's not too late to prevent that from happening.

With locusts ravaging East Africa and a coronavirus plague shutting down Western economies, maybe it is time to go back and see how the precautionary principle has fared as the (only) risk management tool in our policy toolkit. With a population naively assuming they were living risk-free lives having been reassured how their personal safety was managed by others, the coming crisis is going to hit hard.

Whatever happened to personal risk management, accountability and autonomy? Populations that have lost an understanding of risks are now incapable of dealing with simple hazard reduction measures. COVID-19 has taught us that two decades of precautionist-driven risk aversion has left an untrusting public without the capacity to protect themselves. Times of mass panic as we’re seeing today are not ideal periods to re-teach simple risk management skills, but perhaps once the outrage has passed and the bodies have been removed, a bit of risk reality education will be welcomed.

Handle with Precaution

Two decades of the precautionary principle as the key policy tool for managing uncertainties has neutered risk management capacities by offering, as the only approach, the systematic removal of any exposure to any hazard. As the risk-averse precautionary mindset cements itself, more and more of us have become passive docilians waiting to be nannied. We no longer trust and are no longer trusted with risk-benefit choices as we are channelled down over-engineered preventative paths. While it is important to reduce exposure to risks, our excessively-protective risk managers have, in their zeal, removed our capacity to manage risks ourselves. Precaution over information, safety over autonomy, dictation over accountability.

Whatever happened to “Keep out of reach of children”? Now we cannot be trusted and all products must be child-safe.

Whatever happened to “Handle with care”? Now safety by design has removed the need for individuals to exercise common sense or risk reduction measures.

Whatever happened to trust? Now individuals are no longer left with the capacity to make their own decisions in managing personal risks.

“These are good things” precaution advocates would retort “since people often make mistakes and bad things can better be prevented!”. While continuous improvement of safety systems has its value, the bigger the fences, the less autonomously the individuals will react (creating a society of docile followers). The precautionary approach implies a lack of trust in individuals’ capacities to make their own (rational) choices. The over-engineered risk-management process would remove any situation where choices could be made.

Fine for cases where there are no trade-offs, disruptions or loss of benefits (when the sheep have plenty of grass in their field), but in times of crisis (exposure to hazards), when precaution is your only tool, then sacrifice is the only solution.

When you’re out of bullets… Run!!!

When societies are faced with a crisis demanding individual risk management, and the only tool the regulators (risk managers) seem to have left is the precautionary principle, then autonomy and accountability are taken away, trust is lost and benefits are disrupted. With COVID-19, regulators are dealing with a population it can no longer trust as the risk management process has become centralised. At the same time, trust in the regulators has dissipated from a decade of intensive activist delegitimisation campaigns.

Precaution’s answer to COVID-19 is to quarantine the outbreak to try to minimise exposures to the virus. Given the incubation period can be as long as 14 days, this is like locking the doors after everyone has left the room. As that measure will inevitably fail, the next step is to shut everything down. Economies will suffer much longer than our fear of COVID-19 uncertainty, with the undesired public healthcare funding effects, but precautionistas have never been much bothered with lost benefits or dire consequences.

So rather than letting schools manage risks, they are closing them down. Couldn’t teachers use this opportunity to reinforce hygiene skills and expand the use of disinfectants? (Or did the schools ban the use of effective chemicals in the last precautionary wave?) Rather than promoting the immunity benefits of fitness and well-being, organisers in Tokyo, Rome and Paris have cancelled this year’s marathon races. Couldn’t these cities use the opportunity to stress fitness and healthy living as a good prevention to diseases. Rather than using the COVID-19 pause in the West to educate the public on immunity-building measures, the regulators are wasting time reassuring their populations bad things won’t happen to them. Rather than trusting the public to self-isolate when potential COVID-19 symptoms arrive (what is basically done with every other flu outbreak), our authorities have created mass panic in the supermarkets, economic recession and further public trust declines.

These are all indicative of serious failures in our risk management capacity at government level. But how are our populations personally managing this latest coronavirus risk?

When the public now sees everything of modern life (work, school, public events…) cancelled in a knee-jerk precautionary impulse, is it any wonder they are panicking?

Full post

5) Coronavirus, Ray Dalio And Forecasting  In An Age Of Uncertainty
Gillian Tett, Financial Times, 18 March 2020

Predictive models only get you so far. We also need to maintain our peripheral vision

It is never easy to admit that you are wrong; especially when you have previously earned fame (and billions of dollars) by calling the future right.

However, Ray Dalio, founder of the world’s largest hedge fund, Bridgewater Associates, has done just that. After it emerged that his flagship fund was down about 20 per cent since the start of the year, Dalio admitted that he had been caught flat-footed by the recent coronavirus-driven market swings — in sharp contrast to the 2008 financial crisis, when he and his team predicted events with such prescience that they profited handsomely.

“We’re disappointed because we should have made money rather than lost money in this move, the way we did in 2008,” he told the FT. It seems that the systems that Bridgewater developed to analyse the flows of finance and economic activities — which have traditionally driven its bets on the direction of stocks, bonds and other securities — did not offer any guidance when looking at a rare event such as the current pandemic.

“We did not know how to navigate the virus and chose not to because we didn’t think we had an edge in trading it,” Dalio went on to explain. “So, we stayed in our positions and, in retrospect, we should have cut all risk.”

Now, many readers may feel baffled by this, given that the whole point of investing with a hedge fund is that they are supposed to beat the markets at times of stress (Dalio himself has published extensive advice on how to handle turbulence).

However, I think that scorn is the wrong response here. Never mind the fact that Bridgewater is far from the only fund to suffer big losses and that Dalio has admitted to his mistakes (which is a more honest approach than most of his rivals).

What is interesting to ponder is what this episode reveals about the nature of forecasting — and our modern attitudes towards time.

As anthropologists often point out, the way we think about time is a defining feature of the post-enlightenment world. During much of human history, the future was viewed as a vague and terrifyingly unknowable blur marked by constant bargaining with deities (to ward off disaster) or cyclical seasonal rhythms (of the sort that underscore Buddhist cognitive maps).

In modern, post-enlightenment western cultures, however, a linear vision of time emerged that presumes the past can be extrapolated into the future, with a sense of progression, not just cyclicality.

In the 20th century, this gave birth to the risk management and finance professions, as Peter Bernstein wrote two decades ago in his brilliant book Against the Gods: the Remarkable Story of Risk.

By the turn of the century, innovations such as computing and the internet were turbocharging the forecasting business to an extraordinary degree, as Margaret Heffernan notes in her excellent (and very timely) new book Uncharted. “Human discomfort with uncertainty . . . has fuelled an industry that enriches itself by terrorising us with uncertainty and taunting us with certainty,” she writes.

However, as Heffernan stresses, while the forecasting business has made its “experts” very rich, it is also based on a fallacy: the idea that the future can be neatly extrapolated from the past. Moreover, the apparent success of some pundits in predicting events (such as the 2008 crash) makes them so overconfident that they get locked into particularly rigid models. “The harder economists try to identify sure-fire methods of predicting markets, the more such insight eludes them,” she writes.

Is there a solution? Heffernan’s answer is to embrace uncertainty, build resilience, use “narrative” (or qualitative) analyses instead of rigid models and to respect the wisdom of diverse views to avoid tunnel vision. Strikingly, in the wake of the 2008 crisis, some economists agree.

Indeed, Mervyn King, former governor of the Bank of England, has just joined forces with his fellow economist and former FT columnist John Kay to pen a thoughtful tome, Radical Uncertainty, which echoes Heffernan’s points.

“Over 40 years the authors have watched the bright optimism of a new, rigorous approach to economics — which they shared — dissolve into the failures of prediction,” they write, arguing that the modern community of economists and policymakers needs to accept radical uncertainty and rethink its models.

This is sensible. But to my mind there is another way to frame this debate: to treat models (whether they emerge from computer science or economics) like a compass in a dark wood at night. Navigation tools can give you a sense of direction and orientation; it would be ridiculous to toss them out entirely.

Full story
6) Matthew Paris: Crashing The Economy Will Also Cost Lives
The Times, 21 March 2020

Just like the virus, impoverishment kills, and locking down the elderly might have been a drastic but fairer solution.

From the start we’ve all agreed on one thing: we must follow the science. Viruses, we say, are blind to politics and the coronavirus emergency requires only one political choice: to listen to the experts. Our prime minister is hardly seen except flanked by two of these and the intended message is clear: there are no political choices here. “The science” will tell us what to do.

But when people tell you there is no place for politics in a decision, it is almost always the case that they have already made a political choice, often without knowing it. Boris Johnson has. He may well have made the right choice. God knows, when as prime minister you face the possibility that within a year we could lose more of our citizens than we lost during the Blitz, the pressure must be almost intolerable. He has decided to proceed, as have most world leaders, on the basis that it’s best to err on the side of caution and throw everything we have at this pandemic. Including our economy, as evidenced by the chancellor’s astonishing measures to try to mitigate the harm.

I cannot say he is wrong. What do I, what does he, what does anyone know? One writes with great hesitation on an issue like this. But there’s a lurking doubt in my mind that still seems worth thinking about, if only for when the next pandemic strikes, as it surely will.

World leaders have decided to prioritise the reduction of
deaths among the old and very old at the expense of the livelihoods and prospects of those who are still at work. Even that is only a guess at this stage. It does seem that the elderly and those with underlying health conditions are overwhelmingly going to be the casualties but information is still coming in and it’s too early to be sure.

But on that basis we’re weighing the nation’s jobs, businesses and the whole of the younger generation’s and working population’s prospects against an imperative to keep one smaller part of the population (to which, being 70 years old, I belong) alive. Must it be either/or?

If the aim is finally to corner and isolate the virus, and if we throw everything into the attempt, we shall almost certainly succeed but at enormous cost. What, though, if this is not the last time a virus mutates into a fast-spreading threat to life? Even after we beat this one, we won’t know whether Covid-19 is annihilated for good or just beaten into a temporary stand-off. So it’s worth attempting a dispassionate survey of the battle, to see what can be learnt for the next one.

Some things seem increasingly likely. That, for instance, Covid-19 is much better at spreading itself than the influenzas we’re familiar with; that it appears much, much more dangerous to the old or physically fragile than to the rest of the population; and that the fatality rate is much higher than from flu. Figures vary wildly between countries, however, and can be especially unreliable when they come from countries like ours where (to the bafflement of most of us) there has been little or no testing of the general population. The most reliable figure probably comes from South Korea and that figure so far is just short of 1 per cent.

The Korean rate may look small but could still mean about half a million of us British would die, far more than seasonal flu kills; and my guess is that this is the worst-case scenario ministers are contemplating. It would overwhelm our NHS, which explains this week’s U-turn on the previous policy of attenuating the spread rather than trying to stop it. Most of these deaths would probably occur among our oldest citizens plus some younger people already at risk.

Given what we already know, or surmise, might it be worth considering a more ruthlessly but more narrowly targeted drive to confine the most apparently at-risk (like me, I fear) for our own protection, rather than (as it seems) wreck the economy by confining almost everybody else? Are we going to do this all over again next time a mutant virus threatens the ever-increasing number of fragile elderly that modern medicine adds to our population? My mother is 93 and very frail. My father was kept alive for 15 years with heart operations and drugs. I wouldn’t wish to sacrifice a day of their lives but if we could design a way to keep grandparents safe without closing down the economy, then their many children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren would thank us and so, I think, would they.

“Epidemic” is an emotive word; “pandemic” even more so. A virus, especially a “foreign virus” roots easily in the public and political imagination as an identifiable enemy, an alien assassin. Fatality statistics look like brute and indisputable facts, especially when the figures for “would have died anyway before long” are beyond our grasp and sound so unfeeling. Contrast these all-too vivid and immediate spectres with cloudy abstractions like “the economic health” of a nation or the planet.

But economic distress is no less real for being stealthy. Impoverishment kills. Redundancy can be a physical or mental health disaster. Bankruptcy wounds. Debt scars. Austerity comes calling in its own hood, wields its own scythe. People die quietly, alone and unreported — through drink, drugs, unhealthy living, depression or despair. Read Sir Michael Marmot’s 2010 report, Fair Society, Healthy Lives, and you will see hard statistics about the links between poverty and reduced longevity — longevity which in the poorer parts of Britain is already dropping. And if this is true of a rich country with a well-resourced health service such as ours, what will a global recession do in places where provision is already thin and overstretched?

If you kick the global economy in the guts, you kick billions of real people in the guts too: it’s just that, unlike coronavirus victims, we’ll never know who they were. For good and honourable reasons our government is straining to protect the identifiable, but perhaps at the expense of the less identifiable. We can’t change course now, and nor am I even certain our present course is unwise, but let’s give some brutally honest thought to how we approach the next epidemic when it hits us. Is crashing the economy, every time, the only answer? If so, and given this pandemic is not the last, we’re in for a rollercoaster ride.
7) Judith Curry: Coronavirus Uncertainty
Climate Etc., 19 March 2020

My thoughts on coronavirus and deep uncertainty.

I and my family are in isolation, in relatively comfortable, well-stocked and in safe circumstances (solar power with Tesla power wall).  My community (Reno NV) has relatively few cases and no apparent transmission as of yet; however Las Vegas NV is pretty hard hit as well as neighboring communities in California.

I am very fortunate not have to worry personally about jobs or $$ through this (apart from the financial well being of our extended family members and employees at CFAN).  We also live in a quasi-isolated location near the edge of wilderness, with many walking trails.

I am working to continue supporting the service people that we rely on (housekeeper, personal trainers, handyman etc).  My daughter is working to set up online music lessons, and our Tai Chi instructor is working on setting up online instruction.  Once the weather is nice, both music lessons and and Tai Chi sessions will be held outside in our very large driveway.

I have no idea where this is all headed, only that I expect us to be surprised.

My ‘prediction’ (well, hope) is that effective treatments will be identified (I have flagged dozens of such publications on twitter, lets discuss this on the technical thread), and that this will be brought under control within a few months.

Personally, my most immediate concern is that Netflix streaming doesn’t bring down the internet!

CV vs CC

There is much discussion about parallels with decision making under corona virus and climate change.  The climate change alarmists say that CV shows us how and why we need to act urgently on climate change.

Au contraire. The main similarity between CC and CV are that they are both situations of deep uncertainty.

For CV, we are working from data from countries having the early outbreaks, plus epidemiological models.

Extreme precaution is advised immediately to save lives. Individual people feel the urgent, visceral need for extreme precaution (well not all them, viz. the riotous spring breakers in Florida). The economic and social consequences of this extreme precaution is beginning to be realized; the key is flexibility in our responses so we can shift course as needed.

I have written much on the topic of climate change and the precautionary principle.  Simply put, the precautionary principle is wrong trousers from the climate change problem. Apart from the brainwashed Extinction Rebellion folk (assuming that they are doing this not because they are being paid to do it), no one feels the urgent visceral need to drop everything and ‘act’ on climate change.

The reason for that is that the potential adverse impacts of climate change have a long time horizon (decades to centuries),  there is no simple ‘action’ that will reverse climate change, premature actions could lock us into infrastructure that is not in our best long term interests.

And finally, diversion of all our resources to the climate change problem could make us more vulnerable to more urgent problems such as CV.

This is not to say that we shouldn’t act on climate change; I have long argued for no regrets actions such as energy technology R&D, adaptation to extreme weather events, planning for 21st century infrastructures, and minimizing pollution of air, water and soils.

However, inferring that the coronavirus policies will lead to comparably urgent climate change action is misguided, IMO.

Post CV

We will eventually get past this. What are the long-term implications of our CV experiences? Some of them arguably have implications for climate change. But there are much broader implications for how we live and work, and also the social safety net.

The rate of epidemiological and immunological research that is getting conducted and published is breathtaking; after all this settles, the old publication model with peer review and paywall will arguably be dead.

The insanity of people travelling nonstop all over the world for conferences and meetings has been illuminated.  Apart from the CO2 emissions, this travelling is an insane loss of productivity and takes a toll on people’s health.  Even the IPCC is conducting its working group meetings via the internet.

With regards to scientific conferences, these are being posted on the internet. These days on the rare occasions i go to conferences, I don’t attend any talks (look at them later on the internet), but set up meetings with people (collaborators, old friends, clients and potential clients).  That is the hard part, but everyone staying home has more of an opportunity to reach out to people over the internet.

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