Monday, March 30, 2020

Richard Epstein Nonsense, Again

I see that Prof. Richard Epstein has added a correction and addendum to his original essay that I critiqued in the post, A Serious Problem With Richard Epstein's Optimistic Case On the Spread of COVID-19.

He now attempts to fix his error with this:
That estimate is ten times greater than the 500 number I erroneously put in the initial draft of the essay, and it, too, could prove somewhat optimistic. But any possible error rate in this revised projection should be kept in perspective. The current U.S. death toll stands at 592 as of noon on March 24, 2020, out of about 47,000 cases. So my adjusted figure, however tweaked, remains both far lower, and I believe far more accurate, than the common claim that there could be a million dead in the U.S. from well over 150 million coronavirus cases before the epidemic runs its course.
That is, he is increasing the number of deaths he expects in the US now from 500 to "about 5,000."

This could be on target or way off by a multiple of 10 or more. But the problem now is that Epstein is making forecasts without the necessary data to know what is going to happen in addition to his original poor modeling.

I have consistently attacked the forecasts, such as the one made by Neil Ferguson, that a million in the US would die by June. It is clear that the data does not point to that occurring, but Epstein is making forecasts in a much narrower band that could easily prove as embarrassing as his initial forecast of only 500 deaths in the US.

What I wrote in my initial critique still holds:
You can't just say that the current number of new of COVID-19 cases are 3 per cent of new flu cases in the 2019-2020 flu season and therefore it is highly unlikely that the current number of COVID-19 cases will not climb to flu levels...
I hold the view, like Epstein, that COVID-19 does not appear to be a serious killer, that is, it is not much different than the flu and that we probably won't hit flu-like numbers this year because of warmer weather coming and because of current isolation factors but the case can not be made, that because COVID-19 infections are only 3% of flu infections, that therefore they can not climb to flu-like levels. It is mathematically well within the range of possibility, especially given that about 40% of the country is vaccinated against the flu and no one is vaccinated against COVID-19.
By not a "serious killer," I mean that the virus appears to kill in line with the flu and that therefore the totalitarian shut down of the large swaths of the economy is uncalled for (Unless you believe the entire country should be shut down every flu season).

Further, as I have pointed out numerous times, since the virus appears to be a killer of only the elderly and those with serious chronic health care problems, the sound policy would be to advise those with such issues to be extremely careful until the virus dies down or vaccines and treatments are developed.

From The New York Post:
 Dr. Knut M. Wittkowski, the former chief biostatistician and epidemiologist at Rockefeller University Hospital, who openly admitted to the Post that he’s eschewed social distancing and regularly hangs out at one of two underground restaurants.

“Yesterday I went to my favorite speakeasy and had dinner,” he said.

Merriam-Webster defines a “speakeasy” as “a place where alcoholic beverages are illegally sold” and notes that such places were common “during the period of prohibition in the U.S.”

Wittkowski is among those who believe the proper solution to the current global coronavirus pandemic isn’t social distancing but rather herd immunity.

"All respiratory epidemics end when 80 percent of all people have become immune,” he said. “Then if a new person gets infected, the person doesn’t find anybody else to infect.”

“The best strategy you can do is isolate the old and fragile people — make sure that nobody visits the nursing homes — then let the children go to school and let people go to work. … They have a mild disease. Then they become immune, and after two or three weeks the epidemic is over.”
Epstein's poor understanding and framing of the situation is making it bad for libertarians. With the anti-libertarian crowd framing the issue as "look at the bad thinking of the libertarians, they thought hardly anyone would die."

No, that is not the thinking of libertarians but the thinking of a libertarian-lite, in the first place, who appears to have a very shaky ability to properly do applied mathematical modeling ---which by the way is a problem with most of mainstream media and all of those who have attacked Epstein as if they understood better.

In fact, anyone who mentions "confirmed coronavirus cases" is signaling they do not know what they are talking about.

From Yahoo:
 It doesn’t matter that the United States surpassed China this week in reported Covid-19 cases because those numbers (83,507 and 81,782 respectively as of March 26) don’t tell us how many people actually became infected in either country. Nor do they tell us how fast the disease is spreading, since only a tiny portion of the population in the United States has been tested.

“The numbers are almost meaningless,” says Steve Goodman, a professor of epidemiology at Stanford University. There’s a huge reservoir of people who have mild cases, and would not likely seek testing, he says. The rate of increase in positive results reflect a mixed-up combination of increased testing rates and spread of the virus...

Stanford’s Goodman said that he’s confident scientists will eventually collect the data we need to understand this pandemic and how it’s playing out in the United States. “Right now we are floundering in a sea of ignorance about who is infected and the fate of people who are infected,” he says.

As to the current testing method, I have written:
 This is not how you would run a scientific experiment to understand what is going on with a virus in the general public.
For that, all that would be required is testing a sample of the general public. That way you catch those that are without symptoms but more than that you get a very good sense of how the number of cases relates to the total population overall and, over time, whether it is going up or down etc.
You can use the basic methodology of polling firms to get small population samples for understanding the virus profile in the general population. This would actually tell us something.
The current method of testing does none of this. 
The current improperly designed testing is the government medical bureaucracy's answer to the Kabuki theatre displayed by the TSA.

Those attacking Epstein don't get this. They are as bad as him with understanding what is going on with COVID-19, probably worse.



  1. News: government now attributes all deaths in the United States to covid19.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Robert,

    I found the below website very helpful for getting reliable information.

    They even have a podcast that features regular updates from an immunologist working in NYC. He discusses what they're seeing in the field and what they're learning about the disease.

    For example they've observed that after about a week from symptom onset, the body starts to rid itself of the virus.

    This appears to be the most critical point in the case as some people's immune systems are causing a cytokine storm, which is what is eventually leading to their death.

    They're able to monitor progress by measuring the neutrophil:lymphocyte ratio.

    Anything in the 10-20 range requires ICU and ventilation.

    Above 20 and death is likely.

    However, he reports that they recently had a case where someone was over 20 and they used a Cytokine Storm Syndrome (CSS) treatment on him and he is now improving.

    Therefore CSS treatment is very promising.

    The other big news he shared is that they've approved serological testing for distribution in the US.

    This will allow us to understand who has already been infected and developed antibodies.

  4. The mystique of mathematics in general and statistics in particular is embedded deep in the culture.