UPDATE: The disastrous failures of the coronavirus models

UPDATE: From the Wall Street Journal:  "New Data Suggest the Coronavirus Isn’t as Deadly as We Thought. A study finds 50 to 85 times as many infections as known cases—meaning a far lower fatality rate."

And what does that say about the reliability of climate change models?

Models are running America.

America has shutdown because scientists say their models tell us that we must. Wildly fluctuating models have frog marched us into an economy with consequences shocking, destructive and, perhaps, catastrophic.

It's science, we're told, and us mere persons must not challenge The Word. 'Science, not politics must be the guide [to reopening America]," Gov. Gavin Newsom said, typical of the view that grants papal-like infallibility to "science."

Okay, but what if the modeling is wrong?

It has been. "Don’t Believe the COVID-19 Models," advises The Atlantic. The Associated press warns, "Modeling Coronavirus: 'Uncertainty Is the Only Certainty.'"

It’s almost certainly wrong. All models are wrong. Some are just less wrong than others — and those are the ones that public health officials rely on.

And more: "How mortality predictions in a leading coronavirus model dropped over time," and "America’s most influential coronavirus model just revised its estimates downward. But not every model agrees," saith the Washington Post.

Then why, good Lord, do the models dictate public policy? Especially when the models themselves have predicted a range of COVID-19 deaths from 20,000 to millions. Pick your poison.

Even though we were given little choice but to follow the models into the depths of a possible depression, the modelers now are telling us that their attempt to create a representation of reality are not intended to perfectly predict our future--only what "might" happen.

The modelers can't lose. If their worst predications come true they can say, "See told ya so, that it would be horrible." If their predications flame out and a lot fewer lives are lost than they forecast,  they can say, "See told ya so; by shutting down (i.e. ruining) the economy as we said you had to do, it wasn't a bad as it could have been."

Fine, take whatever credit you want. But we need to understand that the coronavirus models all have a fatal flaw: Because virus infections can be asymptomatic no one knows how many people contracted the disease. Without that knowledge, a reliable prediction of the death rate is impossible. The data that were fed into the models were and are, in a word, garbage. As in, "garbage in, garbage out."

Can the same cautions be issued about those climate change models whose advocates insist that they are indisputably accurate?  Like the coronavirus models, are the global warming models reliable enough that they can, without argument, require potentially destructive changes in our economy and, consequently, in our lives?

Consider: How accurate are the data that attempt to describe the complex interactions between the sun and ice, oceans and land, atmosphere and the mysterious matter that constantly barrages earth. And more. Isn't it just the slightest bit arrogant to claim that you have identified every single one of the multitude of variables that variously affect the climate in multitude and different ways.

This is not "anti-science." The essence of science is to challenge and after that to challenge again. And again. Rigorous science is by its nature skeptical. To question does not make one a "denier."

Just as i'm not denying that we're in a middle of a destructive pandemic that requires quick and thorough responses that seriously disrupt our lives and the economy.

But Anthony Fauci does not get to decide when we emerge from lockdown. That's decided--for better or worse--by people we elect, this being a republic. They are tasked with balancing the risk to public health with the risk to the economy, taking into the decision the advice of scientists. And economists who see ruination in the cards.  And the therapists who must treat mental illness exacerbated imposed isolation. And the managers and business owners who must protect their employees while satisfying their creditors. And many more.

No, this  view does not make one "anti-science." It only posits that in self-government, we are entitled to question everything. More than that, we are required to question everything. Whether or not we like the answers.

dennis@dennisbyrne.net

www.dennisbyrne.net 

My historical novel: Madness: The War of 1812

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Comments

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  • This is an interesting argument, Dennis. I see your point about the economy and the virus, but I can't follow you completely to the climate change idea. Two outta three ain't bad, as the song said.

  • In the end, numbers do not lie, but politicians and media with an agenda do.

    The science of polling also predicted Hillary would win in a landslide in 2016. In the end, the numbers did not lie.

  • In reply to Richard Davis:

    Numbers do not lie, but free association analogies do.

  • In reply to Richard Davis:

    She did get 3 million more votes as you might remember.

  • BTW, how many times has Dr. Fauci reminded us that a scientific model is only as good as the data used and the assumptions drawn from the data.

    As far as the climate change models, the data is superabundant and conclusive.

  • You make some valid points, the free association to climate change not being one of them.

    It's a big world and measurable indicators of a warming climate came much more slowly than first predicted. The 2000's however, have seen a dramatic increase in the rate of warming and we are, without any question hurtling toward a tipping point. Only the blind (or selectively blind) can't see it.

    As for the social distancing, stay-at-home world in which we now live, you have to consider the choices. We can see where the numbers are as we sit in lock down, but we can only speculate where they might be once we're paroled.

    Modeling only goes far, no matter what they're projecting and/or predicting. We have to ask ourselves what are the risks and are they worth it.

    One of the first rules of gun safety is to assume that EVERY gun you see is loaded. While that is clearly not going to be true, the risk of doing otherwise could have catastrophic results.

  • Epidemiologists routinely turn to models to predict the progression of an infectious disease. Fighting public suspicion of these models is as old as modern epidemiology, which traces its origins back to John Snow’s UPSers

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