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Blog on Criticism

Some of my clients pushed back on my last blog post. They told me that I was being overly cavalier about the danger of the Coronavirus and the urgent need to control it. One client pointed out that I myself am at particular risk of serious illness. Here is my reply.


Dear Client,


I know I'm at risk.  I'm close to the susceptible age group and I have high blood pressure, what my doctor calls "pre-diabetes", and I had a pneumonia all last summer, which, I think, somewhat impaired my lungs.  Like everyone, we're being careful at home by isolating ourselves and washing our hands frequently.  I do go to work, but I work alone and have no physical interaction with others during the day.  It's all just computer, computer, computer.

But I don't really care about those things when writing about a pandemic as it affects business and economics.  There, I care about the statistical danger which the virus poses to the world population, and the mortality rate in particular.  We have scared the world witless with tons of bad news and uncertainty.  We have set our sights on containing the virus without regard to the side effects or economic consequences.  We are crushing businesses of all sizes.  They won't bounce back immediately – some not at all.  Furthermore, our lockdown strategy has no exit.  To flatten the curve, we might have to continue like this for months.

Even before the virus hit, PG&E was in bankruptcy.  What happens when everyone stops paying their electric bill?  What happens if they implement rolling blackouts while everyone shelters at home, knocking out internet access?  Homeless shelters are overflowing. Rents, taxes and utility bills are going unpaid. I'm a tad worried for public order if we take our virus strategy too far.  The economy must continue also.

All my clients have suffered in their portfolios, some have lost jobs, and I think that someone needs to speak up in their economic defense, especially if the virus turns out to be statistically harmless.  I think that we should respond to the virus proportionately to the risk which it poses, as best we can judge that.  I acknowledge that we don't have enough data to confidently judge the risk, but I gradually see that the danger of the virus to the country as a whole is much less than the papers or the government admit.

Here’s a good video which explains the steps to avoid catching the virus.

I'm very interested to see what happens in Sweden, and not just next month, but over the next twelve months.  The Swedes looked at the same information as everyone else, and consciously chose a different path.  They have chosen the so-called herd immunity approach.  Their restaurants and stores remain open. Perhaps they will be forced by the shortcomings of their healthcare system to reverse, as the UK did.  We will see.  So far, they have carried forward.  They will give us just about the only first world counter-example which we may compare to our policies.

I've learned something interesting from this about statisticians.  As a statistician, if your data is solid, then your services are not really needed.  Anyone can extrapolate a trend based on solid data.  We need statisticians to guess at things which we can't see.  In this case, their guesses are all over the map.

Yours,

Donald


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