America just held a nationwide IQ test. Did you notice it?

Everyone who has said about coronavirus that, “It’s just the flu,” failed the IQ test. As did those who claim discussing coronavirus is “spreading panic.”

They are engaging in what Scott Adams calls Loserthink. Read his book here.

Low probability of certain death = “Freakout” is Rational.

You will almost certainly not die from the coronavirus.

If the coronavirus contagion and death rates are accurate, between one and three million Americans could die.

When you have a low risk of a pandemic with a death count exceeding the total number of Americans who died in World War II, you take precautions.

Reasonable minds can differ as to what those precautions are.

But if you’re not thinking about coronavirus in terms of fat tail risk, you’re not even allowed to be part of the conversation.

  • “Tail risk is the additional risk of an asset or portfolio of assets moving more than 3 standard deviations from its current price, above the risk of a normal distribution. … Tail risk is sometimes defined less strictly, as merely the risk (or probability) of rare events.”

You will almost certainly not die from the coronavirus. Do you buy some extra food / water?

Your car will almost certainly not be stolen. Do you lock it?

Your house will almost certainly never burn down in a fire. Do you have fire insurance?

Why it’s better to panic early: Nassim Nicholas Taleb & Yaneer Bar-Yam

“But 60,000 people die from the flu each year!”

Yes, and this is terrible.

I had no idea that seasonal flu deaths were that high. Did you? (Don’t lie. I bet you didn’t.)

Rather than use, “but 60,000 die from the flu,” as some sort of repudiation of coronavirus risk, isn’t the answer that we should care more about the flu.

You’re not checkmating anyone with that stat. You sound like an idiot. Or someone who is glib about human death.

If we as a society can prevent more people from dying of the flu, let’s have that conversation.

Math is hard.

Engineer Liz Specht did what engineers do – MATH!

Our hospitals aren’t prepared to handle the number of patients who catch coronavirus.

Read Specht’s entire thread on Twitter.

Here are some highlights:

  • The US has about 2.8 hospital beds per 1000 people. With a population of 330M, this is ~1M beds. At any given time, 65% of those beds are already occupied. That leaves about 330k beds available nationwide (perhaps a bit fewer this time of year with regular flu season, etc). 7/n
  • By this estimate, by about May 8th, all open hospital beds in the US will be filled. (This says nothing, of course, about whether these beds are suitable for isolation of patients with a highly infectious virus.) 9/n
  • Importantly, I cannot stress this enough: even if I’m wrong – even VERY wrong – about core assumptions like % of severe cases or current case #, it only changes the timeline by days or weeks. This is how exponential growth in an immunologically naïve population works. 22/n

Ms. Specht assumes a closed system, so her numbers are likely on the high side.

But she is also creating a starting point of how to think about the coronavirus.

“It’s just the flu, bro,” is f-cking moronic. Shut the f-ck up. You don’t know anything.

Any rational discussion of coronavirus looks at the worst-case numbers / secondary effects of millions of sick Americans.

And then you start using an OODA loop / find ways to open the system.

1. Observation. How many cases of coronavirus are there? Where are these cases originating? Who Is getting sick? How many are dying?

2. Orientation. Are the number of cases of coronavirus increasing? Then what? Are they increasing? Now what?

3. Decision making. Make a rational decision based on what you’re observation and how you’re orientating yourself based on these observations.

4. Action. This is where leadership matters.

Solutions to a Coronavirus Crisis.

We need “right to try” laws.

We need virtual doctor visits.

We need some form of “doctors lite.”

You don’t need an MD and $500,000 in medical school debt along with 4 years of a residency to treat patients with coronavirus.

We need vision and leadership.

If your contribution to the coronavirus discussion is some form of “It’s only flu,” please go away. You’re not helping.

Let the adults figure out what to do next.

And please don’t rely on media outlets to understand the math.


7 Replies to “How to Think about Coronavirus”

  1. Set up trials of treatments- starting with high doses of vitamin C.
    As both a preventative and treatment.

  2. Well I read that entire twitter thread last night by Dr. Specht which was sobering to say the least. As a professional Chemical Engineer with almost 40 years of experience, I also do back-of-the-envelope calculations and order-of-magnitude estimates all the time though more related to energy. Nevertheless, I checked her math using her assumptions and her numbers are correct. However, there are a couple of things that will almost certainly, in my opinion, intervene so we will not see what she predicts.

    Number 1: I’m not sure the assumption are correct and while some assumptions may shift the data a few weeks earlier or later, the assumption on doubling every six days is an important one. It is this rapid rate that makes this virus so alarming. But what if that number is incorrect?

    Number 2: The second factor is not typically measurable in physical universe terms so forget about using math. It is the indomitable human spirit. It has a lot more do with religion and intentions and spiritual factors. Even prayer. We know a lot of behavior will change. That by itself will change the “doubling rate.” That slows the spread. A lot of ingenuity will occur. We have other means of intervention too – I hear antiviral drugs are effective and IV Vitamin C drips. And plenty of things that haven’t even been thought up yet. Miracle cures? Who knows what may happen. There is ENORMOUS profit motive for any bona fide, pro-survival contribution to this scene. That will happen. Can you model that effect with math? No!

    Also, has anyone modeled the effect of ambient temperature on the growth rate? Viruses do not live so well in the summer, right? And summer is coming. Looking at the Johns Hopkins “heat map.” A cursory look shows the infections are very sparse in the southern hemisphere where it’s summer.

    So my opinion is for all of us to do all the things considered best practices (wash hands, etc….) Have some backup supplies – sure. That is always sage advice because you never know when something might happen, sometimes with NO warning.

    However, panic helps no one. And I believe (my opinion) is we will emerge fine, a little damaged, but this will not be Armageddon.

    So if the point was to get people to wake up, if her predictions are even remotely true, they will wake up because everyone will know people who are infected – lots of people. So that will happen in probably pretty short order – again, if she is accurate.

    The other thing that I find a little disturbing is the level of confidence of the data collected thus far. And that data is the foundation of some of the assumptions.

    As a side note, I did a back-of-the-envelope calculation on how much oil we have left back in the early ’80s (maybe even late ’70s.). Based on published and widely accepted data (assumed facts), there was a very convincing argument that we would be basically out of domestic oil by 1990ish. I don’t remember all the details but it was very sobering. Well today we are out-producing all countries and I chalk that up to point #2 above – the indomitable human spirit. Where there is a will there is a way. I have a lot of confidence in my fellow human beings and while there are some not so good ones, the good ones outnumber the bad by a lot.

    Be positive.

    1. Thank you!
      My sentiments exactly. I have been pointing out the temperature issue as well. Very few relative cases in southern hemisphere but its not being published. And studying the heat sensitivity would seem easy, but if Congress is dangling $8Billion of funds, you think investigators are just going to tell us the details THEY ALREADY KNOW without first getting the funding $$$???
      Also, the death stats include people who were already close to death: elderly, and infirm. Stats for able bodied working people are not given/published. Why? Won’t have the fear factor the purportedly “full population” but irrelevant stat will have. Why do I care if already sick people die from Covid19, when they would ALSO die from a regular flu, another virus or infection?
      I really resent this fearmongering coming from the media and people who otherwise appear sane.
      We do need to unhook from Chinese mfg of our critical supplies. That will certainly be done. Thank you again.

      1. You’re very welcome Diana. And this is a good wake up call to have critical manufacturing in our country. It never should’ve left in the first place.

  3. Hi,
    There’s typo somewhere? The numbers don’t add up: “The US has about 2.8 hospital beds per 1000 people. With a population of 330M, this is ~1M beds.”

    1. The numbers are correct. She uses M for “million” which is not standard (M usually means thousand and MM means million). But it works out how she says.

      2.8 beds x 330,000,000 people
      ——————————– = 924,000 beds (approx 1 million)
      1,000 people

  4. If you read that tweet thread by Dr. Specht, you need to read this tweet thread by another professional with a bit more experience with such things. He calls her tweet thread “a naive & uninformed take that will cause more harm than good”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.