The Only Man Who Has A Clue

The Only Man Who Has A Clue by  for The Automatic Earth

Today, I’m going to try to show you how and why we know that in the case of a pandemic like the one we’re in, surrounded by doubts and uncertainties, there are still a series of measures that we can and, more importantly, must take. But also, how these measures are hardly ever taken, and if they are, not in the correct fashion. This has to date led us into a ton of preventable misery and death. If only we would listen. And there’s still more we can do to prevent more mayhem, there is at every step of the process.

It took me a while to get this together. But in the end I wound up with the only COVID19 analysis that makes sense. It doesn’t leave much room for discussion, at least not in the steps needed to be taken in order to tame the virus (I despise the war analogies everyone uses, taming sounds much better). How to fill in those steps once they have -kind of- been taken is another matter.

I’ve been reading up on this for a while, adding -much- more stuff as I went along (this will be a long essay), and at some point realized that the coronavirus is an issue you can’t leave to epidemiologists and virologists, because there are far too many unknowns for them to create a working model, and without such a model they are lost. These fine people are not good at 10-dimensional chess, even if they like you to think otherwise.

These people are useful for the knowledge they possess of past epidemics, not for predicting what will happen in the next one, certainly not if it’s caused by a virus which they -and we- simply don’t know enough about to build a reliable model. In that case, you need to step back and apply more basic principles. Lucky for us, those exist.

 

 

This leads us into a territory that is not familiar to epidemiologists and virologists. Since a virus, and a pandemic, like the one we’re in the middle of, is linked to so many different facets and factors, and so many uncertainties, it takes us into the territory of risk management, assessment, engineering, and from there eventually pretty seamlessly into complex systems.

If you can’t know what will happen next because you can’t oversee the multitude of variables involved, and there are no models that can do so either, the best -only- thing you can do is to halt the growing complexity as soon as you are able to, in order to create a situation, an environment, which the epidemiologists and virologists DO recognize, and can work with.

That is the point where they come in, not before. At present, they are asked to do things beyond their knowledge. And, typical human trait, they don’t tend to acknowledge that. Well, there’s a second reason: some actually think they do understand. The outcome is the same: we- and they- are led astray, away from science and into “scientism” (more on that in a moment).

Which would be fine if this concerned just a hobby, or even if it was only an academic paper left to discuss in classrooms and web forums. But we are talking about 10s of 1000s of deaths, 100s of 1000s of gravely ill people, and in the wake of that an economy as much in need of assisted breathing as the human patients involved.

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Henri Cartier-Bresson A visitor to the Forbidden City, Beijing 1948

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