Tag Archives: MSNBC

A Tale of Two States (with apologies to Dickens), the denouemont

Two days I posted the following puzzle — here is the answer and a bit more

A friend in med school, a classic University of Chicago graduate, was fond of saying “that’s how it works in practice, but how does it work in theory?”

Well, this country is currently in the midst of an immense social experiment (lockdowns) essentially based on theory (models).

We’re about to find out how it worked in practice.

Here are some recent statistics from two states.

State 1

3 day moving average of new cases of COVID19 ending 25 April — 2778

3 day moving average of new cases of COVID19 ending 13 May — 901

3 day moving average of daily deaths from COVID19 ending 25 April — 177

3 day moving average of daily deaths from COVID19 ending 13 May9 — 96


State 2

7 day moving average of new cases of COVID19 ending 25 April — 740

7 day moving average of new cases of COVID19 ending 13 May — 525 (the state allows 14 days for all the data to roll in, so the last date they regard as having secure numbers is the 7th of May and here the number is 539)

7 day moving averages of deaths from COVID19 ending 25 April — 35

7 day moving average of deaths from COVID19 ending 13 May — 24 (the state allows 14 days for all the data to roll in, so the last date they regard as having secure numbers is the 7th of May and here the number is 27).

One state loosened its lockdown restrictions 25 April, the other had them in effect through 13 May.  Your job is to figure out which one did and which one didn’t.

The denouement — State 1 is Massachusetts (which kept the lockdown) and State 2 is Georgia which loosened them on the 25th of April.

As usual, actual data answers some questions but raises new ones.  Contrary to the disasters predicted (see later), in Georgia the new cases of symptomatic pandemic flu declined by 29% and the number of deaths declined by 22%.  The 13th of May is way past the longest possible incubation period for cases beginning prior to 1 May.  So from this, the conclusion one might draw is that the lockdown was ineffective.

But hold on. Massachusetts also showed declines in new cases and deaths, and by greater amounts 68% and 46% than Georgia (29 and 22%)  implying the lockdown was of some use (in accelerating the decline in cases and death).

Pandemics and epidemics have a natural history of peak and decline, in the USA our pandemic is on the decline.

People who assumed (on purely correlative evidence) that lockdowns prevented new cases, and that lifting them would cause a marked increase in new cases and deaths, are clearly wrong.  It’s possible that cases will spike in the future proving them right, but pretty unlikely.  It’s only fair to give the doomsayers a sporting chance and followup is planned in a month.

Here are a few predictions of doom.  Future predictions and definitive statements from these sources should be taken with a grain or more of salt.

From The Atlantic — “Georgia’s Experiment in Human Sacrifice — The state is about to find out how many people need to lose their lives to shore up the economy.” — https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2020/04/why-georgia-reopening-coronavirus-pandemic/610882/

The peculiar blindness of the highly intelligent

This is not a scientific post. While at Graduate Alumni day last April at Harvard, I listened to the main speaker go on and on about how irrational (translation: stupid) people were when it came to risk, particularly that of flying after 9/11. In terms of miles traversed, flying is far safer than driving. The speaker was Louise Richardson
PhD ’89, government, presently Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of St Andrews. Her topic was “Terrorism: what have we learned?”

Here’s who she is and what she’s done. In the years after 9/11, in addition to her teaching and management roles, Professor Richardson gave over 300 talks and lectures on terrorism and counter-terrorism to educational and private groups as well as policy makers, the military, intelligence, and business communities. She has testified before the United States Senate and has appeared on CNN, NBC, the BBC, PBS, NPR, Fox and a host of other broadcast outlets. Her work has been featured in numerous international periodicals.

Clearly, she’s listened to. As I sat there I wondered how her advice for society could be any good, given her contempt for the way most of its members think. I’m sure in the several hundred of so listeners there were some adamantly opposed nuclear power. Two years previously we heard professor Daniel Schrag talk on a geologist’s perspective on global warming, saying there was no such thing as ‘clean coal’ and how slowly carbon dioxide is cleared from the atmosphere. Clearly, nuclear power is cleanest mode of energy production, with the lowest risk etc. etc. Why are some highly educated (and presumably intelligent) people against it?

Which brings us to the mind set of Professor Gruber. Amazingly, Howard Dean (a man of the left) had the following to say about Professor Gruber and Obamacare on MSNBC

First Gruber: “The problem is not that Gruber said it– the problem is that he thinks it”

Then ObamaCare “The core problem under the damn law is that it was put together by a bunch of elitists who don’t fundamentally understand the American people. That’s what the problem is”

How could free health care be so unpopular.

The common delusion of the highly intelligent is that since they think so well, everyone should think like them, and if they don’t their behavior and institutions should be directed by their intellectual betters. Nothing much has changed in Cambridge in 54 years. This mindset was just as common then as it is now. You can see how well it’s working.

Well, probably most readers of this blog are highly educated (technically at least), and years away from dealing with the mass of humanity. Most doctors in practice see the full spectrum of the populace, because everyone gets sick.

Here’s what’s out there. Part of the neurologic examination is the mental status examination. One assesses a variety of things — orientation, speech, affect, calculation, memory etc. etc. One part often used to assess higher cognitive function is the ability to abstract. People are asked things like, what’s similar about an apple and an orange, a table and a chair. What’s different about a river and a lake. They can be asked for the meaning of familial proverbs “a stitch in time saves nine, people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. The point of the mental status is to separate the normal from the abnormal.

I pretty much had to abandon similarities and differences because so many normally functioning people thought extremely concretely. For the apple/orange similarity I’d get back they’re both round, or (worse) one is red the other is orange (not a similarity), or the proverb would be repeated back verbatim. I’d guess that 1/3 of people think this concretely.That table and chair were both furniture or that apples and oranges were both fruit was only the response about 60% of the time. You can either call the 1/3 abnormal (which means you need to redefine normal) or decide that the test is useless for picking up pathology. I chose the latter.

This is why I’ll only interview high school students for my Ivy league alma mater (Princeton). Princeton needs them as much as they need Princeton. They bring a dose of reality to a very cloistered environment.