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The statistical detective work required to lift the lockdowns



Anyone prone to cynicism about “damned lies and statistics” should be prompted to think again by the pandemic. Admittedly, distorted or fictional statistics have been press-ganged into their familiar roles of spin and propaganda.

But the real thing — statistical information, carefully gathered — can save lives.

The UK Office for National Statistics has announced a new survey of 25,000 people, designed to test a demographically representative cross-section of the UK population for infection and antibody response. Given that the UK already tests many tens of thousands of people a day for infection, that news might provoke a shrug. But it is an example of the data detective work that we desperately need if we are to find our way through the crisis.

Consider the question we’re all desperate to have answered: when is the right time to lift the lockdowns? Without delay? In a week or two? Months from now? The answer depends on how much weight we put on livelihoods versus lives, and on how quickly we can prepare ourselves to carry out mass testing and contact tracing.

But it also depends on just how deadly the virus really is, something we do not yet know. Clearly, Covid-19 is dangerous. It has already killed more people than the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004, and nobody is asking whether tsunamis are dangerous. But the degree of risk remains unknown.

This is the most important question in the world right now: what is the “infection fatality rate”, the number of infections — measured or unmeasured — which end in death? It is a hard thing to judge.

We do not know how many people have died of Covid-19: official figures overcount in some ways, by attributing deaths to this virus that would have happened at much the same time without it; they undercount in others, when people are killed by the virus at home or in a care home without a formal diagnosis.

In the UK, for example, Financial Times research suggests that there have been more than 50,000 excess deaths in this epidemic, and many are plausibly attributable to Covid-19.

More problematically, we are still guessing at how many infections have occurred below the radar. Everyone agrees that the official global case-count of more than 3.5m misses many mild or even asymptomatic cases. But much hinges on just how many of those undetected cases there are.

Let’s explore two possible scenarios, then. If the true infection fatality rate in the UK is 1 per cent, an estimate consistent with much of the alarming early modelling, then that suggests up to 5m people have been infected, 60m people have not, and an incautious relaxation of lockdown could cause a second wave of deaths even worse than the first.

In contrast, if the true infection fatality rate is around 0.1 per cent, as asserted by the veteran Swedish epidemiologist Johan Giesecke, then that implies that the clinical cases are the tip of the iceberg. It would also mean that up to 50m people have been infected in the UK, enough to confer herd immunity on the entire country, and the lockdown should be lifted now.

Knowing the truth would be of enormous value — which is why systematic serological surveys are now so vital. Serological tests look for the antibodies that suggest a person has already been infected. These antibody tests should give more clarity but the early results remain a statistical patchwork for now.

A serological study conducted in Santa Clara, California, suggests an infection fatality rate as low as 0.12 to 0.2 per cent. That would be very good news, if true.

But serological data from New York City, in contrast, suggests an infection fatality rate above 0.5 per cent and perhaps even close to 1 per cent. If so, the frightening forecasts of hundreds of thousands of deaths if the virus was not suppressed in the UK were not far wrong. A study from Germany points somewhere in the middle.

Which is correct?

None of this work has been peer reviewed and, as much as I would love to believe the Santa Clara results, they seem fragile. One problem is that participants were recruited on Facebook. The study might be packed with people who signed up because they were convinced they’d been infected; that would overstate the prevalence of the virus and understate the true death rate.

The New York data, regrettably, look more plausible. But they are hardly conclusive. New York City’s death rate may be unusually high due to nursing homes being centres for viral outbreaks — a fate other places might avoid.

Tempting as it is to adjudicate, we need more and better surveys, from all over the world — such as the one now in progress from the ONS. The results will help us make informed decisions as we lift the lockdowns.

Because the threat we face is both serious and novel, there is no hope of producing a well-calibrated response without this kind of information. We need solid statistics to blow away the fog of this epidemiological war.

Written for and first published in the Financial Times on 8 May 2020.

In a few days my NEW book The Next Fifty Things That Made the Modern Economy is out in the UK. It is available to pre-order – pre-orders help other people find the book and are a huge help.

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MiB: America is “Uncoached”



Our bonus Memorial Day weekend podcast features Michael Lewis, author of MoneyballThe Big Short, and many other beloved bestsellers. The second season of his podcast Against the Rules, was released, and this season focuses on Coaches.

He describes the narrative process via podcasting as allowing him to exercise a very different set of muscles than writing. He works with an ensemble to help tell different stories in a different way. Season 1 was about Referees — in sports and life; Season 2 is about coaches (also in sports and life).

He draws the parallel between efforts in sports and government. His most recent book, The Fifth Risk: Undoing Democracy, looks at a shocking question” What happens when the leaders of various government departments don’t show up to begin their jobs – ever?

Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was head of the Trump Transition team and, created a set of tools to allow the new President-elect to successfully take over management of the 9.1 million-person federal government. It is required by The Presidential Transition Act of 1963 (updated in 2015). It is the legislation that establishes the formal mechanism to orderly transfer powers after a Presidential election.

Alas, in 2017, it was not meant to be. Once he won office, President Trump fired the entire Christie-assembled transition team. The result is that there 1000s of appointed government positions remain unfilled — including key positions in the National Institute of Health, and the Center for Disease Control. Lewis wrote in the The Fifth Risk that the transition team failure created a huge risk of avoidable future failure. He describes the transition as a unique failing in presidential history, a refusal to discharge legal obligations in an intelligent, coherent way. The government’s disastrous response to Covid-19 is the manifestation of that transition error.  Hence, Lewis calls America as it presently governed “uncoached.”

He describes what he calls the “existential danger” about mis-pricing in sports, finance, politics, and life. President Trump a “risk distorting machine,” one that is hard for the pundits and statisticians to assess.

His favorite books are here; A transcript of our conversation is available here.

You can stream and download our full conversation, including the podcast extras, on iTunes, SpotifyOvercastGoogleBloomberg, and Stitcher. All of our earlier podcasts on your favorite pod hosts can be found here.


My prior conversations with author Michael Lewis can be found here: April 2019, and December 2016



The post MiB: America is “Uncoached” appeared first on The Big Picture.

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Is it Time to Throw Every Politician Out of Office Who Imposed Lockdowns?



There is a rising discontent against politicians who have scared the hell out of people using this virus. They did so without ANY justification other than a bogus old program from Imperial College, funded by Bill Gates, that used a stochastic to try to forecast the future like the child’s game Sim City. The polls are showing that 40% of Republicans are against these lockdowns and do not trust Bill Gates. Meanwhile, YouTube is in an all-out war against free speech. They will use any excuse they can use to remove content exposing the false evidence of this virus. Now, they are even supporting the climate change agenda as they removed Michael Moore’s documentary exposing the fake agenda of that movement. We have Twitter claiming it has a right to do fact-checking only on Trump. They do not fact check the WHO, Fauci, Bill Gates, or the CDC. We have Twitter entering political censorship if it disagrees with their political agenda.

Thailand has 56 deaths out of 69 million people. Japan has announced no lockdown as there were only 850 deaths 126.5 million. What they will NOT tell you is that the COMMON COLD is typically a coronavirus, which is very common! In the United States, colds are more common in the fall and winter, because of the tendency for people to remain indoors. Inside, air tends to be drier. Dry air dries up the nasal passages, which can lead to infection. Humidity levels also tend to be lower in colder weather. Cold viruses are better able to survive in low humidity conditions. Lockdowns are the opposite of health advice. You need fresh air.

A study has been leaked from Germany showing that there have been more deaths from the lockdown denying people medical services than there were by the fake virus. The death rate in Germany was 0.3%. Christian Drosten, who directs the Institute of Virology at the Charité Hospital in Berlin, was one of those who identified the Sars virus in 2003. As the head of the German public health institute’s reference lab on coronaviruses, he has become the government’s go-to expert on the related virus causing the current pandemic. He is the person responsible for destroying so many jobs and lives in Germany with his recommendation to shut down the economy. These people have no concept of the economy or people’s lives at all!

Nevertheless, we still have the left media trying to scare people to stay home to undermine the economy as much as possible. The New York Times wrote, “Models Project Sharp Rise in Deaths as States Reopen,” which are the same models that predicted 2 million deaths before! The question is WHY is the leftist press continuing to destroy the economy? What is their objective?

To further the climate change and support Bill Gates’ agenda to further vegetarian meat substitutes, which he has a huge stake in, he is advocating shutting down meat producers to lower CO2. We have actually Christophe Derrien, the secretary general of the industry organization in the European Union, pushing us to eat insects rather than meat as part of this climate change agenda. You really cannot make up this stuff.

In Germany, a couple was fined €1000 for taking a walk with their child. Meanwhile, in Italy: “Government hires tens of thousands of volunteers to control distance rules.” The pension system has cracked wide-open in Germany, necessitating tax increases all because of this overreaction to the virus by politicians without ANY regard for the economic consequences. Then people like New York Governor Cuomo hands out immunity like candy to nursing homes who donated over $2 million for his reelection. Even the sex workers in Switzerland are broke and starting to demand changes.

Just how far can these people push us before this turns into massive violence? Hopefully, the people will rise up and vote every politician out of office who has supported lockdowns around the world. They really need to be shown that accountability is important. Due to all of the economic destruction they have imposed, they will NEVER admit they were wrong. They MUST somehow keep in place what they proposed and continue to cite fake studies and models to pretend they were right. This is not going to go over well. The sooner these people are removed from office, the SAFER society will be. No politicians will now come out and even say “sorry” about that! They would rather start a war with China to retain personal power!


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More than one in five workers are either receiving unemployment benefits or waiting for approval: Congress must do much, much more



Last week, 3.1 million workers applied for unemployment benefits. This is the tenth week in a row that initial unemployment claims are more than three times the worst week of the Great Recession.

Of the 3.1 million who applied for unemployment benefits last week, 1.9 million applied for regular state unemployment insurance (UI), and 1.2 million applied for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). PUA is the new federal program for workers who are out of work because of the virus but who are not eligible for regular UI (e.g. the self-employed). At this point, 15 states and the District of Columbia are not yet even reporting PUA data. This means PUA claims are still being undercounted.

Figure A

Many commentators are reporting the cumulative number of initial regular state UI claims over the last 10 weeks as a measure of how many people have applied for UI in this pandemic. At this point, I believe we should abandon that approach because it ignores PUA—and is thus an understatement on that front—but may overstate things in other ways. For example it may lead to some double-counting. Instead, we can calculate the total number of workers who are either on unemployment benefits, or have applied and are still waiting to see if they will get benefits, in the following way:

A total of 19.1 million workers had made it through at least the first round of regular state UI processing as of May 16 (these are known as “continued” claims), and 4.1 million had filed initial UI claims on top of that but had not yet made it through the first round of processing as of May 23. And, 7.8 million workers had made it through at least the first round of PUA processing by May 9, and 3.3 million had filed initial PUA claims on top of that but had not yet made it through the first round of processing as of May 23. Altogether, that’s 34.2 million workers who are either on unemployment benefits or who have applied very recently and are waiting for approval—roughly two-thirds UI, and one-third PUA. Together, that is more than one in five people in the U.S. workforce.

It is worth noting I focus on the not seasonally adjusted numbers for regular state UI claims because the way DOL does seasonal adjustments of unemployment insurance claims data is distortionary at a time like this. PUA claims are only available on an unadjusted basis.

The unemployment situation is going to get worse before it gets better, and unemployment benefits applications will continue to flood in. And we should never forget that overall numbers mask the fact that recessions do not hit different race and gender groups in the same way, because of things like occupational segregation, discrimination, and other labor market disparities.

Policymakers need to do more. For example, a prolonged depression is virtually guaranteed without significant federal aid to state and local governments. We also must provide more funding to state UI agencies to hire staff to speed up processing and to make improvements to websites and other administrative infrastructure. Further, the across-the-board $600 increase in weekly unemployment benefits, which was one of the most effective parts of the CARES Act, should be extended well past its expiration at the end of July—until unemployment is falling rapidly and is at a manageable level.

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