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Seemingly Popular Covid-19 Model is Obvious Nonsense

The model seems not far off estimating peak hospitalization date, at least for states that are currently peaking like CA and NY. The peaks in places that are close to peaking can be pretty accurately estimated just with curve fitting though, I assume that being fit to past data is why the model works OK for this.

It's clearly overly optimistic about the rate of drop-off after the peak in deaths, at least in some cases. Look at Spain and Italy. Right now here's how they look:

Italy: graph shows 610 deaths on April 9. Predicts 335 on April 10, 281 on April 11. Actual is 570 on April 10, 619 on April 11.

Spain: graph shows 683 on April 8, Predicts 372, 304, 262 on next three days. Actual 655, 634, 525.


The model for New York says deaths will be down to 48, 6% of the peak, in 15 days. Italy is 15 days from it's peak of 919 and is only down to 619, 67% of the peak.

The model for the US as a whole is a little less obviously over-optimistic, assuming the peak really was April 10. it's only predicting 40% decline in the next 15 days. California model predicts an even slower decline. It seems to think fast growth in cases in the outbreak phase leads to fast recovery, which has not been borne out thus far in Italy and Spain.

Taking Initial Viral Load Seriously
We have to ask why smallpox was a unique event, and we never used this method for any other virus. Did we even ever consider it?

There are two strains of smallpox, one of which is much less deadly than the other. People practicing variolation tended to use variolous material from a mild cases, including those successfully variolated. Some of the success of smallpox variolation was probably due to this practice and the resulting tendency for the inoculations to contain variola minor.

What are the most common and important trade-offs that decision makers face?

How about:

Specialization of Labor vs. Transaction/Communication costs: a trade off between having a task split between multiple people/organizations vs. done by a single person. Generalism vs.Specialization might be a more succinct way to put it.

Also, another pair that has a close connection is 3 and 7. Exploration is flexible strategy, since it leaves open resources to exploit better opportunities that turn up, while exploitation gains in commitment.

Open thread, Oct. 27 - Nov. 2, 2014

As someone with a Ph.D. in math, I tend to think verbally in as much as I have words attached to the concepts I'm thinking about, but I never go so far as to internally vocalize the steps of the logic I'm following until I'm at the point of actually writing something down.

I think there is another much stronger distinction in mathematical thinking, which is formal vs. informal. This isn't the same distinction as verbal vs. nonverbal, for instance, formal thinking can involve manipulation of symbols and equations in addition to definitions and theorems, and I often do informal thinking by coming up with pretty explicitly verbal stories for what a theorem or definition means (though pictures are helpful too).

I personally lean heavily towards informal thinking, and I'd say that trying to come up with a story or picture for what each theorem or definition means as you are reading will help you a lot. This can be very hard sometimes. If you open a book or paper and aren't able to get anywhere when you try do this to the first chapter, it's a good sign that you are reading something too difficult for your current understanding of that particular field. At a high level of mastery of a particular subject, you can turn informal thinking into proofs and theorems, but the first step is to be able to create stories and pictures out of the theorems, proofs, and definitions you are reading.

Rationality Quotes December 2013

Interestingly, advertiser, lawyers, and financial traders all have in common that they are agents who play zero-sum or almost zero-sum games on behalf of someone. People who represent big interests in these games are compensated well, because of the logic of the game: so much is at stake that you want to have the best person representing you, so these people's services are bid up. But there is still the feeling that the game is wasteful, though perhaps unavoidably so.

Also, problematically for first sentence, I don't think many people would necessarily come up with the four professions named, especially "advertiser" and "salesperson", if asked to name the most important professions in the modern world, and some important professions, like "scientist", are widely valorized, while others, like "engineer", are at the least not reviled.

Rationality Quotes November 2013

The theme of this book, then, must be the coming to consciousness of uncertain inference. The topic may be compared to, say, the history of visual perspective. Everyone can see in perspective, but it has been a difficult and long-drawn-out effort of humankind to become aware of the principles of perspective in order to take advantage of them and imitate nature. So it is with probability. Everyone can act so as to take a rough account of risk, but understanding the principles of probability and using them to improve performance is an immense task.

James Franklin, The Science of Conjecture: Evidence and Probability before Pascal

Why officers vs. enlisted?

Well, just because the rule doesn't by itself prevent all possible cases of inappropriate cross-rank fraternization doesn't mean it has no value. There are other norms and practices that discourage generals from hanging out with lieutenants, e.g. generals usually get fancy lodging separate from the lieutenants. I suspect that cutting off lower-ranking officers from fraternizing with enlisted men prevents what would otherwise be one of the more common problematic cases.

If the military were even more concerned with this problem, it could have three or more groups instead of two, say, enlisted, officers and super-officers. But there are also tradeoffs to having more groupings, so the military sticks with two (part of this might be historically contingent, maybe three groups would work just as well but everyone is just copying the consensus choice of two).

Why officers vs. enlisted?

I think that in the military, the "no fraternizing with enlisted personnel" rule might be one reason why a hard separation is useful. This kind of rule requires a cutoff and can't easily be replaced with a rule like "no fraternizing with people of a rank three or more below your own." For instance, how would you set up the housing arrangements? Also, promotions would be awkward under this system, since you would always have a group of people you previously could fraternize with but no longer can.

What did governments get right? Gotta list them all!

I think the containment of the SARS epidemic in 2003 is a under-appreciated success story. SARS spread fairly easily and had a 9% mortality rate, so it could well have killed millions, but it was contained thanks to the WHO and to the quarantine efforts of various governments. Their wasn't much coverage in the vein of "hooray! one of the worst catastrophes in human history has been averted!" afterwards.

If it were morally correct to kill everyone on earth, would you do it?

"But the sacrifice is too great" is a relevant argument, you think that "Yeah doing Y is right" is potentially mistaken.

I think I disagree with this. On a social and political level, the tendency to rationalize is so pervasive it would sound completely absurd to say "I agree that it would be morally correct to implement your policy but I advocate not doing it, because it will only help future generations, screw those guys." In practice, when people attempt to motivate each other in the political sphere to do something, it is always accompanied by the claim that doing that thing is morally right. But it is in principle possible to try to get people not to do something by arguing "hey this is really bad for us!" without arguing against it's moral rightness. This thought experiment is a case where this exact "lets grab the banana" position is supposed to be tempting.

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