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A man wearing a protective face masks walks along Chinatown in Singapore.
Singapore declared the COVID-19 outbreak as Code Orange on February 7, 2020 following the corona virus threat.- PHOTOGRAPH BY Maverick Asio / Echoes Wire/ Barcroft Media (Photo Counter-Coronacredit should read Maverick Asio / Echoes Wire/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

If life is an IQ test, then dealing with pandemics is a high-priority item. Getting the right answer may save your life, so test-taking motivation ought to be high.

At first glance, the answer is obvious: avoid ill people, and if in doubt, avoid people. That ought to do it. Stay quietly in a room until the whole thing blows over. If you have the means, that room should be guarded on either side by fires. Such was the advice the Pope received during the Great Pestilence, and following it saved his life. Not everyone can afford such luxurious protection, but the principles are clear: since there must be a means of transmission, a blazing fire is likely to consume the noxious agent, whatever it is. As for visitors, they are to be kept away, preferably in a guarded place, like the ship they came in, moored at a safe distance for forty days, the Venetian quaranta giorni which worked well to protect them. Those inland principalities which harshly confined plague victims to die with their families in their bricked-up houses were able to save their other citizens. Tough governance. Forty days in the wilderness and the whole thing is over.

Perhaps the test item has a little more to it. Two bright Scotsmen provided more detail in 1927.

A contribution to the mathematical theory of epidemics William Ogilvy Kermack and A. G. McKendrick. 01 August 1927

They get to the nub of the matter:

One (or more) infected person is introduced into a community of individuals, more or less susceptible to the disease in question. The disease spreads from the affected to the unaffected by contact infection. Each infected person runs through the course of his sickness, and finally is removed from the number of those who are sick, by recovery or by death. The chances of recovery or death vary from day to day during the course of his illness. The chances that the affected may convey infection to the unaffected are likewise dependent upon the stage of the sickness. As the epidemic spreads, the number of unaffected members of the community becomes reduced. Since the course of an epidemic is short compared with the life of an individual, the population may be considered as remaining constant, except in as far as it is modified by deaths due to the epidemic disease itself. In the course of time the epidemic may come to an end. One of the most important probems in epidemiology is to ascertain whether this termination occurs only when no susceptible individuals are left, or whether the interplay of the various factors of infectivity, recovery and mortality, may result in termination, whilst many susceptible individuals are still present in the unaffected population. It is difficult to treat this problem in its most general aspect. In the present communication discussion will be limited to the case in which all members of the community are initially equally susceptible to the disease, and it will be further assumed that complete immunity is conferred by a single infection.

The basic reproductive number R0 for Covid-19 has been calculated on 25 January. as 2·68 (95% CrI 2·47–2·86) However, that is a guesstimate, and now out of date, and variables such as the number of people tested, the accuracy of testing, and also the honesty of reporting of official Chinese figures are all sources of error. The better the test the quicker contacts can be accurately traced and tested. Scientists have to model how long elapses between persons getting the virus and showing symptoms, and calculating how many people might get infected by an non-symptomatic individual carrying the virus, even on the unlikely assumption of equal vulnerability. Then they need to look at the recovered or dead figures, to work out how lethal it is (or was some weeks ago, because it may have mutated since then).

There are other confusions, since the symptoms of this epidemic are very similar to those experienced in other winter influenzas. Reporting has to be prompt and honest, and coordinated internationally.

In fact, modelling is now moving closer to looking at sections of the population, and noting the big differences in the numbers of people that individuals meet, and the type of social networks they interact with.

That leads on naturally to the topic of prevention. Psychology should have something to offer, though the main changes in behaviour required are the standard requirements of disease control.

The city state of Singapore is seen to be doing best, after a shaky start. Admittedly, this state started disease control decades ago as a matter of survival. Standing water was prohibited, such that mosquitos were diminished, and malaria reduced. Even spilling some water on a balcony and leaving it there over a siesta would result in denunciation and a penalty. Governance is based on pragmatism.

Researchers have designed an improved test which quickly and accurately identifies infected persons and allows contacts to be traced and tested. Every public building requires you to wash your hands as you enter. Schools and offices likewise. Many people are wearing face masks, which are only moderately effective (better if N95 standard in US, FFP3 in Europe), but have the symbolic advantage of reminding all citizens of the peril, which will reduce social exchanges like shaking hands. Nods are sufficient acknowledgement when you are greeting another disease carrier.

Citizens take their own temperatures, and if they rise they get tested and then self-quarantine themselves till clear, while all their contacts are traced and quarantined. Life goes on, and the economy continues to function. All very rational, and intelligent, and conducive to survival. Better still, you reduce the spread of influenza, which currently kills more people than the new virus does. Two birds saved with every hand wash. In fact, if all these behaviours become the new norm we could achieve a permanent defence against many of these epidemics.

Will those preventative behaviours be adopted by other countries? That is the latest IQ test.

• Category: Science 
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  1. dearieme says:

    As a sometime mathematical modeller I regaled my wife with my knowledge of the breed. They would (i) fall in love with their models, and (iii) press into service any old data, however dud, on the lamebrained excuse that “it’s all we’ve got”.

    Consequently, I boasted, until decent data come along I can probably guess at what’s happening better than they can model it. (Even though my medical knowledge is sparse, to put it mildly.) And so it has proved. Now that they are probably able to get their hands on better data I shall stop trying to beat them.

    By the way, (i) the PM of Singapore was Senior Wrangler in his day, (ii) is the WHO any use to man or beast?

    • Replies: @Kratoklastes
  2. The PM of Singapore was extremely bright, and it is interesting what he was able to achieve on a very small canvas.

    When I visited the WHO headquarters in Geneva long ago, helping put together a document which they published, I was shown a very large Jackson Pollock style painting in the reception hall, and told it was the best guide to the institution’s organisational structure.

    More recently, spending an hour with a former WHO executive, he told me that much of the African data on health was obtained by asking the visiting African Ministers of Health for their opinions and estimates, which led to a rosy picture of what was going on. More recently, he said, monitoring of actual health outcomes in Africa has probably improved.

  3. So far, even supposedly high IQ countries are behaving idiotically, like Germany or Japan. China is now looking better – I’m not sure if I can believe their numbers, but their response looks impressive, especially relative to Japan or Germany. The American response is nothing to write home about. Trump is trying to reassure the stock market, which is remarkably idiotic, because if the virus goes away by the summer, the market will recover, and so he won’t have much to gain. But if it gets bad, he will be seen as having mismanaged the crisis.

    • Replies: @Twodees Partain
    , @utu
  4. LondonBob says:

    I wonder how much role the climate in Singapore has played in ensuring there hasn’t been a bigger outbreak, same for Australia.

    • Replies: @dearieme
  5. dearieme says:

    Fair point Bob, though I don’t know the answer. Hot, humid weather can drive people indoors into air-conditioned cool zones, which may counteract the advantages of a warm outdoors.

    My Source in Singapore is impressed both by the evident competence of the government and by the behaviour of the people.

  6. melpol says:

    Whites are now using condoms which has almost eliminated HIV infections. But blacks and Latinos like it in the raw which can be infectious. Eliminating the Coronavirus requires self discipline by all its citizens. But certain minorities have no self control and will infect others. If there is a Pandemic, whites will not sit next to racial minorities who avoid health requirements. Blacks do follow virus protection by using the fist bump rather than shaking hands. The practice came about by realizing some use their raw hands to wipe their asses.

  7. Physical fitness (daily exercises/ walks) and exposure to sunlight and fresh are said to be good too – and fans.

  8. @dearieme

    They (mathematical modellers) would (i) fall in love with their models, and (iii) press into service any old data, however dud, on the lamebrained excuse that “it’s all we’ve got”.

    There are a lot of modellers who have those characteristics; they are simply charlatans.

    For the most part they are either
    ① completely unaware of the poor characteristics of their models and/or data (statistical “HelloWorld“ism – common among MBAs and discipline-arbitrageurs);
    ② they are indifferent to those poor characteristics because they want to ‘influence the conversation’.

    Obviously GIGO is a well-understood phenomenon when it comes to the data, but even with the best available data there are issues with how quant research is conducted nowadays (and in particular, quant research that is done under the auspices of someone who wants to tell a particular story).

    The characteristics of obviously-bad quant are artificial precision and poor UQ (uncertainty quantification). Both are easy as shit to spot.

    The algebra about forecast error bounds and overall system sensitivity should make any quant modeller highly circumspect when making claims about model outputs. That algebra is not hard, by any means.

    I’m not just talking about the sensitivity of a model to individual ‘key’ parameters (or sets of parameters): all inputs are stochastic, including exogenous variable paths and the model’s entire structure.

    For ‘engineering’ style models those things may have very tight distributions; for anything involving human behaviour they won’t.

    An honest modeller has absolutely no excuse to furnish point forecasts (or single paths), or to conduct sensitivity analysis with respect to only ‘key’ parameters. That was somewhat defensible in the 1990s (unless you owned a Cray), but it’s not any more.

    However it makes output ‘problematic’ because done properly it almost always shows that ‘zero’ is inside the forecast interval. This was a key result from the research phase of my PhD – which is part of the reason I became disillusioned with the modelling paradigm in economics. Done properly all forecast intervals resemble an ear trumpet; conversely anyone who knows the model knows which parameters to tweak to get the target answer without making the parameter set statistically different.

    I also have a real problem with modellers who produce error bounds for 100-period forecasts where each period’s bound is calculated wrt the prior period’s point estimate.

    Since each period’s point estimate is a stochastic variable, the bounds shown for period 100 are the forecast bounds of a 1-period forecast conducted at period 99.

    The forecast bounds at period 100 of a 100-period forecast conducted at period zero, will be roughly 10,000 times wider (since uncertainty is generally multiplicative, forecast bounds increase with the square of T unless there is some ‘hard’ constraint – e.g., the mean temperature of the Earth can’t be 10,000°F).

    Anyhow… point is: poorly-conducted quant gives quicker, easier answers than well-conducted quant. Well-conducted quant is full of caveats, and quality control takes time and requires skills greater than “Hello World” level.

    When some political or bureaucratic charlatan is demanding an answer NOW – and strongly hinting at the preferred magnitude and direction of the desired answer – they seldom have problems finding someone willing to produce a “Hello World” level answer.

    It’ll be wrong, but nobody will care.

    • Thanks: Dieter Kief
    • Replies: @Philip Owen
  9. @reiner Tor

    I suppose it’s safe to conclude that even high IQ countries have governments which are populated by idiots. One might also conclude that the same is true of low IQ countries.

  10. mike99588 says:

    Individual survival has several controllable variables like exposure and hygiene but another is sadly neglected on the home front for most people, especially China: “supernutrition”

    Some have long speculated about the role of China’s selenium depleted soil on viral mutation. ]

    Americans, can more easily choose supplement options, and afford it, that few have:

    Vitamin D3: 5000 – 10,000 IU per day, even much higher with adequate magnesium and vit K2 VitaminDwiki even suggests a one time 300,000 iu boost for cor0navirus exposure/illness.

    Vitamin C
    Oral intake dosed across the day 4-5x, 10,000 – 20.000 mg per day when in good health is usually possible. Hourly or even 2 minute intervals for 50,000 – 200,000 mg C per day, after Dr Robert Cathcart’s titration to bowel tolerance protocol for illness.
    Most of all, IV vitamin C with acute viral infections in the Klennerian range of 400 – 1200 mg C / kg body mass per infusion, several times 1st day, tpering off. IV vit C more generally for pathogens and toxins.
    Dr Fred R Klenner’s summary:
    Dr Tom Levy’s monograph: Curing the Incurable, Vitamin C, Infectious Diseases, and Toxins

    As well as zinc and bioflavonoids.

  11. TG says:

    One notes that in the United States, increasingly people are afraid to get medical help because of sky high medical costs. Even people with “good” insurance are increasingly likely to get hit with “surprise medical billing,” and there is no way to defend yourself against it.

    At one level, fewer people crowding the hospitals may actually be a good thing. But people afraid of getting tested etc., is surely a bad thing. Also, our lack of a functional social safety net means that more and more, people who are sick drag themselves into work because they can’t afford to miss a day.

    Let’s hope it all works out, but there is the potential in the United States for a major disaster. Imagine tens of millions of people, refusing to get tested or seek medical treatment, and going to work right up until the day they drop…. “The market” be damned, this might not end well.

    And then there is the issue of basically all of our pharmaceuticals being made in China. That also might not end well.

    • Replies: @jonswift
  12. utu says:
    @reiner Tor

    I have noticed that you have been overwhelmed with fear recently, reiner Tor. Though upon reflecting it is not out of charter.

    • Replies: @reiner Tor
    , @Anon
  13. utu says:

    Consolation by Szymborska

    They say he read novels to relax,
    But only certain kinds:
    nothing that ended unhappily.
    If anything like that turned up,
    enraged, he flung the book into the fire.

    True or not,
    I’m ready to believe it.

    Scanning in his mind so many times and places,
    he’d had enough of dying species,
    the triumphs of the strong over the weak,
    the endless struggles to survive,
    all doomed sooner or later.
    He’d earned the right to happy endings,
    at least in fiction
    with its diminutions.

    Hence the indispensable
    silver lining,
    the lovers reunited, the families reconciled,
    the doubts dispelled, fidelity rewarded,
    fortunes regained, treasures uncovered,
    stiff-necked neighbors mending their ways,
    good names restored, greed daunted,
    old maids married off to worthy parsons,
    troublemakers banished to other hemispheres,
    forgers of documents tossed down the stairs,
    seducers scurrying to the altar,
    orphans sheltered, widows comforted,
    pride humbled, wounds healed over,
    prodigal sons summoned home,
    cups of sorrow thrown into the ocean,
    hankies drenched with tears of reconciliation,
    general merriment and celebration,
    and the dog Fido,
    gone astray in the first chapter,
    turns up barking gladly
    in the last.

  14. @Kratoklastes

    And when the data fails to follow the model the answer is to statistically analyse the data until it does fit. Hey presto! NOAA GISS. The Maldives refuse to sink though. Off topic but there is more than one cry of doom based on imperfect input data and consensus model building.

    On the other hand we will never have perfect data. Modelling perhaps gives us the scale of scenarios of doom that we should prepare for.

  15. Anon[337] • Disclaimer says:

    Be not afraid! 😂 that movie!
    Thank you for the previous useful links about coronavirus. Japan and china’s response are red lights. One wonders whether the deaths in Iran could be linked to the arab water pipe, or shisha, which compromises the lungs.

    Otoh, it’s the soft-panic coverage mode in the media which surprises me. Textbook response is to downplay such epidemics. One obvious reason could be it would be used to explain away a market “adjustment”.

    Yet I wonder, it could be a way to introduce new concepts into the governed sheep. Restrict freedom of movement. Desensitize about deaths. Go figure.

    • Replies: @utu
  16. utu says:

    “One wonders [about] the deaths in Iran…” – We do not have enough data and we do not know which data to trust. Everything is possible. What if Iran has a different version of the virus that is closer to that of MERS?

    • Replies: @Anon
  17. South Africans are living in their cars until this blows over.

  18. Anon[330] • Disclaimer says:

    Two bioweapons? Madness..

    So there are the (unknown) facts of a real epidemic.

    Then there’s the coverage in Western media for Western consumption. That part is geared towards indoctrination along the lines of eventual population control / restriction of movement which is a globalist obsession.

    All those dystopian movies aimed at young people, with people living in concentration worlds.. Hunger Games et al.

  19. I read somewhere that a week ago still just a few hundreds of tests were administered in the US.

    Is it possible that this will be a response where the Chinese finally over- rather than underperform their IQ average, relative to Western countries? l

    • Replies: @LondonBob
  20. LondonBob says:
    @reiner Tor

    Chinese have started to impose restrictions on US travelers, and rightly so.

  21. dearieme says:

    This thread is petering out so I thought I might link to a delightful piano piece by the blogger’s father, Sir Charles Thompson.

  22. I was in the gym today. I could have been attending an event at the LSE from which I was no platformed. I decided to pass.

    I thought about taking gloves but in the end left in a hurry. I wasn’t too bothered. The first Welsh case, in Swansea, was taken to the QE2 in Birmigham. The second appeared in Cardiff today. I was assessing student projects at Cardiff Business School on Wednesday. All those expected arrived but today, the gym was much less busy than usual. Perhaps a third of the usual numbers.

    Is a gym a particularly dangerous place from the point of catching an infection? There are a lot of sweaty people breathing heavily and leaving sweaty traces on the equipment. The obvious answer is Yes. Would there be a significant decline in risk if one wore gloves? Would a mask be useful even if one could be found and tolerated during exercise? Perhaps people feeling unwell wouldn’t be in the gym in the first place to a statistically significant degree? Except, most people there are at least 30 years younger than me. They may be carriers without having symptoms or only having mild ones.

    I have just started going back to the gym after a 5 month lay off due to what might have been a verucca. I don’t really want to stay away but I am a type 2 diabetic so my immune system is not great. Prudence says lay off until Summer and a decreased infection rate but then, blood sugar control and the craving for endorphins. Perhaps the answer is to take up computer gaiming.

  23. I remember back in the 90s, reading somewhere about a potato cult that was founded on purpose. Supposedly, two wits convinced some gullible people (in SoCal, of course) that they had received insights from a particularly interesting looking potato. After a while they confessed the ruse – whereupon the cult members turned on them claiming that they had been suborned by (whatever the name of the arch-enemy of the potato was called).

    The story may be apocryphal – I’ve found no evidence of it on the web since – but it will be familiar to anyone who’s seen the Kumaré story (fake guru talks in nonsense Jesus-style parables; gains following; confesses ruse; cult lives on).

    Anyway… with that by way of background, and with people all over the world doing fucking retarded shit (buying 2700 rolls of dunny-paper; washing their hands with vodka because there’s no sanitiser), I just proposed elsewhere that the following trope be spread as far as possible…

    Researchers just discovered that coronavirus can be transmitted over the internet – particularly on 4G or 5G devices, and even via email.

    Whether hilarity ensues or not, will be largely a function of how many toilet-paper-buying fucktards can be reached.


  24. dearieme says:

    The Flat Earth cult was invented and promoted, mainly, by Washington Irving. Apparently it was meant to direct scorn onto the Roman Catholic Church. That’s a noble cause, no doubt, but a deeply ignoble way to pursue it.

  25. @utu

    Thank you utu. – Wislawa Szymborska – the voice of the balanced feelings and rational empathy & dry humor – love her work!

  26. dearieme says:

    I don’t have any surgical masks so I was wondering about wearing a pair of underpants on my head when I go out. It would presumably still let me see, it would remind me not to touch my face with my hands, and if I felt a cough or sneeze coming on I could quickly adjust its position to intercept any ejected droplets.

    If I stuck a drinking straw up each nostril people would think I was Blackadder-crazy and keep their distance. Though probably they’d keep their distance anyway.

    What say you, chaps?

    • Replies: @Dieter Kief
    , @Cortes
  27. @dearieme

    A Swiss truck with 24 tons of face masks has been stopped by German police to avoid that it would enter Switzerland. This has caused major tensions between the two countries. Oh – this is a true story so far!

    Now – your invention might help not only to save thousands of lives all over the parts of the world that suffer from a lack of face masks (and even toilet-paper – something somewhat related to your topic too) – you might even help to avoid a border-war breaking out between – us Germans and them Swiss. That would be amazing! – The war that has been avoided by the right use of underwear. – Now it’s up to you, dearieme: Let the swiss know. – And don’t forget the drinking-straws.

  28. Major tech companies were bailing on conferences in February. Many have directed employees to work remotely. Mass sporting events, concerts and meetings are still on the calendar in many places.

    A pharmaceutical company’s leadership conference has led to an outbreak of coronavirus in Boston.

    You probably can rank the intelligence levels of each industry by how quickly they canceled travel, special events, face-to-face meetings, and coming in to the office. At present, FANG (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Google) are ahead on points.

  29. Cortes says:

    A generous application of mud and woad to the face and scalp and wearing safety goggles ought to provide protection against Covid19. And midges.

  30. jonswift says:

    This might not end well? Depends on you perspective. From a bat’s perspective, killing off a bunch of humans may be grand. After all, bats are not causing global warming, humans are.

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