Coronascientists are the modern Aristotles?

Since the 17th century (see Francis Bacon), people who call themselves “scientists” have been using the scientific method:

  1. Make an observation.
  2. Ask a question.
  3. Form a hypothesis, or testable explanation.
  4. Make a prediction based on the hypothesis.
  5. Test the prediction.
  6. Iterate: use the results to make new hypotheses or predictions.

As previously documented here in this weblog, the “scientists” on whose advice politicians have ordered lockdowns, masks, etc. have consistently failed at Step 4 (making predictions). This failure, though, has been mostly invisible to the public due to the lack of media interest in going back a few weeks or months and comparing prediction to reality. In the rare cases when a false prediction, e.g., that the Czech Republic would have a low death rate due to masks and shutdown (in fact, the country ended up at #1 in the Covid death rate Olympics), is revisited it will be a “scientist” explaining how someone did something during the intervening period and that this action (or inaction) explains the current situation.

Is it Science when you can’t make accurate predictions, but you can tell a convincing tale? Yes! We just have to go back to 350 B.C. and Aristotelian physics. A lifted rock falls toward the earth because it is seeking its natural level. Air bubbles rise because the air seeks its natural place around the earth.

For concreteness (and remember that concrete seeks its natural level underneath highways!), let’s look at the official newspaper of those who #FollowScience. In “‘Life Has to Go On’: How Sweden Has Faced the Virus Without a Lockdown” (New York Times, April 28, 2020), the obvious comparison countries to Sweden were Ireland, Britain, and France. Once additional data are received, and it turns out Britain and France have higher COVID-19-tagged death rates than Sweden while Finland, Norway, and Denmark are outliers, the same scientifically minded folks will assert that Finland, Norway, and Denmark are the only sensible countries to which to compare Sweden and that it would be absurd to use France or Britain as a comparison. We did the same thing domestically. In March 2020, the experts predicted that locked-down Massachusetts would end up with a far lower death rate than Florida (and we should have, since only 14 percent of our population is over 65, compared to 20 percent in Florida). Now that data are available and Florida has suffered only 62 percent of the MA death rate, it is plain to scientists that comparing MA to FL would be nonsensical.

(The article has a funny-in-retrospect section:

From the first signs of the pandemic, the Swedish Public Health Authority decided that a lockdown would be pointless. “Once you get into a lockdown, it’s difficult to get out of it,” the country’s state epidemiologist, Anders Tegnell, said. “How do you reopen? When?”

California teachers’ union answer: never! To the Swedes who say “Life Has to Go On,” the majority of Americans say, resoundingly, “No, it does not!”)

A more recent example… “Iowa Is What Happens When Government Does Nothing” (December 3, 2020, Atlantic, owned by someone who got rich by marrying Steve Jobs and now advocates for unlimited migration into parts of the U.S. other than her own Palo Alto neighborhood):

The story of the coronavirus in the state is one of government inaction in the name of freedom and personal responsibility.

“In a lot of ways, Iowa is serving as the control group of what not to do,” Eli Perencevich, an infectious-disease doctor at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, told me. Although cases dropped in late November—a possible result of a warm spell in Iowa—Perencevich and other public-health experts predict that the state’s lax political leadership will result in a “super peak” over the holidays, and thousands of preventable deaths in the weeks to come. “We know the storm’s coming,” Perencevich said. “You can see it on the horizon.”

Experts expect to see a spike in COVID-19 cases in the state roughly one week from now [December 10], two weeks after the Thanksgiving holiday. That spike will likely precede a surge in hospitalizations and, eventually, a wave of new deaths—maybe as many as 80 a day, Perencevich, the infectious-disease doctor, estimates. Add Christmas and New Year’s to the mix, and Iowans can expect to see nothing less than a tsunami, Perencevich says.

What actually did happen? From the NYT:

Cases peaked on November 13. Given that “cases” are subject to much human whim, e.g., whether people are fed into PCR machines or not, let’s look at deaths:

What happened to the predicted “tsunami” of death after Christmas and New Year’s gatherings? Deaths peaked on December 15. a month after the “case” peak and, thus far, have failed to reach that level again.

Readers: What do you think? If Aristotle can be a great “scientist” despite an inability to predict projectile trajectories or planetary orbits, is it also reasonable to call the coronascientists great despite their inability to predict the likely impact of coronavirus?

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33 thoughts on “Coronascientists are the modern Aristotles?

  1. Happy Passover and Happy Easter!

    @Philg: If you were a little more attentive, you’d know by now that the Six Steps of the Scientific Method are not so simple and straightforward as you’ve outlined them above. In reality, they are much more like a Six Sigma Process Flow diagram, and the New Scientific Flow is much more complicated, including media and polling feedback loops, political imperative decision points, ex-post-facto data gathering and reconstruction, and Narrative and Framing interrogations. They are very complicated. And anything you say about the Process can be changed at any time by someone of higher authority who walks in and says: “But you didn’t do THIS and you’re not looking at THAT!”

    This may be one of the best posts you’ve written in a long time. Watch for the Black Helicopters, they’re coming.

    Yours in faith,
    Alex

    • In other words, application of the correct New Scientific Process Flow diagrams is essential for achieving #Science. The end results are not intended to be *answers* as much as they are *work products* or, for a wider audience, *narratives*. The scientific method as you and the Khan Academy present it is only applicable to a very small and very limited range of isolated and relatively inconsequential problems. We live in the world of Reality Engineering and Opinion Influencing, which are very different from purely Scientific problems.

  2. Aren’t you failing to account for the fact that a pandemic is self regulating to some degree? Cases spiking raises awareness and changes behavior. The massive spike in November altered peoples behavior in Dec. Your posts are tending towards minimizing the impact of deaths and making all kinds of apples to oranges comparisons. Our society is obsessed with preventing death or physical harm. How does Massachusetts compare in any meaningful way to Sweden, or anywhere else for that matter? I don’t know why you refuse to accept that wearing masks–zero cost or practical downside–and isolation have a meaningful positive impact. I haven’t caught a cold or a flu in the last year, and I’m usually good for a couple per season. Many areas were nearing ICU capacity with all the precautions in place. What would have happened without those measures which you criticize as draconian and unnecessary, considering exponential spread? Also, by some estimates, 30% of American’s have already been infected. The spikes will inevitably decrease over time because there are fewer viable hosts. More self regulation.

    • “What would have happened without those measures which you criticize as draconian and unnecessary, considering exponential spread?”

      Nothing different. Exponential spread at R=2.2 and at R=1.1 (assuming truly magically effective NPI redicing transmission by a factor of 2 – in reality it’s far far less) would still infect most susceptible people. Only it wiuld take longer in case of lower R allowing acquired immunity to fade and more different strains to emerge causing re-infection. In other words reducing R actually creates MORE illness and deaths.

      It’s just basic math you can check for yourself, and, frankly, all these public “health experts” are total quacks if they cannot comprehend it. They are murdering people with their incompetence.

    • Senorpablo: I hope that I am not “minimizing” or “maximizing” deaths from COVID-19, since, prior to the vaccines being released, I took the position that the virus was in charge, not humans. If a phenomenon is beyond human control (except in police states and islands), it is a pointless exercise to minimize or maximize the phenomenon. (Regarding vaccines, while I hope that a feverish Moderna-style development program can keep up with an evolving virus, I’m not convinced that humans will prevail. Our track record against viruses is not great and we’ve set ourselves some ambitious goals.)

      To your mask point… The reason that the Swedish MD/PhDs who run that country’s public health operations did not order the general public to wear masks is that, in their view, masks are not “zero cost” and they have a huge “practical downside”. Telling people that a bandana is effective PPE encouraged 26 million Americans to gather in almost-entirely-peaceful tightly-packed groups (see https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/07/03/us/george-floyd-protests-crowd-size.html ). The same would be true of any other false information.

      Imagine if we told people that drinking orange juice every hour would, due to the acid in the juice, kill coronavirus and prevent a COVID-19 infection. Instead of staying home in their bunkers, they would leave their houses with a Thermos of OJ. They would be unafraid to gather in groups at stores (rather than ordering items to be delivered) and for social reasons. In the belief that they were protected, they would delay restructuring their physical environment and lifestyle to reduce contact with other humans.

    • Senorpablo: One way to see that belief in the efficacy of masks for the general public (contrary to WHO advice through June 2020) is a religion is to look at France. This is one of the countries with the highest levels of mask compliance (see https://www.statista.com/statistics/1114375/wearing-a-face-mask-outside-in-european-countries/ ) and it is also home to a raging coronaplague. See “Covid-19: France enters third national lockdown amid ICU surge” https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-56622471

      Folks who believe masks have some significant positive effect are not interested in asking the seemingly obvious questions, e.g., Why does masked France have a higher death rate than unmasked Sweden? How can France have exponential growth in infections, hospitalizations, and deaths when everyone is wearing a mask? Why does mask-loving California have a dramatically higher COVID-19 death rate (once adjusted for percentage of population over 65) than mask-shunning Florida?

      If you aren’t interested in whether or not your belief is correct, that’s a religious belief…

    • Alex highlighted this in another thread. California recently decided to reopen for mass spectator sports, indoor concerts, etc., so long as people are masked. If they didn’t have faith in masks (of all quality levels!), would they invite people to gather by the thousands?

    • I thought of a better example of the disease-spreading caused by faith in masks: airlines being allowed to fill 100% of seats. If we didn’t have the fictions of masks being worn (they come off as soon as the drink cart comes out) and of non-N95 masks having some huge effect, we wouldn’t be doing this.

    • The great Barak Obama once said if you like your wearing your mask you can keep wearing your mask!

    • I live in France. I don’t know how they created the statistics you point to. Maybe it was not “scientific”, i.e. based on empirical objective observation but rather a poll and people gave their subjective view and signalled virtue. I’ve never worn a mask outdoors. This morning (Easter Monday, so offical holiday, not many people on the streets or in public transports) I’ve seen an almost empty bus and the driver had no mask at all, not even under his chin (or their/zeir/etc — to follow the blog’s style guide). I interpret it as a rather strong sign of mask fatigue and rebellion. It’s more or less inconsequential for me if I wear a mask or not but in his (their/zeir) case it could cost him the job. Now the Greater Paris Area has overtaken us in the statistics but for many weeks in February-March the area where I live had the highest nationwide infection incidence, so one cannot say that he (etc) was unaware of the risks (or unexposed to the continuous bombardments w.r.t. risks in the media).

      I’ve followed your reports w.r.t. mask compliance from your trips across the States. I think it applies here too: 1/3 wear it, 1/3 pretend to wear it (under the nose, under the chin, etc), 1/3 don’t. I’ve seen masks hanging from one ear only, ready to be quickly reclasped on the other if need arises!

      However I must say that there’s almost 100% full mask compliance in supermarkets (by full compliance I understand that people wear it correctly, over the mouth and nose). I don’t know about public transports, but I have no reason to believe it’s different from supermarkets. But my comment was triggered by the huge figures about _outdoors_ mask compliance, figures that I find completely skewed.

      I haven’t been in Sweden for years (though I’ve been living there and still have friends there), but our Dakota here in Europe (let’s say South Dakota, Sweden being the North Dakota) is Switzerland, the only country that kept skilifts open this winter. It’s incredible what a feeling of normality and freedom I had there for five days this March. Before leaving for those redeeming five days of freedom I was so frustrated and hate-filled after five months of de facto lockdown that I was on the verge of spitting in the faces of people on the street.

      My hypothesis — but I see many counterexamples — is that it’s a mix of population density and culture that determines the corona spreading. The UK, France, Italy have rather high population concentrations (although France has the biggest surface in the EU, it is actually quite empty, all the people are concentrated in the Greater Paris Area, about five or six metropolitan areas and a narrow strip along the Mediterranean). Belgium has the second highest population density in Europe if we ignore the micro-states. Counterexamples that would refute my theory are The Netherlands (highest density), Switzerland, Germany. Germany has a huge continuum of cities in the Düsseldorf area and does relatively well coronawise. And here comes my second component in order to “explain away” the counterexamples, I admit it’s quite unscientific because vague: “culture”. The English, French, Italians are more “restless” and individualistic, use their own minds, are more inclined to consider rules as “advice”, while the Germans are more disciplined and more community-oriented.

      It could be the climate too: Maybe the infection waves hit when the weather “thaws” and spring starts. I live in the south of France, the wave hit us in February. It’s been recently hitting Paris. But then the scientific prediction would be that the wave should hit Sweden this month.

      While I’m a with you in many aspects regarding corona, I think there is indeed a grain of truth in not comparing Sweden with the Czech Republic and comparing it with Finland or Denmark. While Sweden fares quite well when compared with continental lockdown fanatics such as France, I think we should apply a sort of “correction coefficient” taking density and climate into account when we compare it with five-times denser Czech Republic (though I’m aware that Sweden is almost empty north of Uppsala). (There was a joke in Latvia: “I can hardly wait for the end of this corona thingy so that we abandon this stupid 2 metres distancing rule in order to switch back to our 6 metres natural personal distance.” 2 metres = 6-7′, 6 metres = 20′)

    • @Adso von Melk, highly dense population that live and interact closely with each other is a known factor for super spreading any kind of a viruses and diseases. We have seen this in the past in Africa with Ebola as one example. We should all be very, very concerned if the such a virus is spreading. However, with COVID-19, that has not been the case.

      Take any 3rd world country such as South Africa, South America an India for example. Those countries have both poor health care, poor sanitization, not much control by their government on lockdown or mask wearing a the population works and lives together in a far more interactive way then other developed countries even in areas where population is dense. And yet, we do not see that dooms day death in those countries. Could it be because those 3rd world countries, even with higher population density are healthier compared to those in USA or Europe? Or could it be that their body is better prepared for COVID because they don’t have all that extra vaccines and anti-biotic that the developed world got so used to? Or could it be their government doesn’t bother to keep track and report actual death so we are seeing false reports? Whatever it is, people are not dying right-and-left all over the world due to COVID to justify draconian lockdown and laws and to impose a non approved vaccine for the population.

      I get it that when COVID was first discovered, we didn’t’ know much about it and that #Science did its best to project what to come and to be on the safe side, they projected the worse case scenario. Good. But now, after 1 year of this *experiment* our #Science and our government have enough data to re-project and reassess what we know, what worked and what hasn’t and adjust accordingly. I see none of that is happening, in fact, I see more doubling on lockdowns and vaccination requirement.

      #Science works best when it adopts and evolves. Otherwise the sun would still be orbiting around the earth.

  3. I’ve noticed the same lack of scientific rigor when it comes to racism. Example: a video is shown in which there’s a white face and a black face, and the face recognition algorithm recognizes the white face and not the black face. Racist algorithm alert! But both faces were against a dark background. It is a reasonable hypothesis that contrast is an important component in face recognition algorithms. A natural followup question would be, against a light background, is only the black face recognized, or still only the white face? It could well be that the algorithm has only been trained against white faces, and thus arguably “racist” (I wouldn’t use that term myself, but still). But it could also just be a problem related to contrast. But nobody bothers to ask that question, they just assume it’s racism.

    • They are assuming because they are brain-damaged cultists pretending to be “scientists”. That kind of people thrives in environments where you are not required to produce anything anyone would want to buy, and the only thing which matters is approval of other members of the cult.

    • Didn’t you get the memo? Math and Science are racist.

      Since racism is just about the worst thing ever (approximating pure evil), dabbling in science is probably a bad idea.

  4. Appropriate for this Passover and Easter holiday, and also somewhat related:

    “Aiming Big, Biden is Looking to Restore Faith in Government”

    Our government is built on Process. If the most important goal is to “Restore Faith” it follows that #Science must be done in such a way to supports the primary goal. Any #Science that contradicts that goal must therefore be Undemocratic, if not Heretical.

    https://apnews.com/article/joe-biden-politics-health-coronavirus-pandemic-lyndon-johnson-e1980730f351435701e80dfa4c001800

    • The clown in charge is basically admitting that government he runs is a quasi-religious cult. Only religions require faith.

    • Religion gets bad rap on this blog. Gödel incompleteness theorem postulates a necessity of external source of truth in anything using math as a foundation, for example science among other things. Many call external source of truth God. It is now fashionable to devise cumbersome ineffective expensive theories, for example many worlds theory, to avoid notion of anything resembling God. If people believed in enlightened religion as source of truth they would not considered quasi-religious corporatist cliques such as being discussed here as trust-worthy and would lough at another attempt of re-kindling of state religion aspirations by telling tall tales despite non-refutable evidence of Department of Motor Vehicles operation.
      I would say that atheist refute generic and everyday scientific evidence and Baconian method in order to support their belief. Sir Francis Bacon was himself a devoted Anglican and had sought and found God everywhere.

  5. I mostly agree with few comments below.
    Francis Bacon was not creator of science per se, but creator of best and yet not surpassed methodology of science. Unfortunately it is coming into disregard as science getting more and more politicized.
    Formalization of science as a separate occupation goes back to Thales https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thales_of_Miletus who was more of a witch https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/thales-predicts-eclipse-mystery-ancient-greece .
    Aristotle’s geocentric cosmology and celestial mechanic based on moving spheres was wrong but it DID predict movement of Sun and Moon and 5 planets to some degree, unlike current Coronavirus pandemic theories that do not predict surges and deeps of coronavirus infections.

  6. A computer “scientist” wants to understand “social science”. Comedy ensues.

    Since when was any science good at predicting anything outside of very narrowly defined set of circumstances? All this while mostly quite accurately explaining past events in the experiments or other observed events?

    For someone with side interests in law, economy and (presumably) more than passing knowledge of meteorology, you sure are obtuse when it comes to the real world and society.

    • J: You took the words right out of my mouth, I was just going to post something akin to science and human behavior, but you expressed it very eloquently

    • J: The folks offering predictions regarding COVID-19 do not call themselves “social scientists.” They call themselves “scientists” and the politicians who order people to stay at home, shut down schools, etc. say that they are issuing these orders in response to “science” and that people who disagree with them (e.g., young people who wish to avail themselves of what had been their First Amendment right to assemble and who would agree with https://gbdeclaration.org/ (keep the vulnerable in bunkers, not the invulnerable)) are “unscientific” (i.e., uneducated, stupid, and superstitious (or worse: religious!)).

    • The difference between social science and any other (medical included) is just in the number of unknown variables. Since even Schroedinger couldn’t pin down what’s going on with the damn cat I’d say believing science can predict anything with absolute certainty is just wishful thinking and a gross misunderstading. Especially coming from someone who passes for a member of academia.

      Also, you’re confusing predictions from “science”, politicians and media. That you don’t know, or constantly choose to ignore how those relationships work, is just one more strike against credibility.

      PS how do you not include epidemiology under social science? It’s as if you consider air crash investigations as just simple physics, not mostly a study of human factors.

    • J: My opinion regarding epidemiologists is not relevant. They call themselves “scientists”. Politicians call them “scientists”. Here’s an example NYT article calling them “scientists”: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/06/08/upshot/when-epidemiologists-will-do-everyday-things-coronavirus.html “The scientists are weighing coronavirus risks against the benefits of certain activities, including emotional well-being.” and “About 6,000 epidemiologists were invited to participate in the survey, which was circulated to the membership of the Society for Epidemiologic Research and to individual scientists.” for example. See also https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/02/health/santillana-coronavirus-model-forecast.html “Now, an international team of scientists has developed a model — or, at minimum, the template for a model — that could predict outbreaks about two weeks before they occur, in time to put effective containment measures in place.” and https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/30/science/how-coronavirus-spreads.html

    • So your point being that any science dealing with humans (how they work and their behaviour) is not really science at all?

    • J: There are a lot of documented successes for the post-Bacon scientific method being applied to humans “how they work”. See https://badgut.org/information-centre/a-z-digestive-topics/nobel-prize-for-h-pylori-discovery/ for example, in which a couple of guys hypothesized that H.pylori was responsible for many ulcers and tested that hypothesis. Has there been successful post-Bacon science for a question regarding human behavior? That’s a good question, but I don’t think it is a relevant one for the coronascientists whose predictions were advertised as “scientific” and that proved to be off by 5-100X. They didn’t say a lot about what people would do, except perhaps implicitly to assume that most people would comply with orders from governments (often back up with police and military enforcement, prison sentences, fines, etc., depending on the state and country).

  7. That recent plague IFR estimate has something to say on the subject:

    “Six systematic evaluations were eligible … Two evaluations had some overt flaws in data, violations of stated eligibility criteria, and biased eligibility criteria (e.g. excluding studies with few deaths) that consistently inflated IFR estimates.”

    It was the paper’s author, John Ioannidis, who also gave us “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False“.

    The decline of science, among many other things, is explicable by reference the “mouse utopia” conditions that killed western civilization. After infant mortality was virtually abolished, each succeeding generation became more deranged than its predecessor. For a topical example, Coronapanic is most intense among younger people, contrary to the risks (such as they are) rising with age.

  8. Absolutely awesome!!!

    The press definitely a lesson in the scientific method, and would help us all – really – if they did some fact checking of public health authorities to the degree they would if Trump were speaking.

  9. Many people use the word science but contradict it with an adjective: political-science, social-science, computer-science. In the first 2 cases it becomes an oxymoron. Computer-scientists creating models of corona viruses or climate change are not engaging in science, but in building: art and skilled trade.
    And yet the newspapers call all 3 scientists.
    Terms like Sanitary-engineer, domestic-engineer come to mind. Not engineering at all.

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