When Non-Specialists Predict Outside of Their Expertise

A reader, Ed Hanson, critiques the flagging of the fact that there were three waves of the 1918-20 flu:

You may not be a fortune teller, but you do tend toward being a panic monger.

Case in point, never knew that the Spanish flu was coronavirus. Maybe, that is because it is not.

While not being a doctor, a little research shows that there have been 7 identified coronaviruses causing human disease. 4 associated with the common cold, and 3 known for acute respiratory syndrome. These being MERS, SARS, and the covid-19.

OF the first 6, none shows the the wax and wane you write of in the topic.

That leaves covid-19. certainly the most deadly of the 7. I would rate a Spanish flu like wax and wane, far down as a possibility but still possible. More likely it won’t because the other coronoviruses have not shown that tendency.

Now Mr. Hanson is merely a random commenter; I quote him because he is representative of a group of individuals who are happy to predict with apparently no expertise, and without any apparent reference to mainstream scientific analysis. So, from The Hill:

A potential second wave of the novel coronavirus late in the year would likely be more deadly, as it would overlap with flu season, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) head Robert Redfield told The Washington Post on Tuesday.

“There’s a possibility that the assault of the virus on our nation next winter will actually be even more difficult than the one we just went through,” Redfield told the Post. “And when I’ve said this to others, they kind of put their head back, they don’t understand what I mean.”

Mr. Trump has tried to whitewash the statement; from WaPo today:

In a tweet Wednesday, Trump alleged Redfield had been misquoted. But he accused CNN of having done so, even though CNN merely relayed the comments published by The Post.

“CDC Director was totally misquoted by Fake News @CNN on Covid 19,” Trump said. “He will be putting out a statement.”

In yesterday’s press conference, he indicated he’d been correctly quoted by WaPo.

68 thoughts on “When Non-Specialists Predict Outside of Their Expertise

  1. sammy

    Why experts are usually wrong

    “Every day, expert advice assaults us from newspapers, websites and televisions. But judging by the state of the world and our lives, it doesn’t seem to be doing us much good.
    Blame the media (of course), but know that’s only a small part of the problem. Experts — that is, actual scientists, not just Dr. Phil — are often wrong, more often than we might think.
    Scientists themselves have examined the reliability of their own findings, and have come to some sobering conclusions. Take medical research, which has been especially well-scrutinized. About two-thirds of the findings published in top medical journals end up being refuted within a few years.”


      1. sammy

        Hi Menzie,

        It’s by the guy who researched and wrote the book, David H. Freedman, “Wrong: Why Experts Keep Failing Us — and How to Know When Not to Trust Them” (Little, Brown and Company)

        David H. Freedman is a contributing editor for Inc. Magazine, and has written on science, business and technology for The Atlantic, The New York Times, The Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, Science, Wired, and many other publications. His newest book, Wrong, about why experts keep failing us, just came out in June, 2010. He last book (co-authored), was A Perfect Mess, about the useful role of disorder in daily life, business and science. He is also the author of books about the U.S. Marines, computer crime, and artificial intelligence. Freedman’s blog Making Sense of Medicine takes a close, critical look at medical findings making current headlines with an eye to separating out the frequent hype. He lives near Boston.

        1. 2slugbaits

          In other words, the kind of book one might find on the clearance table at your nearby airport bookstore. Good grief. But then again, you also link to DailyMail articles. What’s next? National Enquirer?

          1. Moses Herzog

            I’m tempted to mention certain things here, on references, related to certain people that most readers here probably assume I have a grievance towards. But…… I won’t. Suffice to say, if it shows that person to be WRONG, or having an incomplete knowledge set, then even World Bank produced graphs become fodder.

        2. Barkley Rosser

          So, sammy, experts are indeed sometimes wrong. Does that mean that instead we should trust some demonstrater in Lansing who is blocking medical personnel from entering a hospital?

  2. Steven Kopits

    But then isn’t a corollary of Redfield’s view that shutting down the economy has been a mistake? It seems fairly clear to me that the economy cannot sustain this kind of shutdown for any protracted period. Maybe another month or so, not but much more. If an even worse wave follows in the fall, then can we shut down the economy again, or is it fair to expect that the strain will be too much on workers and businesses? Would it not make more sense to simply seek herd immunity during the summer rather than next fall and open up the economy now? According to the University of Southern California and the LA Department of Public Health — are these ‘experts’ for purposes of the corona virus? — the rate of infection is far higher than reported in California, with 600 deaths on 220,000 to 440,000 cases of infection, representing a death rate of 0.1% – 0.2%. Do these experts then not imply that shutting down the economy has been a huge mistake?

    I am all for experts and I believe them, but if I do, it seems that the economic policy approach is fundamentally flawed given the practical realities of maintaining a functioning society. Isn’t that where the unhappy logic takes us?

    1. Menzie Chinn Post author

      Steven Kopits: I have been wondering if we should apply the Maria/Puerto Rico criterion to the current Covid-19 pandemic; did this onset merely accelerate the deaths that would have occurred in the succeeding months, for instance in nursing homes. If we apply your Maria/Puerto Rico criterion, what is your estimated death toll?

      Also, please tell me of an analysis where opening up w/o tracking/tracing infrastructure in place doesn’t end up reducing output (due to reduced hours worked, since so many are dead). I’m waiting to see your analysis on this issue; will you imbed in a macro model? Or will you pull a number out of the air, like here.

      1. Steven Kopits

        You can certainly use an excess deaths model in this case. In the Bergamo region, excess deaths were about 70% higher than reported deaths, bringing the death rate to around 21% of confirmed cases. I think it’s reasonable to attribute the deaths to the corona virus because they were contemporaneous and similar in cause. By contrast, in Puerto Rico, the deaths were delayed and not directly caused by the hurricane, ie, they resulted from a lack of dialysis or electricity or air conditioning, etc. But I did use an excess deaths method and I stand by the numbers I ultimately came up with, which were close to those of others ex-Harvard.

        Then we have to consider the total infection rate. If it’s 20 times the number of confirmed cases, then the underlying death rate in Italy is around 1% — still high — but a substantially different read on the matter.

        You could also use a life-equivalents method, where you take the actuarial life expectancy and deduct the average age of death. The virus is notably fatal to men over the age of 70, so the lives lost on an actuarial life expectancy is less than total deaths on an excess mortality basis. If your view is that 21% of NYC has been infected and apparently recovered or remained asymptomatic on 20,000 deaths, then a years-of-life approach I think has to be one metric you consider. If we assume that the virus is already much more widespread than believed, then it has likely already struck many of the most vulnerable, eg, nursing homes. Opening up the economy would therefore have less of an effect than we might currently expect. That may lift mortality — currently tracking around 75,000 for this wave in the US — to maybe 250,000. Does it make sense to cut GDP by 40% to achieve that goal, when in fact Redfield — an expert by your estimation — says that we’ll see another round, an even worse one, in the fall? Will we be in a position to re-close the economy then? And for how long? From November to April? That’s just not possible.

        Would an open economy suffer losses due to illness? Of course, but nothing like 40%. Maybe 2-3% for a few months.

        Now, I am not providing counsel or taking a view here. But I am saying that, if you’re going to say the ‘experts’ are right, and ‘non-experts’ are wrong, then the implication in all likelihood is that closing down the economy was a mistake because, at the end of the day, the disease is already endemic and sooner or later everyone will be exposed.


        1. Menzie Chinn Post author

          Steven Kopits: No, I’m not saying experts are right non-experts are wrong. Rather, experts typically have some informed basis for their views, and non-experts have less basis on average (I’m teaching stats this semester), even though they might be right, for the wrong reasons. Is that so controversial.

          By the way, the statement:

          …closing down the economy was a mistake because, at the end of the day, the disease is already endemic and sooner or later everyone will be exposed.

          is perhaps the stupidest and willfully dangerous comment you’ve ever made on this blog. You don’t want a high peak (as opposed to a flatter but longer trajectory) because you are more likely to overload the health infrastructure, causing more collateral deaths, and degrading the medical system (e.g., killing off your doctors, of which several in my family are).

          1. Steven Kopits

            I have doctors in my family, too. And old people. And a wife prone to lung-related illnesses. So believe me, I am sympathetic to your sentiment.

            But you are the one who brought up Redfield, not me. If I believe Redfield, then the only benefit to shutting down the economy was to spare the health care system. We’re going to reduce GDP by 40% just to provide smoother health care service? Seems like a fantastically high price. If we assume it would have made, say, 250,000 patients and hospitals better off, the cost would be $10 million in lost GDP per patient, which will typically be an older person with pre-existing conditions. However compassionate and desirable that may be, it’s incredibly expensive. You could treat (not even save) a 70 year old man for the cost of sending fifty young people through a four year ride an expensive liberal arts college. You could build an elementary school for the opportunity cost of treating five patients! That’s a lot.

            If you’re telling me to believe Redfield, then I think the best course of action is to just open up the economy now, and take the virus in the warm months when people have a better chance, rather than next winter, because there is no realistic way for the economy to survive a six month shut down from November to April.

            So, should we believe Redfield, or not? Or do you believe that after a three month shutdown now, the US can be closed for another six months come next winter?

          2. Menzie Chinn Post author

            Steven Kopits: The benefit to closing down the economy is also to save the lives of those who otherwise would be lost because the health care system was overstressed. How many people are dying because they can’t get the EMT care or other treatment because the Covid-19 patients are swamping hospitals.

            A controlled reopening with tracking and testing and implementation of DPA so we have all the supplies to produce the kits to test, and PPE to protect, would be great. We should be working full speed ahead in order to make this so, in advance of Fall. But as far as I can tell, testing rates are dropping because of shortfalls. This is the direct outcome of a leadership that does not believe in science, does not believe expertise, does not believe in administrative capacity (as witness the deliberate decision to keep many policy-level positions vacant), and in the end, does believe some people — probably poor and/or nonwhite — should be happy to sacrifice themselves for the good of the economy.

            (Would it kill you to read some technical papers, e.g. those linked here, including those by Eichenbaum et al., by Atkeson, and by Correia et al.)

          3. Alan Goldhammer

            Menzie’s point is reinforced by looking at the shutdowns in the meatpacking industry. I’ve lost count of how many big plant are idled because of SARS-CoV-2 illness. I’ve been in one meat processing facility years ago to pick up bovine thyroid glands for a research project. these guys wore masks and gloves. I assume this is still the case so it’s not clear what the point of viral spread was, probably the break room or the community. Any plant where there is close worker contact is potentially at risk. Sure, the mortality among young workers may not be significant but the number of sick days certainly will be. Were nothing done four weeks ago, there would likely have been a huge work stoppage across many industries because of illness. I’m sure there are some intrepid modelers who can figure that part of it out and what the economic impact is.

            Now the New York City data announced by Governor Cuomo today suggest that mortality rates may drop considerable from what has been observed. But the findings that 1 in 5 NYC residents were likely infected comes as no surprise to me as it’s consistent with what have been observed in other locales both in the US and abroad. The reason for the shutdown and distancing was to make sure that things did not get worse in the hospitals. That NYC residents took this to heart and that the extra hospital beds are likely not needed is a success based on ‘expert calculations.’

            Had successful tests and approaches been available in February we would not all be carping about ‘expert advice’ today.

          4. Steven Kopits

            I’m for tracking and testing, too. But if I believe Redfield, then that’s a waste of time, because a worse wave is coming in the fall, and I don’t see any realistic way to close the economy for six months. We’ll be lucky to make it to the end of May.

            As for testing rates: I was tested two weeks ago Friday at the testing station in the parking lot of Quakerbridge Mall in Princeton. (The result was negative.) Here’s how it worked: I wanted to see my doctor, which you can’t do if you’re ill, and I was. So he wrote a prescription for a corona virus test on a Wednesday; the scheduler called the next day; and I was tested early Friday morning. I had the results before noon on Monday. The process was very efficient. I would guess that facility alone could test 1,000 people per day.

            I passed there yesterday on the way to Costco around 4 pm, and it was deserted. I suspect the demand for testing is tapering off.

            Critically, though, this is a different kind of testing than the testing for re-opening. Right now, in NJ and most of the rest of the country, if you have no symptoms, you’re just camped out at home and not really looking to be tested unless you have some reason to be, eg, a doctor’s visit or because you think you have the virus. But otherwise, everyone is just sitting tight. So most of the people getting tested are those with a presumption of a positive result.

            In re-opening, you’re testing people with the presumption of a negative result, ie, you just want to prove you’re healthy so you can go back to work. That requires many, many more tests, for which NJ is certainly not prepared. So I get that.

            But Redfield plus the NY and LA data really challenge that assumption. If 21% of NYC has already had the virus and it lingers on otherwise symptom free people, then can the virus be defeated with quarantine? I don’t know. Clearly Redfield doesn’t think so. And the mortality rate is much lower than we think. So is the economic damage worth it? And given that, is not the preferred health strategy to take the virus at full strength during summer 2020, not winter 2020/2021?

            I don’t like this line of reasoning any more than you do. But if I look at the data and I believe the experts, then shutting down the economy will ultimately prevent little of the eventual damage of the virus at huge cost to the economy and society.

          5. Steven Kopits

            As for poor, minority people. I asked Emergent Ventures for $5,000 to provide regular surveys on the NJ undocumented community during the pandemic. I felt it highly likely that low income hourly workers would be exceptionally exposed. (You’ll recall my post about my haircut.) I personally think we’re seeing a kind of mini-holocaust in the migrant community, many of whom work in food packing plants.

            Tyler Cowen apparently didn’t like the proposal. I haven’t heard back from him. So if you have a beef about protection of brown and poor people, take it up with him.

        2. 2slugbaits

          If we assume that the virus is already much more widespread than believed, then it has likely already struck many of the most vulnerable, eg, nursing homes. Opening up the economy would therefore have less of an effect than we might currently expect.

          This makes no sense. Did it ever occur to you that a new crop of oldies will move into that same vulnerable cohort? You seem to be thinking that once we’ve gotten rid of the old and vulnerable our problems are solved because they’re all dead. You forgot that next year a new crop of vulnerables will move into that same cohort and you’re right back to the same moral problem.

          the implication in all likelihood is that closing down the economy was a mistake because, at the end of the day, the disease is already endemic and sooner or later everyone will be exposed.

          I think it makes a big difference whether you’re talking about “sooner” or “later.” Sooner is not the same as later. Eventually there will be a vaccine, but equally important is the expectation that fairly soon (i.e., before next flu season) there will be an effective therapeutic. Ask yourself this: If we knew that by this summer we would have an effective therapy to treat COVID-19 infections, would it be morally justified to keep the economy open and willfully allow people to die before their time? I suspect that most people would agree that the better policy would be to shut down the economy and minimize deaths until that therapy was available.

          Let’s be frank here. Your livelihood is based on the well being of the oil sector. COVID-19 has had a big impact on your economic future. Your arguments are not based on any objective economics…I know this because you haven’t even attempted to present a coherent economic argument. All you’ve done is just assert that we can’t temporarily cut real GDP back to the same horrible level of economic existence we endured in 1997. Your personal economic situation is in distress and you’re trying to rationalize away some otherwise immoral policies by pretending impersonal economic forces give you no choice but to accept the reality that other people must die in order for your life’s conveniences to continue.

        3. Dave

          Steven, the problem with your analysis, is that you assume that there is infinite hospital capacity. There is not. Not even close. 250K are going to die no matter what (probably more like >500K). If it occurs over the span of a few months, numbers will go way up as hospitals get overwhelmed PPE gets consumed and not replaced and we have to start burying people in mass graves. If it occurs over a year, and we use the time to massively increase PPE/testing/ICU bed infrastructure and capacity, then we can handle it. Unfortunately, Trump is just not doing those things.

      2. Moses Herzog

        Menzie, I love the two questions you ask in this comment. Your dry humor is some of the best part of this blog. I just had my first couple swigs of Beringer’s (yes, I prefer swigs of wine to sips) so, take it how you, will, I’m feeling a lot of “Bro love” to you right now after those two questions. You DO realize if you keep asking questions like this it’s an indication that some of my darker humor has rubbed off on you, right??

    2. 2slugbaits

      Steven Kopits It seems fairly clear to me that the economy cannot sustain this kind of shutdown for any protracted period. Maybe another month or so, not but much more.

      Why is that clear to you? It’s certainly not clear to me. Are you basing your comment on an actual economic analysis or just your own personal impatience with having to be housebound?

      If an even worse wave follows in the fall, then can we shut down the economy again, or is it fair to expect that the strain will be too much on workers and businesses?

      Doesn’t it seem likely that opening the economy too soon only increases the risk that we’ll go into the fall & winter with more COVID-19 cases prowling around?

      Would it not make more sense to simply seek herd immunity during the summer

      You’re making a lot of assumptions here. First, you’re assuming that immunity achieved in the summer will still provide immunity in the winter. We have no idea how long any immunity might last. You’re counting on it lasting at least a year, and that’s probably unrealistic. Second, you’re assuming that just because a test shows the presence of antibodies that this also confers immunity. It doesn’t work that way. The antibodies only demonstrate that the person had the virus once before and recovered. That is not the same thing as saying the person has immunity. In order to have an effective immunity you need a particular kind of antibody, called a “neutralizing antibody” that binds itself to the virus. We don’t know that COVID-19 creates those kinds of antibodies. And your body’s cells have to be able to recognize the virus and know to produce the right kind of neutralizing antibodies. There’s also some conflicting research as to how much of a viral “load” a person needs in order to stimulate an immune response. Think of the flu vaccine for those over 64 that is four times the dose given to younger folks. Finally, your “herd immunity” proposal not only fails Immunology 101, it also fails Ethics 101. Deaths from COVID-19 are targeted on the most vulnerable. If you and others want to take risks yourselves and promise not to come in contact with anyone who chooses not to take that risk; and if you promise to refuse medical treatment if you become sick; and if you promise to assume financial responsibility for anyone you might infect, then by all means go do your thing. But if you’re demanding other people risk a lonely, slow, painful and grisly death simply because you’re bored and want to buy a nice ribeye at some restaurant, then I would say your moral compass is right up there with Trump’s.

      1. Steven Kopits

        How long can fiscal and monetary policy stave off a round of mass bankruptcies? How long can Congress and the Fed freeze the economy in amber? You may think it’s a year. I’m thinking the end of May is long time to hold things together. It’s one thing to be sent home, but when 10 or 20 or 30 million people are actually laid off and have no means of supporting themselves and their families, the pressure will become overwhelming. I have no problem being housebound, by the way. My computer works anywhere.

        “Doesn’t it seem likely that opening the economy too soon only increases the risk that we’ll go into the fall & winter with more COVID-19 cases prowling around?”
        No, it seems far more likely that we’ll burn through the virus in the next 2-3 months, with far fewer people lacking immunity in the fall. If we have to go Full Monty, summer is preferable to winter, in my opinion.

        Assumptions. Yes, there are lots of assumptions. Were the NY and LA tests accurate? Did they measure what we think they did? I am assuming Redfield is right, and that a far worse wave is coming in the fall. So, yes, if we assume that, and other things as well. Again, I am not providing counsel here. But I am telling you that the incoming LA and NY data, coupled with warnings from an expert Menzie considers to be credible, makes me seriously wonder whether the on-going destruction of the economy will ultimately prove to be a sound strategy.

        1. 2slugbaits

          Steven Kopits How long can fiscal and monetary policy stave off a round of mass bankruptcies?

          A long time. It’s not a question of economics. It’s a matter of how mean and vindictive Mitch McConnell wants to be.

          No, it seems far more likely that we’ll burn through the virus in the next 2-3 months, with far fewer people lacking immunity in the fall.

          In order to get to that point you might have to accept millions of deaths instead of tens of thousands of deaths. What kind of pressure do you think that will generate? Workers in vulnerable jobs will refuse to work.

          makes me seriously wonder whether the on-going destruction of the economy

          The economy has not been destroyed. Capital isn’t disappearing; it’s being idled. Technical knowledge hasn’t been forgotten; it’s just on vacation. Labor is being kept alive instead of literally dying on the job. If Yt = F(Kt, Lt, Y), please tell me which component has been destroyed. What we have is a deliberate and planned shrinkage of aggregate demand. The result will be temporary excess capacity, but that is not the same thing as destroying economic capacity. In fact, it’s the opposite. A lot of our GDP provided what earlier generations would consider luxury goods. There is no good economic reason why anyone should starve or go homeless as long as Uncle Sam has a printing press (so to speak) and interest rates are rock bottom. The tricky part will be in bringing the economy back in a controlled way. Just opening things up willy-nilly invites self-made problems, especially for sectors of the economy that are subject to the old “cobweb model” problem (e.g., agriculture) as well as “bullwhip” problems as different levels of the supply chain overreact to demand signals. The big risk that I see is how the private sector reacts to unreliable price signals as the economy opens up.

          1. Willie

            McConnell thinks that deficits are OK so long as they are in the service of corporate and high income tax cuts. But, not OK if they are in the interest of keeping people alive and solvent. I wonder why this is not obvious to his constituents.

          2. Steven Kopits

            Let me categorically disagree. We will begin to see mass bankruptcies pretty soon. The shale sector and supporting services will be materially wiped out by Q4. As will the airline sector, the tourist sector, the restaurant sector, the hotel sector, non-food retail, business real estate, the movie sector, Boeing, and possibly the automobile sector — and of course, a big chunk of the financial sector.

            Pick a sector. Let’s say the restaurant sector, and show me a plan that takes us through year end without industry revenues. Perhaps Menzie will run an analysis for us and give an estimate of how long the economy can hold out.

      2. baffling

        “It seems fairly clear to me that the economy cannot sustain this kind of shutdown for any protracted period. Maybe another month or so, not but much more.”
        not to beat a dead horse here, but i think the logic steven uses to defend his position is based on ignorance of the enemy we face. steven fails to acknowledge or understand what an exponential spread means in the short and long term. with an exponential spread, if you return to business too soon you have literally wasted all actions that you did previously. you lock down the economy early, until you understand your enemy better. we now understand the enemy better. it is foolish to waste that action by allowing an exponential spread to occur once again, but from a much larger starting point.
        “If an even worse wave follows in the fall, then can we shut down the economy again, or is it fair to expect that the strain will be too much on workers and businesses?”
        your goal should be to eliminate another wave, period.
        “I have doctors in my family, too. And old people. And a wife prone to lung-related illnesses. So believe me, I am sympathetic to your sentiment.”
        steven, i would imagine they are not too happy with your decision to be quite so cavalier with their life and death. if most people felt the way you do, i am not sure that you would get any medical workers to continue treating patients.
        but steven, i have a serious question for you. since it is so important to open the economy, are you willing to forgo medical treatment for you and you family during the pandemic? and will you fund the medical expenses of those you and your family infect? or do you expect others to subsidize your risk taking for you?

        1. Steven Kopits

          You then believe Redfield is wrong, Baffs. He is no expert in your book, and that’s because you believe a quarantine can be held long enough to reduce the spread of the virus below R0 = 1, or something pretty close to that.

          I hope that’s true, and if you asked me yesterday, I probably would have agreed with you. But given the incoming data from LA and NY, the logic is less clear to me. Do I think this particular virus will go away if 2 million people in NYC have been exposed to it? Given the tendency of the corona virus to linger in symptom-free carriers, I tend to be pessimistic about this. And if the mortality rate is 0.7%, is that worth shutting down the whole economy for? And for how long?

          How much is smoothing hospital stays worth? Is it worth two trillion dollars? Is the comfort of every 20 patients enough to equal the value of covering the tuition of every student for a year at my alma mater, Haverford College? Is that a proportionate trade-off? Or should we just pay Haverford College $10 billion to house 1,000 coronavirus patients for four weeks? Because that’s the underlying economics you’re suggesting.

          So, the quarantine has worth if we win. If we don’t win, then on balance it looks like a bad call.

          1. baffling

            “You then believe Redfield is wrong, Baffs. He is no expert in your book”
            if you really believe this statement, and this is how you conduct your “analysis” of others statements, i must say steven, you have no business being an analyst. unless you clarify your position here, i claim you to be either ignorant or disingenuous, or both. this was a stunning display of misdirection on your part.
            first, let me point something out. if we get to a 0.7% mortality rate, we only understand this after the fact. our leadership failed to act in a way that provided testing capabilities early, something i commented on repeatedly over a month ago. we were flying blind at the time we needed to make the important decisions. that was a major problem, and is why you need to err with caution. we could have obtained this type of information a month ago, but chose not to do so. that $2 trillion dollar bill is the result of not doing the proper work early on. second, that 0.7% mortality rate occurs WITH the benefit of lockdowns, social distancing, etc. it will be considerably higher if those actions are not in effect. that rate may end up being your best case scenario, and not very sustainable.
            “Because that’s the underlying economics you’re suggesting.”
            out of the two of us, you are the one misunderstanding the economics. your approach will NOT keep a 0.7% mortality rate. recalculate your numbers. it is ignorant to take the results of conditional analysis and blindly apply them to an unconditional argument, which is what you are doing steven. if your had an analyst working for you who did that, you would fire them.
            “So, the quarantine has worth if we win. If we don’t win, then on balance it looks like a bad call.”
            hindsight. what happens if you do not quarantine and you get 2-4% mortality rate? that looks like an even worse call steven.
            i will say, contingency planning is extremely helpful prior and during a pandemic. it does not look like our response included any contingency planning at any point in time. it would have been a small price to pay compared to the $2 trillion dollar plus bill we will now pay.

      3. Dave

        2slugbaits makes a lot of good points “. . . First, you’re assuming that immunity achieved in the summer will still provide immunity . . . ”

        So, all your caveats are certainly true. We don’t KNOW any of those things. However, it is highly likely that we will find that herd immunity works, it lasts, and the (not yet validated ) serological tests are a reasonable way of identifying the immune. Most of the first wave antibody tests are using the Spike protein as the capture reagent. The Spike is something you want to bind to neutralize. Sure, some will test positive and not be immune for a variety of reasons (no test is perfect there are false positives, the testee has antibodies to the spike but they for whatever reason don’t neutralize well, etc.). Coronaviruses as a class are well-studied and animal vaccines against different coronaviruses do work reasonably well, so immunity is durable. Unlike the flu, coronaviruses do not have multiple genomes that mix and match like crazy and have insanely high mutation rates, so it is highly unlikely a strain will mutate enough to escape existing herd immunity (possible though, but anything is possible). There is the possibility of the vaccine overpriming the immune system like dengue ADE, but again we don’t see that with other coronaviruses in animals. This one is less unlikely, but certainly something we have to look at carefully. All in all, I think that no matter what we do, everyone is eventually going to be exposed to this virus. The key is to spread it out so we aren’t all going to the ER at once. Herd immunity will work, but we had better manage our path to it and Steve’s points on that are nonsense.

        1. 2slugbaits

          Another problem is that in the absence of a proven COVID-19 therapy going to the ER might not do you a whole lot of good. The case for opening up the economy would be a lot stronger if we could find an effective therapy. With a little luck we might have that before the next wave.

          One thing that annoys me is the focus on COVID-19 deaths to the exclusion of the millions who will endure unimaginable agony while recovering from COVID-19 even if they survive. MAGA hatters who think COVID-19 is just a few days of mild discomfort should talk to the hundreds of thousands who have gone through the recovery process. Economies are going to have to deal with millions of permanently disabled workers on our way to herd immunity if we follow Trump’s path to opening the economy.

    3. Dave

      If we want to seek herd immunity during the summer, then we can wait until June 20 to open the economy, or perhaps even later. There is no rush to beat the fall flu season. Really, we just have to get there by February, so even opening in August would easily meet that goal. How about this: keep strict shelter-in-place in all major metropolitan areas and travel, lodging, and school restrictions in less populated areas until August. Use that time to dramatically ramp up testing capacity and ICU bed ventilator PPE capacity/stockpiles. The problem is that this administration is basically doing NONE of this. They are commandeering PPE wherever they can find it and stockpiling it for “FEDERAL” use (whatever that means) or sending it to private distributors to add a markup and redistribute. It’s just a merry go round. We haven’t really increased our actual manufacturing capacity to the degree we can and should. Why? God only knows. I know that the Trump admin is incompetent, cruel, and disorganized at every level, but they have to know they are going to jail if they continue to mess this up. Maybe they really do plan to cancel/steal the election?

      1. rick shapiro

        Concern about flu compounding the health care burden next winter is overblown. Flu is considerably less infectious than covid19; so mild social distancing prompted by continuing concern about covid19 will probably keep the flu R below 1. Restrictions (such as banning of mass events, and precautions on public transportation and retail) together with caution among the public will do the job.

        1. baffling

          “Concern about flu compounding the health care burden next winter is overblown.”
          not true rick. patients can have very similar symptoms for a time, so it can be hard to distinguish the cause without a test, something we have been lacking throughout the pandemic. dealing with both viruses at the same time compounds the difficulties faced by the medical community. and right now there is no information to assess the possibility that somebody can have both viruses at the same time, which further complicates the testing and treatment process. if you have a flu virus that is not covered well by the vaccine, and it happens to be a bit more virulent than previous years, you have a major problem. unless you continue the lockdown. but in this case it is likely that many hospital patients end up with both viruses, producing a negative outcome. this process of minimizing the risk, first when coronavirus first emerged and then when considering its mix with flu, is simply garbage.

          1. Dave

            “right now there is no information to assess the possibility that somebody can have both viruses at the same time”

            Of course someone can have both viruses at the same time. There is no doubt about this. Moreover, it seems that people don’t seem to understand that for most of the U.S. testing period, we have (and continue) to only test people who are strongly suspected of having COVID. That is, they have COVID symptoms. And yet, the majority of people do not test positive. In other words, all of our usual non-COVID respiratory diseases, including various influenza and cold viruses that circulate continuously but peak in winter, are still around all the time.

    4. not_really

      Maybe another month or so, not but much more.

      The fear mongering in this statement is palpable. Doesn’t one of the White House hucksters keep claiming “the economy will bounce right back!” Oh, wait, I forgot there is no history only today’s groupthink.

      The explicit message that the economy is more important than the human health is more fascist groupthink. The worst part is the way Conservative ideology takes no responsibility for their policy choices. In this paradigm, Conservative ideology blames the middle class sick, and dead for not generating economic activity because “they made bad choices “, not because of their policy decision to encourage the spread a highly contagious disease.

      1. Steven Kopits

        Let me quote from my yesterday post, “An OPEC Super Deal”:

        A larger group, including non-OPEC producers, is absolutely necessary, and within this, US leadership is indispensable. The US is the world’s largest producer and consumer of oil. Deep global production cuts are inconceivable without its active participation. To date, the US administration has taken the position that market forces should resolve the problem. While market forces have many virtues, they will produce disastrous results during financial crises and pandemics. As a practical matter, reliance on market forces will result in the liquidation of the US shale sector and much of its supporting service industry. It is the wrong solution without qualification.


        And this, from yesterday’s rig report (only to subscribers):

        – Frac spreads fell 62 to 85, down 75% in the last eight weeks
        – There will be no frac spreads left in the field within two weeks
        – Matt Johnson of Primary Vision, which specializes in monitoring the spread market, adds some color: “Frac spreads are in single digits all basins sans Permian. It’s game over for 20 pressure pumpers by Q4.”

  3. Moses Herzog

    What bothers me about this the most, and make no doubt, there are many aspects of this that bother me, but the one that really gets to me is, in some cases this is life and death, and if you’re over 60, have a weak immune system, are a chronic cigarette smoker, vape with the wrong products, have kidney problems, are diabetic, are obese, have asthma, have a blood clotting problem and uh, what did I forget please fill in here ______ or your comment immediately below—it is a case of life and death. You don’t have to have a “mixture” of these things to risk death here—JUST ONE of these issues can put you on the express route to death. You can be asymptomatic, pass it to a vulnerable person, and they will DIE. Let me repeat that for those of you who a narcissists, lack empathy, or are incapable of consideration of others situations:

    You can be asymptomatic, pass COVID-19 to a vulnerable person, and they will DIE.

    I am middle age, I have had what I believe to be an extraordinarily strong immune system. I go years without getting so much as a common cold. Have drunk heavily in certain phases of my life (really one) and smoked when I was drinking, but rarely smoked more than two individual cigarettes a day (ALWAYS when I was drinking) and quit smoking cold turkey without so much as a metaphorical half-itch to smoke again. I still drink, roughly once every 3 weeks lately. So, I know I am not going to die even if I get it….I have ZERO worry there. My problem is I share space with someone who is going to get one strike out, and they’re gone. It’s not a very good feeling folks when you’re surrounded by IDIOTS like Kevin Stitt, James Inhofe, James Lankford, and a bunch of dumb Okies who apparently can’t wait to kill off all their older relatives:

  4. pgl

    Can we ask Dr. Ed Hanson where he got his medical degree? Maybe he would also provide us a list of all those publications of his on this topic.

    1. Barkley Rosser

      How dare you, pgl? If Hanson had those credentials he would be an “expert,” and the whole point is that regular MAGA hat wearers know more than “experts.” Shame on you for confusing the narrative here!

  5. pgl

    Off the top of my head, I do not recall who keeps asking us to check this informative cite:


    The US is approaching 50 thousand COVID 19 deaths but we should be doing cross-national comparisons in per capita terms. Yea I know Trump says we test more than any other nation but even a dumbass MAGA hat wearing dunce should realize that in per capita terms, Trump is just farting out his fat rear end as usual. But do pardon my language and let’s note US death per million people is almost 150 whereas that relative statistic is higher for many European nations. So in relative terms – some nations are doing worse. Of course the Idiot in Chief forgot to cut off travel from Europe when he sort of cut off travel from China. What did he think – white people cannot transmit this disease?

  6. pgl

    “Case in point, never knew that the Spanish flu was coronavirus. Maybe, that is because it is not.”

    Dr. Ed Hanson thinks he is defending Trump here. I guess he does not know that Trump compared COVID-19 to the flu. So many lies one needs a program to keep them all straight!

  7. Alan Goldhammer

    As one who spends 4-5 hours a day reading scientific preprints, I cannot be bothered to respond to unintelligent folks who think they are all knowing. I have been amazed and appalled by the level of ignorance and am happy that I have never been tempted to open a Twitter account. I’m just a retired pharma guy who did regulatory affairs and drug safety for a living. While models are interesting they do not obscure the fact and it has become the sig on my emails, “SARS-CoV-2 (AKA, COVID-19): It’s here; we know what to do; and we are doing it!” I’m pretty sure that this is mostly true and at this point, all we know.

    At some point in the future and I hope that it is not so distant, there will be a post-mortem on what has and has not worked. There are a lot of people who will not come through that process with reputations intact. There will be a lot of others who scramble to delete Tweets that showed their woeful lack of intelligence.

    1. dilbert dogbert

      Members of this administration have no understanding of the word “reputation”. No matter how many lies they tell or boatloads of BS they spew there will always be a position for them in the Wingnut Welfare System or FOX. For them there are no incentives for a good reputation.

    2. Dave

      Alan wrote” and we are doing it!”

      Unfortunately, that part is totally false. Sure, many in the private sector are scrambling to put out new testing regimes/capacity, ramp up PPE production, begin clinical trials on new treatments, etc., but the total lack of leadership from the federal government on basic testing and PPE infrastructure and supply is appalling . Eventually the private sector will step into the vacuum, but that takes time. And during that time, there will be tens of thousands (if we are lucky) unnecessary deaths, and possibly 1M in the U.S. alone.

      1. Alan Goldhammer

        Hi Dave,
        My comment is about the general public who are following the social distancing guidelines. and the researchers who are doing their job. I do not include the President and his minions here. they have done more than enough damage to our economy by not make decisions back in early February when they had decent enough information.

  8. Barkley Rosser

    This is following up on 2slug’s and Menzie’s good replies to Steven Kopits.

    On 2slug, to push it a bit further, given the problems that seem to be there regarding immunity or measuring it or getting it for SARS-Cov-2, it is not clear at all that the conceopt of “herd immunity” is even meaningful or relevant. An effort to achieve this entity might end upo just providign miserable death for huge numbers of people without accomplishing anything.

    Menzie makes it clear that indeed we do need to reopen and all that. I do not know anybody who says we just stay totally locked down for the next 18 months until a real vaccine appears. The question is to do it carefully and properly. As Menzie notes, this at least involves lots of testing and tracing and so on.

    Indeed, we do see some nations reopening carefully, and some that had limited shutdowns but avoided all that many deaths. The latter are especially instructive, with most of them in or near East Asia, such as New Zeland, Taiwan, and South Korea. All of them acted very quickly with lots of focused testing and tracing and isolation and so on, with some variations across them. But they all avoided anything like the shutdown we are having while havinf fae fewer cases or deaths than we are having.

    I think it is a further sign of the outright incompetence of Trump that he has not figured this out. Rather than acting quickly, he dawdled for months, and he is still not acting decisively on the obviously absolutely essential matter of testing. Widespread reopening clearly cannot happen anywhere until at a minimum the testing activity gets way ramped up. Heck, in South Korea they just had a parliamentary election, and the incumbent Democratic Party won very big, this despite a poor economic perforfmance and serious allegations of corruption agains the government. But President Moon is viewed as having acted decisively and effectivelyi agains the virus, and that has made him a big winner. Somehow Trump seems to be unable to put two and two together to realize that this is the way to get reelected, not going around doing little while pretending everything is great so one csn get a bump in the stock market for the next few days.

  9. Edward Hanson


    What do the words “likely” when applied to “possibility” mean to you. Let me help. “Possibility” means less than 50% chance. “Likely” is a little more wishy-washy, as it does not have a legal meaning, but but certainly means less than a 100% certainty. So reading his words, he is describing an event of less than 50% of happening, and than an uncertain amount of deaths.

    Can it occur, of course. Will it occur, not so likely. Again, it has not happened to any of the former coronavirus outbreaks.

    So, here is my suggestion. Neither of us is a medical expert, so eeach can read the words of some ‘experts’ as we best can. But one of us is a qualifies economic expert. When will we hear your opinions of the long term death toll, in years lost do to a forced recession my government’s action? Does an extra death toll exist do to the economy? Does it rise with the length and depth of the recession?

    That is what I would like to read. rather than your tendency to fear mongering, citing your non-expertise.


  10. Dr. Dysmalist


    One (slight) quibble: I believe that you will find that Trump is so full of it he farts through his ears. Otherwise, I enjoy your comments.

  11. joseph

    Kopits: “Would it not make more sense to simply seek herd immunity during the summer.”

    Let’s use some grade school math to figure out exactly what you are suggesting. You cited the California testing program that determined a rate of infection they suggested that was about 3%. Epidemiologists say that it takes an immunity rate of about 80% to provide “herd immunity.”

    So to get from 3% to 80% you need more than 25 times as many infections and 25 times as many deaths to get the 80% herd immunity you prescribe. That comes to around 1.25 million more deaths to achieve you goal.

    So let’s be crystal clear. You are suggesting that we sacrifice 1.25 million lives this summer.

    But as you have said many times, no big deal, they are just slightly premature deaths.

    1. Steven Kopits

      In New York City, their study suggests 21% of the population has Covid antibodies. On a population of 8.55 million, this implies 1.8 million people have been exposed to the virus. In New York State, about 17,000 people have died, most of them down state. This implies mortality of about 0.7%. But one-quarter of all NY deaths come from nursing homes, which probably have been disproportionately hit already.

      If we assume 40% infection rate and a 0.7% mortality rate, then that’s on the order of one million deaths in the US. If possible, we would like to avoid that. And if it’s not possible? Then what? I didn’t propose Redfield as an expert. Menzie did. But what if Redfield’s right? Then there is no opportunity cost, because those people are going to die either way, and perhaps worse, because a flu during winter is likely to have a greater impact. And we will have trashed the economy for little in return.

      Again, I am not providing advice or counsel. I am personally for keeping us locked down to mid-June and using test and trace as much as possible. But if 1.8 million NYC residents have had material exposure to the virus and are carrying it around with them in asymptomatic fashion, can this virus be materially exterminated in the next six weeks? I certainly hope so. But given the prevalence of this disease around the globe, what are the odds that it can be adequately suppressed? Doesn’t look particularly good at present.

  12. Alan Goldhammer

    As I told my newsletter readers this morning, Christina Cuomo’s DIY treatment is not to be emulated: https://thepuristonline.com/2020/04/the-cuomos-corona-protocol-week-3/ and the manufacturer of Lysol had to put out a quick press release in response to the President’s comment at the Task Force briefing yesterday about using disinfectant injections: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/23/trump-coronavirus-treatment-disinfectant

    This stuff is morphing into a bad episode of the Twilight Zone.

    1. Menzie Chinn Post author

      Wally: But you do need to be a meteorologist to know why it’s blowing that direction, and what is likely one hour, one day, one week, down the line…

  13. B.A.Badger

    I am glad that Mr. Kopitz posted his postulate. The ensuing debate was very educational. It was as if Mill, Kant, and Rawls walked into a bar to discuss what is morality?

  14. Edward Kokkelenberg

    While you are engaged in this squabble, look at what economists have done two months ago.

    The Global Macroeconomic Impacts of COVID-19:
    Seven Scenarios
    CAMA Working Paper 19/2020
    February 2020
    Warwick McKibbin
    Australian National University
    The Brookings Institution
    Centre of Excellence in Population Ageing Research
    Roshen Fernando
    Australian National University
    Centre of Excellence in Population Ageing Research (CEPAR)
    The outbreak of coronavirus named COVID-19 has disrupted the Chinese economy
    and is spreading globally. The evolution of the disease and its economic impact is
    highly uncertain which makes it difficult for policymakers to formulate an appropriate
    macroeconomic policy response. In order to better understand possible economic
    outcomes, this paper explores seven different scenarios of how COVID-19 might
    evolve in the coming year using a modelling technique developed by Lee and McKibbin
    (2003) and extended by McKibbin and Sidorenko (2006). It examines the impacts of
    different scenarios on macroeconomic outcomes and financial markets in a global
    hybrid DSGE/CGE general equilibrium model.
    The scenarios in this paper demonstrate that even a contained outbreak could
    significantly impact the global economy in the short run. These scenarios demonstrate
    the scale of costs that might be avoided by greater investment in public health systems
    in all economies but particularly in less developed economies where health care
    systems are less developed and population density is high.

    1. 2slugbaits

      Edward Kokkelenberg The McKibbin analysis is fine as far as it goes, but I thought you were looking for something a bit different. The McKibbin analysis provides a useful projection of how COVID-19 is likely to affect global growth and country specific growth. In addition, the paper informs (warns???) fiscal and monetary policymakers of the magnitude of the kinds of fiscal deficits they’ll have to accept. The paper also repeats what we already knew; viz., that we should have gone into this thing with a better health system and stronger safety net. And that’s all for the good. But the paper is a little thin on specific policy recommendations for the short run. The paper’s goal is to try and keep as much of the economy going as possible in the face of shocks. But that’s not quite the approach we’re actually taking. Instead, we’re trying to mothball the economy as much as possible while still maintaining the flow of essential goods and services. In the paper the mortality and morbidity shocks are treated as exogenous shocks that just happen irrespective of anything policymakers do. As a result, the only response from policymakers is to try and maximize output subject to those exogenous shocks. So in that regard I think the paper is somewhat unrealistic. What’s actually happening is that policymakers are trying to transform the mortality and morbidity shocks into endogenous shocks, and as a result it’s the demand shocks that in some sense are imposed exogenously by policymakers. So in important ways the real world sources of the shocks are kind of the reverse of what’s assumed in the McKibbin paper. I don’t want to be too hard on the McKibbin paper because I don’t think anyone has done any better, but to my mind what’s really needed aren’t more predictions of economic growth, but roadmaps that tell us how to keep the intermediate and final outputs flowing for essential goods and services while continuing to support people who work in nonessential sectors. Following that we need to figure out how to reopen all sectors of the economy without creating positive income shocks that will distort demand and price signals. And in our spare time maybe we could cure cancer, end world hunger and bring peace to the Mideast.

  15. Steven Kopits

    This, from a guy who is an expert:

    Defenders of coronavirus lockdown mandates keep talking about science. “We are going to do the right thing, not judge by politics, not judge by protests, but by science,” California’s Gov. Gavin Newsom said this week. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer defended an order that, among other things, banned the sale of paint and vegetable seeds but not liquor or lottery tickets. “Each action has been informed by the best science and epidemiology counsel there is,” she wrote in an op-ed.

    But scientists are almost never unanimous, and many appeals to “science” are transparently political or ideological. Consider the story of John Ioannidis, a professor at Stanford’s School of Medicine. His expertise is wide-ranging—he juggles appointments in statistics, biomedical data, prevention research and health research and policy. Google Scholar ranks him among the world’s 100 most-cited scientists. He has published more than 1,000 papers, many of them meta-analyses—reviews of other studies. Yet he’s now found himself pilloried because he dissents from the theories behind the lockdowns—because he’s looked at the data and found good news.

    In a March article for Stat News, Dr. Ioannidis argued that Covid-19 is far less deadly than modelers were assuming. He considered the experience of the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which was quarantined Feb. 4 in Japan. Nine of 700 infected passengers and crew died. Based on the demographics of the ship’s population, Dr. Ioannidis estimated that the U.S. fatality rate could be as low as 0.025% to 0.625% and put the upper bound at 0.05% to 1%—comparable to that of seasonal flu.

    “If that is the true rate,” he wrote, “locking down the world with potentially tremendous social and financial consequences may be totally irrational. It’s like an elephant being attacked by a house cat. Frustrated and trying to avoid the cat, the elephant accidentally jumps off a cliff and dies.”


    Let me be clear: I am not taking a position on the matter. However, we have to consider the possibility the Redfield and Ioannidis — both experts — may be right.

    1. Menzie Chinn Post author

      Steven Kopits: Let me suggest that we are inside the PPF at the moment, where we have lives and output on the axes. We could partially reopen the economy *at the right time* with as good a testing and tracking infrastructure as possible *so as to not degrade further the health system by the fall when next round hits*. But the administration is not investing in testing/tracking. And in fact the *Federal* government seems to be hindering the development/financing of a testing/tracking system (in addition to seizing supplies purchased by the states and localities – where are the critics of Leviathan when you need ’em). So you are putting up a false choice. The issue is using science to help guide policy, as opposed to the Kempian (as in Governor of Georgia) approach. Or do you think that latter approach is the right one.

    2. 2slugbaits

      Steven Kopits I’m not impressed with your expert. Here is what he wrote back on 17 March:

      He somehow forgot to mention that 49 of the 712 folks on the Diamond Princess still have not recovered. (Note: so far 14 have died rather than the 9 he mentioned in his article). He’s only counting those who have definitely died. Maybe he needs to refresh his memory on how to read a Kaplan-Meier curve and how to handle censored data. My guess is that the prospects for those still recovering are poor at best. He also seems quite relaxed about deaths being concentrated in one particular demographic. So tell me, if deaths were concentrated in one particular ethnic or religious minority, do you think he would be so relaxed about things and just look at the total population?

      His basic argument struck me as very strange. On the one hand he laments how we’re making decisions without data. Okay, I get that. But then he happily takes some very suspect and tentative data from a cruise ship and concludes that we have nothing to worry about. It’s obvious that he came to this conclusion long before he ever even considered any evidence. The cruise ship numbers just served as props rather than evidence. And how about this gem:

      Some worry that the 68 deaths from Covid-19 in the U.S. as of March 16 will increase exponentially to 680, 6,800, 68,000, 680,000 … along with similar catastrophic patterns around the globe. Is that a realistic scenario, or bad science fiction? How can we tell at what point such a curve might stop?

      Well, we’ve long since passed not only 68, but also 680 and 6,800 and by next week we’ll sail by 68,000. And that’s with the kind of extreme social distancing and economic shutting down that he opposed less than 6 weeks ago.

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