A study in denial

I could have written a post like this one every other day for the past few weeks. Highlight one of the right-wing blogs I read and talk about their reaction to the Covid-19 pandemic. The story would be the same over and over: a mix of genuine confusion, an even more irrational faith in free market economics than usual and the now standard belief that genuine expertise is the hallmark of deception.

But I’ll highlight the inevitable one: Sarah Hoyt https://accordingtohoyt.com/2020/04/03/assume-a-spherical-cow-of-uniform-density-in-a-frictionless-vaccum/ The truth of the general statement I made above would also be nearly true of Hoyt’s blog. Not quite every other day but nearly so, there has been a post about the virus offering a close to fact-free dissent about the wider view of the pandemic.

The denial isn’t hard to understand. There really is no doubt that measures to reduce social contact reduces the spread of the disease – indeed, that’s almost axiomatic about communicable diseases. There’s also not much doubt that reducing social contact has a negative impact on the economy. Which takes us straight to the dilemma of every nation on Earth currently: saving lives will hurt your economy. A corollary to that is that there really is no immediate free market solution to the pandemic. Give it time and yes, there are fortunes to be made from vaccines and treatments but this current situation is genuinely a big-government kind of problem and hence even conservative governments are trying to buy time with quite severe laws restricting our movement.

For libertarians and pseudo-libertarians this must be nightmarish. OK the actual situation IS nightmarish but for the pseudo-libertarians like Hoyt the world has turned on its head. The route through the next months has narrowed to variations on the same basic policy: massive government efforts to keep the health system running, laws massively restricting human movement, massive government spending (based on borrowing) to stop the economy from collapsing. This is not a war (the pseudo-libertarians quite like war) but it is not unlike a war-footing but without the militarism that the pseudo-libertarians enjoy.

For the piece linked above the frame is a standard denialist line: models are simplifications of complex things and hence don’t capture the complexities and hence must be false and wrong and bad etc etc. Part of that is true. Models are simplifications of complex things and have aspects that are known to be both false and misleading. The simplest example (and analogy – which is cool that an actual example is also a metaphor for itself) is a map. Maps leave out details. A roadmap exaggerates the width of roads for the purpose of visibility. Any model must contain such simplifications and errors because that is the purpose of models.

The situation is even more dire than that though. Not only is every model ever wrong (to some degree) but we have no choice but to use models. Unless you are omniscient being, you can’t know everything. So you HAVE to use models. Your brain uses models, your basic SENSES use less than perfect models that approximate and fill in missing details. It is not unlike the version of the laws of thermodynamics (attributed to either Allen Ginsberg or C.P.Snow – take your pick)

  • You can’t win
  • You can’t break even
  • You can’t leave the game

People get that the first two must be true about any kind of model (cognitive, mathematical, computer-based) i.e. that the model is a simplification and that there will be aspects of the model that are misleading. People don’t always get the last one: you can’t escape models. Which takes me back to Hoyt:

“This came to mind about a week ago as I was stomping around the house saying that anyone who relied on computer models for anything should be shot.  My husband was duly alarmed, because as he pointed out, he has designed computer models. At which point I told him that’s okay because his models do not involve people.  Which is part of it.  Throw one person into a model, and you’ll wish the person were a spherical cow of uniform density in friction-less vacuum.”

The question Hoyt raises unintentionally is if people are not to rely on computer models then what SHOULD they rely on? What is the alternative? Because not relying on models at all is an impossibility. The virtue of a formal model is that they are examinable. Hoyt uses the old joke about the mathematician given the task of helping a farmer but the joke itself reveals a strength of a mathematical model as the butt of the joke. The simplification and hence the way the model departs from reality is overtly stated. The alternative is situations were we use models without realising we are doing so an without understanding how the cognitive model we are using departs sharply from reality.

Luckily for me (if not for the health and safety of her readers) Hoyt provides a perfect example of exactly that kind of unexamined model:

“It’s hard to deny the disease presents in weird clusters. I have a friend whose Georgia County is about the same level of bad as Italy. Which makes no sense whatsoever, as they have no high Chinese population. And while the cases might be guess work (with tests only accurate AT MOST 70% of the time, it’s guesswork all the way down) the deaths aren’t. The community is small enough they all know each other. And they’re losing relatively young (still working) and relatively healthy (no known big issues) people.”

Hoyt is still stuck with a mental model of Covid-19 as a “Chinese” disease — as if somehow the novel coronavirus has a memory of where it first infected humans. Spread of the disease has long since moved well beyond travellers from China. For example, I believe in Australia more cases originated directly via travellers from the USA than from China. Mind you, remember this a person who puts every effort into refusing to believe that there can be such a thing as unconscious biases (at least among people she approves of).

Having robustly asserted how people aren’t spherical cows, Hoyt then promptly spends multiple paragraphers generalising about New Yorkers and Italians and so on. More flawed models.

That takes us to Colorado. Colorado, Hoyt assures us, is different. Now that is clearly true. Colorado is not Italy and it is not New York and some of those differences do matter for the spread of the disease. It is a less densely populated state without a doubt. Hoyt argues that because Colorado is different then the rules should be different.

“So, why are the same rules being applied to both places? AND why are both places treated exactly alike? And why are both places assumed to be on the same curve as Italy or Spain or Wuhan, places and cultures, and ways of living that have absolutely nothing to do with how we live or who we are? And here’s the kicker: if you allow states like Colorado and others that naturally self-distance to go about their lawful business, not only time but more money will be available to study the problem clusters.”

Here is the real kicker. Models are imperfect (by definition) and those imperfection can be misleading (by their very nature) and you can’t NOT use models of some kind or another BUT we have a way of minimising the mistakes we make. The method is simple but it has taken us millennia to work it out: we check the outcomes of our models against data and observation. Now even with data we still have models (sorry, they are inescapable) but we have ways of checking our conclusions against others.

Colorado isn’t a mysterious far away planet. We can literally go and see how Covid-19 is progressing in the state. I’ll use the John Hopkins University visualisation tool for tracking confirmed Covid-19 cases that is available here: https://www.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.html#/bda7594740fd40299423467b48e9ecf6 The tool allows you to drill down to state (and within state) data in the USA.

Colorado (pop. 5.696 million) currently (April 4 6:50 Sydney time) has 3,742 confirmed cases of Covid-19. For comparison, New South Wales (pop. 7.544 million) has 2,389 confirmed cases and that’s with long established Chinese communities (that Hoyt seems to regard as the only risk factor) as well as Sydney being a major cruise ship destination (an actually pertinent risk factor). Colorado does have major ski resorts* and I suspect we’ll get a better sense of the role they played in the pandemic in the future.

Yes but…as I said, even data relies on models of one kind or another and maybe Australia and Colorado are using vastly different diagnostic criteria or maybe it is due to vastly different testing regimes. I might genuinely be comparing apples and oranges. Sadly, we can reduce (but not remove) disparities in reporting by looking at a more sobering statistic: deaths.

According to the John Hopkins University dashboard New South Wales has 12 confirmed deaths. That’s a tragic and worrying amount. Yes, many more people die from all sorts of other causes but these deaths add to that total or mortality and the progress of this pandemic is far from over. That’s just the beginning of the numbers.

Let’s compare with Colorado (there is also state specific data here also https://covid19.colorado.gov/case-data). From the same data source Colorado has had 97 deaths so far. It’s when I saw that number that I shuddered and decided that I’d write this post rather than just shake my head at Hoyt’s nonsense. I knew things were bad in some parts of the US but I’d assumed that some of the denial I was reading was because the writers of this toxic nonsense were in states were the wave of the pandemic was still to hit. Ninety-seven deaths, shit. I keep looking at that number and knowing that there other places in the US where the numbers of deaths are being under reported particularly for vulnerable communities and shuddering at what might be the true scale of thins.

Now sure, maybe the differences in testing and diagnostic criteria and data collection are so different between NSW and Colorado that the number of cases is incomparable BUT they would have to be significantly different in two different directions simultaneously. That is, if NSW are under-reporting the number of cases compared to Colorado then the case-fatality rate in Colorado is even worse when compared with NSW. I’m not making the comparison to say which state is somehow doing ‘better’ (it’s not a race or a competition) but simply trying to get a sense of what I can see HERE and compare it with where Sarah Hoyt is. It is undoubtedly a crisis here and we’ve got a conservative government in power at the state level and the national level and heck, both of them if they had an excuse to cut spending and pull back on entitlements and let business run wild they would and you know what, they aren’t and in fact they are doing the opposite. That’s not because they have had a sudden ideological conversion to policies they have derided for years but because massive government spending is the ONLY way to keep the economy going. When conservative ideologues rush to implement free government funded childcare it is safe to assume that they felt they had no other choice.

The morbid irony here is that Hoyt is ignoring her own advice. Rather than just look at Colorado and consider whether that state, regardless of what is going on anywhere else, is in the midst of viral outbreak and in grave danger and what action in such a circumstance the state government should take (hint: major restriction on movement and social contact to keep hospitals going and to give time for treatments and vaccines to be developed) she is insisting that because Colorado is not New York it can’t need the same measures as New York. It’s a compounded level of illogic.

Strip everything away from that piece by Sarah Hoyt and what you are left with is the common theme that captures so much of the train of political thought that joins Ayn Rand to Trump to Jordan Peterson: the desire to dress up wishful thinking as something other than a demand that reality should accord with their personal desires.

There’s no conclusion. Stay safe. Wash your hands. Think of others. Be kind. Don’t spread nonsense.

*[To be fair New South Wales does have ski resorts as well but during the start of the pandemic it was 1. summer here and 2. they were on fire.]


81 thoughts on “A study in denial

  1. Slightly off topic, and at the risk of looking like a spam/ad comment, anyone interested in data models of epidemics might want to check their Amazon/Kobo/iBooks/store for The Rules of Contagion by Andrew Kucharski, which is a recently published (February) title from the Wellcome Foundation. It’s super cheap right now on Amazon UK (£1.89) and looks to be similarly priced on other Amazon Europe stores; seems a bit dearer on Amazon.com.au if I’ve calculated the exchange rates correctly. Unfortunately US publication isn’t until September though 😦

    I’m currently half-way through it, and it’s quite good, and certainly addresses some of the issues in the post. Not completely convinced it justifies a full book (vs a long magazine article or series of blog posts), but at £1.89, I’m not complaining.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. By now, I expect you will have seen other examples of Google mobility data showing how well people in different areas/countries are adhering to the stay at home injunctions. The between country comparisons are revealing (I’d be frightened if I were American).
    https://thespinoff.co.nz/society/04-04-2020/google-mobility-data-reveals-how-well-nz-is-complying-with-its-level-four-lockdown/

    As for Hoyt’s article, it’s another example opinions that I would normally point my finger and laugh at (when I’m not ignoring them), except that in our current situation, if people took those opinions seriously & acted on them, would result in a worse pandemic outcome> There would be more hospitalisations, more deaths and not just directly from COVID19 cases. Hospitals would be so overloaded that they wouldn’t be able to treat patients with non-COVID19 conditions.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I think a lot of Americans have no choice. The social safety nets just aren’t there or are inadequate. The lack of that kind of social infrastructure doubles the problem as there aren’t existing channels to funnel money (or they are tied up in a punishment mentality)

      Liked by 4 people

    2. Well, if you are frightened by Americans, take a look at Sweden. We have even less change in mobility. I don’t think you can go by those numbers alone without context.

      Like

    3. The Google mobility data is extremely flawed when it comes to the US West. It does not take into account the following factors: a.) low-population counties with major highways running through them that are major truck routes are going to show more traffic per capita than more dense counties as interstate activity is not going to fluctuate that significantly (the maps I have seen are on the county level) and b.) in the rural West, this is one of the busy times–higher elevation ranchers are still feeding stock (we have had snow this week, in the mountains of NE Oregon, for example), it’s the peak of calving season, and farmers are in the fields prepping and planting. You can rack up a lot of miles working a 100-500 acre field. Additionally, in many cases, traveling to buy groceries or obtain medical care can be a 100 mile round trip or more. Or if you need to go to town because an equipment part has broken and repair is crucial as well as time-dependent.

      I have friends with cancer who made 300 mile round trips daily for chemo and radiation (obviously they weren’t doing the driving) on occasion (and no, relocating even short term is not an easy option since the city they’re traveling to for treatment has been Discovered! by the rich, to the degree that Sotheby’s and Christie’s both have real estate offices there, and charity-owned/hospital owned short-term residences for patients are scarce). One friend is making the drive on Tuesday for emergency dental work due to jaw and bone problems.

      As for the density issue: two classic illustrations. My county (Wallowa) shows up on maps as minimal travel, while the neighboring counties (Union and Umatilla) show heavy travel. The difference? Interstate 84, which is a major east-west truck route. Or look at Southeastern Oregon. Harney County (no deaths, minimal testing) shows up with heavy travel while its neighbors Malheur and Lake do not have the same degree of travel. The difference? Burns, in Harney County, is where two major truck routes intersect–one north-south, the other east-west.

      Basically, I see some things on those maps that, based on local knowledge, do not support the conclusions made from that data. I suspect this is true for much of the Intermountain West, at least through the east side of the Rockies. No idea how accurate my observations are for elsewhere.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. My favorite bit of denial came a week or two ago on a sports blog I follow. A couple of people were claiming that China’s infection rate had dropped and that China had not taken any social distancing measures. Even if you ignore the extremely high odds that China is lying about their numbers, they most definitely enforced social distancing measures in a way that wouldn’t go over well in most western countries.

    I think a lot of people are struggling to understand both how contagious this is and how this could overwhelm healthcare. I actually have to agree with people who say this is like a bad flu–except that they don’t realize just how bad a flu can be. The Spanish Flu is conservatively estimated to have killed roughly 0.5% of the US population. Today that would be 1.65 million people.

    On the bright side Hoyt isn’t recording hospital parking lots in an attempt to prove it’s all a hoax. I just skimmed through the comments, though.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. The two things I always want to ask these free market uber alles people I always want to ask: (1) How many people are you willing to sacrifice on the altar of Mammon? and (2) Are you willing to sacrifice yourself on said altar?

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Of course they don’t mean themselves. They’re the pandemic equivalent of chickenhawks — sacrifices must be made for the greater good, but they’re not going to volunteer and if called on they’ll claim bone spurs.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. I find that I have even less tolerance for rightwing puppy nonsense right now than I usually have. Though I did look at the comments and there seems to be an odd hatred for trains going on because of reasons.

    Also, ski resorts are actually very high risk places in this situation. The skiing itself isn’t that much of a risk, but getting up the mountain in a crowded cable car is a risk and the party/bar culture at least in European ski resorts (no idea if apres-ski bars are a thing in the US or Australia) is an even higher risk.

    A single infected barkeeper in a popular apres-ski bar in the Austrian ski resort of Ischgl is apparently responsible for more than a thousand COVID-19 infections in several European countries. This is not the barkeeper’s fault, he was just a guy doing is job. However, his employer initially failed to disclose that the barkeeper had tested positive. And after the Austrian government received warnings from Iceland, where several ski tourists returning from Ischgl tested positive, the Tyrolean state government failed to shut down first the affected bar and then the other apres-ski bars in Ischgl. And when Ischgl was hastily shut down and quarantined much too late, the remaining guests were sent home without additional tests and had to stay overnight in the city of Innsbruck, further spreading the disease. Mind you, there were no Chinese people involved here, the barkeeper was European and the virus likely arrived in Ischgl from neighbouring Italy.

    I also recall reading that Colorado wisely shut down its ski resorts several weeks ahead of the official end of the skiing season, because they had COVID-19 cases occurring in the resorts and knew both about Ischgl and that the hospitals in the area couldn’t handle so many patients.

    In Germany, it is notable that the parts of the country where carnival was celebrated in mid February with big parades and parties/club sessions (a carnival club session in the small town of Heinsberg was ground zero for the first big local outbreak. Once again no Chinese people involved, because Chinese people don’t usually celebrate the Rhenish carnival) and where alpine skiing is popular were the first and worst affected, though by now the virus is hitting other places as well and the new infection hotspots are nursing homes and a physical therapy clinic that was kept open for unfathomable reasons.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Shit! And as for the Colorado situation…one of my friends is in Steamboat Springs. According to her, Colorado did NOT close down the ski lifts soon enough. Like the bartender you describe, there were food servers at Steamboat with active infection that matched COVID. Shoot, Colorado didn’t shut down until after Oregon ski lifts did…and then the party moved to assorted nearby National Parks in the Southwest until localities shut down lodging options (including AirBnB) and told them to GET OUT.

      But I had not heard about the bartender in Ischgl.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Thanks for the update regarding the Colorado ski resorts. So it seems they only narrowly avoided becoming Ischgl mark II.

        The Ischgl connection has been underreported in the English speaking world. It has also since emerged that while the barkeeper was the first person to test positive, he likely wasn’t patient zero, because flu-like symptoms and persistent coughs had been spreading through the restaurant, bar and hotel workers in Ischgl for several weeks before this guy tested positive.

        Also, after Ischgl was finally shut down much too late, the restaurant, bar and hotel staff, most of whom are seasonal workers, many from Eastern Europe, were sent home without testing and further spread the virus in their home countries.It’s a huge clusterfuck and will probably tarnish the name Ischgl for quite a while.

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      1. The way I understand it, trains run on tracks and cannot move freely, which is a communist plot. Plus, box cars can be used to transport people into concentration camps, which makes them an efficient tool for genocide. Typical rgithwing logic.

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      2. Based on the numerous arguments/debates I’ve had with the sorts of relatives and former friends and such who are now all avid Trump voters:

        Cars are more flexible, represent freedom or movement, and are the individual’s responsibility to maintain, etc.

        Mass transit of ALL kinds is perceived as being mainly for people too poor to afford a car, and therefore must be very heavily subsidized by taxes. And, of course, poor people are only poor because they are lazy, immoral, or both, so it is wrong to spend that much tax money on them.

        And they refuse to believe that roads require much more tax subsidies than light rail, buses, et cetera.

        This the condensed version of a much, much longer rant which will be going up on my blog instead of cluttering up Cam’s comments…

        Liked by 3 people

      3. Oddly enough, nobody’s ridden a train to those not-concentration-camps, nosiree, that are full of small Mexican children. They got transported in good ol’ guv’mint vehicles. The death toll in those is liable to be horrific, which, again, is fine with MAGAs.

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      4. The heart of conservatism is to conserve wealth and power for themselves or at least rich leaders like themselves who will supposedly favor them and make sure people they don’t like as unworthy and want to control don’t have access to even basic services and benefits. They will sacrifice things that could help them because they can’t bear that those they consider inferior and unworthy might also be helped by them. Trains and buses are a prime example, as are keeping POC from being able to get car loans. It might let people they don’t want getting anywhere get somewhere, which they regard as a threat.

        Liked by 4 people

    2. I recall the Icelandic government telling the Austrians about Ischgl and the Austrians responding with denial – suggesting that the Icelander skiers caught it on a flight back via Munich.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. The way I heard the story at Caltech was that there was a guy who loved to bet on the horses, and he was constantly trying to get his physicist friend to help him figure out which horse to bet on. The physicist always turned him down, until one day he said, “You know, I think I’ve figured out how to do it.”

    So the next week they go to the track, and the physicist does some calculations and (pointing to the program) says, “Okay, here’s the horse that’s going to win.” The man runs to the window and bets all his money on that horse. He gets back to their seats just as the race starts.

    “So,” he asks his friend. “Can you explain how it works?”

    The physicist smiles. “Sure! First you assume the horses are frictionless spheres that roll without slipping on an infinite, frictionless track . . .”

    Liked by 5 people

      1. You two probably know this already but one can make gobs of money by applying sophisticated statistics to horse races. Unfortunately you usually have own the horses which means upfronting a shitload of dough.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. It’s never a good sign when reading someones attempt at logic that your first thought is “Did I really read what I just read, or am I having a stroke right now?”

    Liked by 4 people

  8. …states like Colorado and others that naturally self-distance…
    *headdesk* I’ve lived in Colorado for nearly three decades now, so I feel obligated to point out a fact that (surprise!) has escaped Hoyt: 60% of the population of Colorado lives in major metropolitan areas.

    In addition to the issue of ski resorts, Denver International Airport is a major hub, which undoubtedly also contributed to the spread of coronavirus, even though Denver/Boulder were ahead of the US curve in initiating lockdowns.

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    1. I’m not sure the facts are escaping her so much as jumping up and down in front of her begging for attention as she looks anywhere else while typing out her spittle-flecked rants.

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  9. Hoyt’s argument that states are “cooking the books,” by which I assume she means lying about how many people are infected and how many are dying, is one I’ve seen on a number of nonsense-filled Right Wing blogs.

    None of this is happening, they claim. It’s just an attempt (by the entire world) to keep Trump from being re-elected.

    Liked by 6 people

  10. Several people brought and took Covid to and from the ski resorts. White European people, I add for Sarah’s benefit. Not Chinese. The apres ski places are notorious vectors of infection, like Cora said. Colds, flu, herpes back in the day. Close quarters indoors, cold, dry, thin air outside, jet lag and traveling in small tubes with recycled air — perfect conditions to spread viruses.

    Mr. LT grew up practically walking distance from a small ski area; his family still lives there. Kids always came back from my two wintertime school vacations (one of which was basically created just for skiing) with some sort of crud. The resorts are busy in summer, too; our neighbors owned a condo in Vail that we used to visit to escape the heat and do fancy window-shopping.

    Colorado also started shutting down access to nursing homes before anywhere went to shelter in place.

    @PhilRM: I get the feeling Hoyt doesn’t ever get out of her bubble there in Evangelical Mecca. Never had the benefit of sitting in the back of the family car driving through the state. Anyone with any brains knows it’s solid people (mostly not Chinese) along the Front Range, where just about all the population lives. A few cities elsewhere. You can self-isolate in tiny mountain towns, or out east on the endless flat plains, but on the whole, it’s an urban/suburban/exurban environment. And of course, she’s too high and mighty to ride buses, because mass transit is a Commie plot and for the poors. Probably doesn’t hang out in ski resorts either.

    Ironically, the Portuguese fascist dictatorship she so mourns the loss of might have been able to lock things down, at the point of a gun. It’s all this American freedom that’s caused the problem

    Oh, and the so-called Spanish flu actually began in Kansas. Which in 1917 was all white people.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. As things look now, the spread of the disease outside China was facilitated by ski resorts, carnival events and parades (caused the number of cases to explode in both Heinsberg and New Orleans), football games (the Bergamo Valencia Champion’s League match caused cases to explode in both Northern Italy and Spain and I’m pretty sure the Mönchengladbach Dortmund German league match with 50000 people some 20 kilometers from the then epicenter of the German outbreak was not a good idea), political rallies and protests (a protest in Madrid and a political party event in Germany both helped to spread the virus. The German event also infected a conservative political hopeful) as well as religious services and funerals (the outbreak in South Korea was caused by a church, the one in Georgia by a funeral), i.e. all events and situations where a lot of people are in close quarters, where emotions run high and where there are a lot of close personal interactions like hugging, kissing, shaking hands, etc… Shutting down some or all of these events would probably have helped slow the spread and in fact I’m amazed that some of them were allowed to go ahead at all. The funeral is an exception, because rural funerals can be big (I’ve personally been at funerals as big as the ones that caused the Georgia outbreak) and keeping people from mourning the dead is just cruel.

      Cruise ships are also an important disease vector (which is something we’ve known for a while), but since cases were usually caught while the people were still onboard, they could be contained better.

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  11. Out of respect for my own brain I’m not going to bother reading Hoyt today, but it sounds like she herself is guilty of modelling some sort of platonic Colorado where everyone is evenly distributed and Denver isn’t a major urban city.

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      1. That explains my childhood entirely.

        Oh, except for the rabid anti-Communism as a kid, caused by the Denver-Colorado Springs area being chock-full of military. Our windows used to rattle from sonic booms, and once we literally lived in the shadow of Cheyenne Mountain, where nobody bothered to duck and cover since we knew the Soviets were going to bomb that first and the entire town was going to glow in the dark within 15 minutes.

        It’s a hell of a thing to learn when you’re 3.

        Liked by 2 people

    1. To put it like one of my Phil profs: Models are neither true or false, they’re useful to varying degrees. If it can be right or right or wrong it’s a theory. This is analogous to predicates and sentences in Formal Logic (Systems).

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  12. It seems its less Hoyt doesnt understand models (ironically for a Science Fiction writer), its becuase reality is not wht she wants to believe. Its something we see with a lot of goverments -including the US – that still seem to think, you can debate a virus.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Indeed. Even the less denialist arguments (e.g. Phantom concedes that actually social distancing is the only viable policy currently) are still focused not on *what* to do but how to blame the left for everything.

      Liked by 2 people

  13. Population distribution matters. Your average Canadian and American experience more or less the same population density in their vicinity despite Canada having a much smaller population.

    I’d link to Thomas Womack’s study of effective population distribution by nation if web-rot hadn’t got it in the 14 years since he did it. He demonstrated some counter-intuitive results about how people live: your average German, for example, experienced lowered population densities than your average American.

    The unpleasant catch about the low population regions is they tend to have poor medical resources. One can easily imagine some non-symptomatic carrier trying to flee c19 by fleeing to their well-appointed dacha in Colorado spreading the disease to small towns without the means to deal with a sudden outbreak.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. That’s an issue in Australia as well (as you can imagine). Most Australians live in almost European levels of population density (i.e. big cities but a bit roomier than UK cities) but with some people living in very remote areas. Medical resources get sparse away from the cities and more sparse away from the coast.

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    2. This actually happened in italy, where people from the badly affected cities in Northern Italy fled to their holiday homes in the Italian Alps, spreading the virus there. Apparently, similar issues have been observed in the UK with people fleeing from London to holiday homes in the country. There was also a report about people from Los Angeles and Seattle fleeing to rural Idaho and spreading the virus there. And several coastal areas of Germany have shut down all hotels and holiday chalets as well as beaches to prevent tourists from spreading the virus. Meanwhile, the East Frisian islands have been closed completely to anybody who does not live there to prevent their tiny hospitals from getting overwhelmed.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. My folks have a farm in the Yorkshire Dales and the local holiday cottages have been full with Londoners for a couple of weeks now. I can understand the attraction of the idea but fleeing to a rural location where the nearest under-equipped hospital is 30 miles away is probably not a great plan if there is an actual outbreak (and some of the holidaying people have turned out be infected).

        Liked by 4 people

    3. The funeral in Georgia which spread it was in a small town. But as the deceased was a working-class black man, the US and state government couldn’t care less. Poor PoC are of no concern to them.

      I’m darkly amused that Mexico shut its border because the US wasn’t doing enough.

      Liked by 3 people

  14. “For libertarians and pseudo-libertarians this must be nightmarish.”
    As multiple people over here in the U.S. have pointed out, faced with a crisis like this Republicans remain rigidly locked in a view of limited government where doing anything to actually help people who need help is socialism, big government, a hand out and must be avoided at all costs.

    Liked by 4 people

  15. North Americans famously have a larger personal space distance than almost any other culture – I recall from my 1980s sociolinguistics classes how it was possible for Latin Americans, with a much smaller required space, unconsciously to back North Americans around a room, just by moving to a distance they felt comfortable with, and having the now-uncomfortable North American back up….

    But this is still nowhere near the recommended six feet/two metres of separation space, and even with North American “natural social distancing” there is still all the opportunity the virus needs for droplet infection, incidental contact, touching nearby surfaces, all that good stuff. Basically, the same rules are being applied in Colorado as in New York because both places are populated by human beings, who are all equally vulnerable to the virus in the same ways.

    While I’m trying to be scrupulously fair, I should point out – with respect to New South Wales – that skiing on dry ground while on fire is also hazardous to your health (though it won’t directly spread Covid-19) and you probably shouldn’t do it.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Personally, I would say that skiing while on fire is always hazardous to your health, unless you are:

      a) Willy Bogner doing a ski stunt for a James Bond movie, or

      b) Fafhrd using fireworks rockets to jump over a chasm in an early 1970s Fritz Leiber story

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Except Southerners have a smaller personal space (at least the women do) and are more likely to congregate. And be in poorer health. Thus the Georgia outbreaks.

      Liked by 2 people

  16. As an expat working with a German multinational company, in Germany, we’ve been taking this seriously for months now. The first company memos and warnings for safety were going out in early Feb. Now we’re all working from home and things are dicey, but as far as models go, we love models and have been using them for years for projections in every aspect of the business. We have sizing models for small, medium, large scale outcomes and are using those to plan for what comes next, regardless of the circumstances. Sure, they’re theoretical, but short of having a crystal ball, what are you gonna do?

    Armchair bloggers in charge of exactly zip and who can’t figure out how international airports work are welcome to muse all day if they want to. No one should take them seriously though.

    Liked by 4 people

  17. “The point is that we are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right. Intellectually, it is possible to carry on this process for an indefinite time: the only check on it is that sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield.”—George Orwell.

    Liked by 2 people

  18. When you use a bunch of myths on which to base your elevated status as a person and worldview, then when those myths get socked over by something like a pandemic, it creates massive cognitive dissonance which the myth supporters need to resolve. To do that, they either give up some or all of those myths and change their views, or, if they are not otherwise facing hardship, they will try to shore up the myths. They can’t do stuff to the pandemic to deal with the cognitive dissonance, as the virus does not care. So they make up enemies who are supposedly causing their myths to look false and bad through malfeasance.

    So the scientists keep shattering their myths with their findings and recommendations, so scientists are the enemy who are trying to fool them, as are healthcare workers. Dems keep refusing to go along with most of their myths, so Dems are obviously doing things that explain why the myths no longer seem to work, especially if they are running a state government. And the Chinese people, along with Chinese Americans and other Asians/Asian Americans are mythically turned into the enemy by declaring them the only disease vectors, which is biologically ridiculous and openly racist, but it fits their myths that the enemy, non-white Others bring disease and are a threat in their existence, so that’s a favorite for dealing with right wing cognitive dissonance.

    The reality is that the disease had spread far and wide by the end of December and it wasn’t Chinese people or their diaspora only who were spreading it. White Europeans and Americans, who globally travel and tend to think they’ll escape disease since they aren’t poor, were the main spreaders of the virus. We don’t even know that the virus originated in development in China. The disease was only identified in China and became a large enough cluster in China. Trying to MODEL the spread of the disease on the basis of Chinese or Asian ethnic populations in places is scientifically faulty. Most Chinese Americans have no contact with folk in China, and white folk who run tech and shipping in America were far more likely to come into contact with Chinese. We export millions of products from China with ships and crews who aren’t Asian and travel to numerous countries.

    We know folks in the Colorado civil service, and Colorado is luckily run by Dems now and had a good crisis plan after Hurricane Katrina. They haven’t been perfect and yes, it was the ski resorts who were the source of most of their initial problems with the virus. Wealthy white people from Europe, New York and California traipsed off to the ski resorts in Aspen and Vail to ignore or thought they could escape the virus in the early days, and they created clusters in the resort areas. And they are still in the upward curve of the pandemic, trying to flatten it to keep the healthcare system from being overwhelmed. But Colorado was lucky in that they got a lot of tests and started testing early. Many states couldn’t get tests, thanks to the Republicans and profiteering. Colorado has tested over 20K people, which may not sound like a lot, but for the States and their test shortage/delays, it’s excellent.

    Testing means you can isolate sick people faster, which means fewer sick people and less incidents of hospitalization, which is the key figure. Colorado has had to hospitalize over 700 people. That’s manageable, but if it goes up exponentially as it happened in New York and other areas, that’s when the system gets overwhelmed, care goes out the window, deaths rise and number of infections rise. Colorado is facing the same difficulty getting PPE and ventilators as the rest of the States. Trump is refusing to release supplies to states he doesn’t feel support his needs, like Colorado, the Feds are conviscating supplies states are trying to purchase and hoarding them, and when states do get equipment from the Feds, it’s often a mess because the Republicans slashed every bit of pandemic preparation they could, especially Trump in the last three years.

    As pointed out, most of Colorado’s population lives in metro areas, with the rest more sparsely populated in rural areas. But so does New York state. The large chunk of New York territory is rural, including mountains, and sparsely populated. Most of its cities are small, in line with small Colorado cities. New York has a higher population density per square mile than Colorado because of NYC and because it’s smaller in land mass, but saying that New York is wildly different from Colorado isn’t accurate statistically. NYC got hit hard because it is a port, same as Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, Montreal, etc., and because Cuomo messed up on preparations a few years ago, then faced the wall of the Trump administration.

    Social distancing and isolating isn’t just about limiting people from touching and accidentally spiting on each other. It’s about keeping them from all being in contact with the same surfaces around the same time where the virus might sit and then get picked up. If you have a small rural town of a few thousand people and they don’t social distance but keep popping into the local diner, they’re going to pick up the disease from surfaces all of them are touching within hours of each other even though they are a small, sparse population, because one person had the virus and probably didn’t even know it. Being in a rural area doesn’t save you, and it certainly doesn’t save you if the people in the metro areas, with whom the rural areas are regularly in contact if they’re trying to run business as usual, are having cases. The pretense that we’re not all connected with each other, that right-wingers can create fortresses in the hills — without enough rural hospitals no less — is at the heart of right-wing myths. And wow, is that causing a lot of cognitive dissonance in the U.S. right now, especially as the virus takes its expected drift into the South.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. The reality is that the disease had spread far and wide by the end of December […]

      True, and I’ve been wondering for a while if the nasty fever and flu bug I came down with at Christmas was related to this, considering I had been at an event of over 10,000 people from all over in Chicago just two and a half weeks prior. We know that it was a significant thing in China back in November but was being covered up, so it’s not impossible.

      Granted, there’s all sorts of bugs that could have been anyway.

      Liked by 1 person

  19. Fifty-six comments in, and no one’s pointed out that just above where she blames the Chinese, she mentions how many cases there have been in Italy. To belabor the obvious: there aren’t a whole lot of Chinese people in Italy either. (More now than there used to be, though.) Does she think Marco Polo brought it or something?

    Liked by 5 people

    1. A claim I saw elsewhere was that the high death rate in Italy is because they have a large Chinese population, and East Asians are particularly susceptible to the disease. I expect that both points were wishful thinking from a Trumpie in denial.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. That claim I would put down to thinly-veiled racism.There are a lot of migrant Chinese workers in the textile industry in Italy, but I think they are mostly based in Tuscany so it doesn’t help explain why old people in Lombardy are dying.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Wikipedia tells me that there’s a substantial group in Prato in Tuscany (the textile workers you mention), but Chinese immigrants in Italy are scattered across a lot of the country. But it’s a young community, so as you say, it doesn’t explain why old people in Tuscany are dying.

        The other nonsense in his position is that ethnic Chinese are 0.5% of the Italian population, and over 1% of the US population.

        Liked by 3 people

  20. Hoyt’s taking a similar approach to Holocaust deniers. “Well all models are inaccurate and imperfect” is as true as “It’s a standard historical approach to examine the evidence and see if the story we have is correct” but both are being misused.

    Liked by 2 people

  21. And in a final note, DNA testing shows that the strain which has NYC resorting to burying casualties in parks came directly from…

    wait for it…

    EUROPE. Land of white people.

    Liked by 1 person

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