Coronavirus: Dogmatically, Idiotically, Naively Optimistic

We live in our homes now
with nothing to do
One thing about Coronavirus
is it ain't no flu

I'm no Coronavirus naysayer. It earned a special spot in my mind when Jacob Malkovich wrote about it and recommended stocking up on supplies (for which I am grateful). I had heard of Coronavirus before, but I didn't know enough to take is serious. Whatever reservations I had about the seriousness of the virus, I knew Jacob was no fool

And then when I saw Robin Hanson tweeting about it, all my sirens went off.

Yet, I'm not completely sold. An outcome so good that others would call a miracle I would call a serious probability.

I've heard "wolf!" cried all my life, and not just by end-times prophets, Ron Paul hyperinflationists, and Peak Oil Environmentalists. Every last person has their own pet theory of how the world is going to come to an end. And while most Coronavirus prophets do not exactly forecast the end of the world, they do predict a death count that's well beyond anything I've ever lived through. Our track record for predicting such things is abysmal. The end of the world doesn't happen often enough to be predictable, and the next worse thing is hardly easier to see in advance.

This time might be different. It looks more like it every day. To repeat what I said last week, I become more and more an "exponential growther" every day that something doesn't change.

Can I offer any solace more specific than, "this time it's probably not different"?

Everyone, including the experts, admits that there's a great deal of uncertainty with this thing. But no one is willing to say that within the scope of unknowns there are ways of walking away from this with less than a historic number of deaths.

The most important form of uncertainty; we have no idea how many have it! This is important because if you don't have a denominator, you don't have a case fatality rate. We can estimate it based on unrepresentative samples like cruise ships, nursing homes, and people who walk into a hospital, but zero countries have widespread testing of a representative sample of the population.

I give a significant probability that this thing was never as bad as we thought it was. That probability might not be over 50% at this point, but I also can't put it below 20%. I'm not saying anything we've done this far has been a mistake. I'm not saying everybody should go about their business. God, I can go on and on about what I'm not saying. What I am saying is that when there's so much we don't know, it opens room for much less bad outcomes.

Why is this view so lonely? I can't help but notice The Ethos shunning skeptics... or even anyone who looks like a skeptic. Wonder if we're overreacting? It's impossible to overreact! Question how bad it is? What are you, a denier? Think experts regularly make terrible predictions? Your expertise denialism is dangerous! Think exponential growth won't last forever? Clearly, you're too stupid to understand exponential growth!

In other words, one cannot make a single point without others filling in 10 other blanks containing what else you must believe.

The ethos shifted very quickly from the other way. But it's not that people got smarter or better informed, but because the culture changed over who we should shun, from the stupid panic-ers to the stupid sleepwalkers. I don't think the old ethos was serving us better, but neither of them are about sober reflection on the event at hand.

Groups think better when dissenters don't feel the need to shut the hell up. I dissent from the view that Coronavirus will almost certainly kill as many as we say it will. Not because I'm dogmatic. Not because I'm stupid. Not because I'm naive. But because when anyone predicts catastrophe, they're usually wrong.


This is one of a series of posts on Covid-19. Here are some others:

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