Scientific illiteracy and innumeracy are literally killing people

The omicron wave of SARS-COV2 continues, growing at a fantastic rate.  The growth rate of this variant is staggering.  Doubling the number of cases in 48 hours, or less.  

Meanwhile, on social media, you get stuff like this

So much to unpack in a short post.  I could start with the obvious that correlation does not imply causation.  Though to be honest, I think this would be lost on the author.  

Similarly, there are question of quality of the paper's methods (which I've not looked into) to deal with.  During the whole Ivermectin phase of denial, Covid Vaccine Antagonists (CVA), that is, those against taking the vaccine, would find every paper they could to present to show their theory had support.

These papers, almost to a one, had methodological issues.  That is, the results could not reasonably be inferred from the hypothesis, due to experimental design and data analysis issues.  Had the CVAs been scientifically literate, they would not have even looked at these papers.

But they are not.

So they did look.  And made claims.

Quick disclaimer:  I do not own any biopharma stock directly, and I don't know if any of the 401k funds I invest in for retirement, carry biopharma stock.  Probably do, but I don't know.  That is, I am not writing this to improve my financial outlook in retirement.

The gold standard methodology for drug efficacy studies (e.g. whether the drug actually works) is a double blind, multi-site test.  There's more to it than this, there's specifically control group and study group design.  There's analytics (statistics, math).

Had the CVAs been even moderately aware of what the rigors of science require, they wouldn't (I hope) make statements like

But muh vaccine

I'm not going to rail against the people who think like this.  They are adults, and able to make their own choices.

I am going to rail against the loss of numeracy (skills of working with numbers, understanding basic mathematics, very basic statistics), and the epic own goal of failure of science education, pre-college.

We have states saying "Lets not teach Algebra II or Calculus, because it is not useful to most people."



So we have an exponential growth phase of a virus right now.  One that we are barely understanding.  And the vast, overwhelming majority of American adults don't have the slightest clue as to what "exponential growth" means.

Because they don't understand that concept, they cannot make correct inferences on their actions to reduce their risk of contracting this illness.

If ... IF ... they understood what exponential growth meant, they would be canceling family/friends gatherings, or wearing kn95 masks if they must go.  They wouldn't go shopping without masks.  They wouldn't go to movies without masks.  They wouldn't get on airplanes at all.  Or trains.

Doubling every 2 days is easily expressible in mathematical terms.

$$N(2) = 2N(0) = N_0 e^{2 k}$$

where t is the time in days, and k is the EXPONENTIAL GROWTH CONSTANT.   This is an equation that can be solved by inspection (e.g. looking at it).  

$$N(2)/N(0) = 2 = e^{2 k}$$

Taking logs of both sides ...

$$ln(2) = 2 k$$


$$k = ln(2)/2$$

Now why should we be concerned?  This.

Horizontal axis is in days, assuming a 2 day doubling (currently being observed).

Vertical axis is measured in billions.  

Remember, this thing kills about 1% of people.

Well, you say, look its at zero most of the time before 20 days.  So we don't have to worry.

(this is innumeracy BTW ... the complete lack of understanding numbers, or representation of numbers, or how to use/analyze numbers).

Ok, let me make this a logarithmic plot for you.  A science type will understand this. An innumerate won't.

Same horizontal axis.  Vertical axis is now logarithmic.  This means, as we go up, we grow by powers of 10.

Now remember, the USA currently has about 350M people.  Or 3.5 x 10<sup>8</sup> people.  If you draw a horizontal line which crosses the vertical line of t = 20 about where the blue line crosses the vertical  t = 20 line, that would be the population of the country.

Of course, a very reasonable and correct critique of this model is that its unrealistic over longer time intervals ... that is, it can't grow exponentially forever.

That's true.  At t = 30 days, everyone on the planet is infected.

Oh, now we have your attention.

There are far better, more complete, more likely correct models of disease that are offering predictions now.  Far better/more accurate than this simple growth model.

But we couldn't get your attention unless we explained some really basic math.  And that math explains why you should be concerned.

So, I'll put this another way.  Innumeracy is a public health problem.  As is scientific illiteracy.

As for the "calculus has no practical day to day use" crowd?

Should I tell them?

Oh ... I really want to tell them.

Ok, I'll tell them.

Where do you think exponentials and logarithms come from?

Just remember this stuff when some person makes claims about these tools not being useful.  They are very ... bloody ... useful.

You can't realistically assess risk without understanding the foundational math and science around that risk.

And yes, we are in the exponential phase.  This will plateau at some point (remember, there are real models that follow this stuff more closely).  But until then, you need to assume that you are vulnerable.

And if you think your exemption request for vaccines is valid, unless you have a real medical condition that requires you skip it, just remember that, like terminators ...

The virus can't be negotiated with.  Cannot be reasoned with.  Will show no mercy.  It will not stop until its reached a point that it cannot infect anyone anymore.

Natural immunity, as a result of an infection, often comes with a large helping of Long Covid.  Which goes to what this virus does.  It is a clotting and vascular disease.  It attacks blood flow, causes massive uncontrollable inflammation as a body response to the infection.  

You do not want natural immunity.  50% or more of the people who get it, have long covid.  

So, please, do the right thing for humanity.  Close your eyes and think of England if you need.  Whatever it takes.  The sooner we can prevent/reduce spread, the better for all concerned.

And we all have to have a long, hard conversation about what is, and isn't, being taught in schools.  About lowering bars by removing advanced math/science classes.  This is absolutely the wrong approach.  And may be the reason we have so many people transparently claiming exemptions.

They don't understand the risk.  The risk is expressible in numbers and functions.  If they don't understand those, how could they possibly estimate their own condition?

Show Comments