Magical Thinking and Ebola

Hi all,

Today, 14 October 2014, we read of a report by WHO which states that by 1 December we could see as many as 10,000 deaths from Ebola per week. Oddly, the mainstream press finds this newsworthy, despite the fact that this very same mathematical statement was made by WHO and CDC weeks ago when the same numbers were provided in a different form. We are told that as of today, there are 4500 dead and 9000 infected. Going off of the average reported error factor of about 2, this means that there are more likely 9000 deaths and 18,000 infected as of now. There is a disturbing problem going on here which begs comment in the harshest terms. Magical thinking is undermining the ability not just of the public, but of the authorities, to comprehend this disaster on account of three salient features now evidenced incontrovertibly by the statements and actions such as the one just noted:

1. Mathematical illiteracy
2. Inability to assess the assumptions of the math
3. Lack of realism; or inability to reduce the general to the specific

What about log base 2 of 18000 can some people not understand? And where people do get the significance of exponential growth, what about the core assumptions is not clear? The only assumptions behind this math are pretty dry:

1. Nature will not do something incredibly improbable in the next 12 months to favorably alter the math.
2. There is no infrastructure on Earth that can locate, extract and “isolate” 70% of a population of 36,000 in sub-Saharan Africa scattered in three different jurisdictions over uncounted thousands of square miles of African city and jungle. (I’ll explain that number shortly). And certainly 4000 Marines can’t do it.

WHO and CDC are counting on the magical thinking of isolating 70% of the infected population, based on the idea that the reproduction rate of the virus could be rendered linear under those conditions. But implicit in this thinking is the requirement that all those persons be identified and extracted from the general population, and then isolated not by merely housing and feeding them, but by bio-containment isolation. And if we have 18,000 infected now, give or take a few thousand if it pleases you – it doesn’t much matter – then no infrastructure having a viable mathematical impact on this situation exists now and will not likely exist within the doubling time of the viral spread. Therefore, let’s not be silly and let’s assume 2*18,000=36,000. It certainly isn’t going to happen with 2000 beds provided by the U.S. military.

I’ve been trying to explain this now for over two months (in various forms) and am convinced no one comprehends a thing I’m saying.

Let me be clear, the assumptions given above are highly likely to hold and the logarithmic relation given will dominate the outcome. What part of that sentence is confusing? Do I really need to work this logarithm to demonstrate what highly likely means? Try this:

log2(7*109) – log2(36000) = about 17.5 months

I’m assuming that the doubling is every 4 weeks, which is generous, and I’m assuming the world’s population is at least 7 billion. Yes, the doubling rate will increase as the total number of infected increases, but I’ll ignore that for the moment.

We have about 18 months before there won’t be anyone left to discuss this because the mortality rate WHO just released is another failure to reduce the general to the specific; namely, that when people start dying in large numbers the death rate will approach 90% or greater consequent to the sheer anarchy and chaos that will result from the viral mortality of 70%, not to mention the lack of food for anyone remaining.

Let me be clear one more time:

This reduces the problem to two options. We can do one or both. We can develop a real bang up vaccine really, really fast and/or we can isolate populations with force. Of course, the West can relax since their superior health care systems might prevent the assumed “seeding” numbers in the thousands, like we have now in West Africa. In that case, the West can expect to be alone when the dust settles … and to be a little hungry. Hope they’re happy with that. But no, there is no need to panic in the West because clusters will indeed likely be snuffed out. But I hope we can see why …

That doesn’t much *&^% matter.

And speaking of the West, CDC’s recommendations to hospitals are a circus of failures to reduce the general to the specific; a process otherwise known as deduction. “Meticulous” guidelines cannot be followed stochastically in a general hospital environment when those hospitals are using BSL-2. Someone in USG with a brain needs to implement BSL-4 in regional hospitals … right now.

I think nature is about to “inform” us as to just how dumb we really are and future observers will quite likely regard many actions already taken or omitted as criminal negligence of the highest order.

Over the past couple of years I’ve been trying to get the message out that religion and political ideology are vehicles of misplaced emotion that undermine IQ and are squeezing humanity into destruction in a death spiral of ignorance and superstition. I’m afraid my message won’t be heard until billions die.

– kk