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Should statistical analysis allegedly understating Wuhan coronavirus risk have been taken down by Medium?

Should statistical analysis allegedly understating Wuhan coronavirus risk have been taken down by Medium?

“Evidence over Hysteria” analysis by non-physician/scientist came under fierce attack, leaving the public unsure what to believe

On Saturday, “growth hacker” Aaron Ginn published a data-heavy piece called “Evidence over Hysteria“.

Ginn, who received a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Education and co-founded the Lincoln Network (a firm that allows collaboration between technology professions to for “advocacy, disrupting beltway bandits and reducing barriers to entry for new tech”). The analysis he did related to the pandemic sprung from his marketing experience, and his concepts how an idea or innovation “goes viral”.

In a nutshell, Ginn’s article concludes that the 15-day plan and the subsequent multi-state “stay-hat-home” approach will do more harm than good. He concludes that the mortality rates do not justify the enormous potential damage to the economy.

After watching the outbreak of COVID-19 for the past two months, I’ve followed the pace of the infection, its severity, and how our world is tackling the virus. While we should be concerned and diligent, the situation has dramatically elevated to a mob-like fear spreading faster than COVID-19 itself. When 13% of Americans believe they are currently infected with COVID-19 (mathematically impossible), full-on panic is blocking our ability to think clearly and determine how to deploy our resources to stop this virus. Over three-fourths of Americans are scared of what we are doing to our society through law and hysteria, not of infection or spreading COVID-19 to those most vulnerable.

The following article is a systematic overview of COVID-19 driven by data from medical professionals and academic articles that will help you understand what is going on (sources include CDC, WHO, NIH, NHS, University of Oxford, John Hopkins, Stanford, Harvard, NEJM, JAMA, and several others). I’m quite experienced at understanding virality, how things grow, and data. In my vocation, I’m most known for popularizing the “growth hacking movement” in Silicon Valley that specializes in driving rapid and viral adoption of technology products. Data is data. Our focus here isn’t treatments but numbers. You don’t need a special degree to understand what the data says and doesn’t say. Numbers are universal.

And there is where I part ways with Ginn. Numbers aren’t universal in this case. The pandemic has different effects on regions, depending on a myriad of factors: The age of the population, genetics, gender, the quality of the nation’s healthcare, the number of smokers, the level of obesity, etc.

Italy’s mortality rate is a good case in point. The nation has a grater number of elderly than most countries, and its combined with a weak national health system that declares anyone with COVID-19 as having died of the disease, even though that may not be the case.

And here is another reason why number’s aren’t universal: Americans value the individual. I suspect most people in this country will be willing to follow the Presidential 15-Day Guideline to save lives, as long as drug treatments arebeing distributed, test kits expedited, ventilators produced, and other means to cure the disease and alleviate its effects are put in place. The fewer the dead, the greater the victory.

That being said, the article was a very thoughtful attempt to distill all the news and assess the productivity of the response. It apparently struck a nerve, too. At one point, the piece had over 2 million views….before Medium took it down.

While I am not sure why Medium took this action, part of the reason may be the result of this analysis by Dr. Carl Bergstrom, a professor of biology who also does mathematical and computational modelling at the University of Washington.

I respect Bergstrom’s credentials. However, his remarks drip with snark, derision, and contempt for Ginn’s piece that distracted from some very fair points being made. But this is Twitter, which is the Thunderdome of social media:

Unfortunately, anyone with a more conservative point of view than Bergstom had to wade though a lot of right-hate through his discussion:

While Ginn’s analysis may be flawed, both discussions should be allowed to stand. The scale of response to the Wuhan Coronavirus is worthy of a robust debate.

Frankly, I am worried that, like in the “global warming” studies, bad data in is leading to erroneous conclusions. The faulty determinations may lead to bad policy choices. I can only hope our policy makers have a plan for returning Americans back to work after this 15-day plan has ended, which I think is the proper action once all the drugs, tests, and medical equipment have been put in place.

“Evidence over Hysteria” shows that Americans are ready for real answers to the crisis, showing that they will digest data-heavy articles and daily press briefings to get them.


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It’s fine if Bergstrom wants to disagree with the article, even better if he posts cogent arguments to support his opinion, but shutting down other opinions is still wrong.

    Paul in reply to Observer. | March 22, 2020 at 2:05 pm

    You will bend your knee to the God SCIENCE!

    Barry Soetoro in reply to Observer. | March 22, 2020 at 2:20 pm

    Shutting down scientists who don’t agree with you is a key strategy of pseudoscientists, like Michael Mann and his band of climate hucksters. But, unlike Mann et al., did Bergstrom lobby to shut down Ginn, or did he just criticize him? Skepticism and criticism are valid elements of the scientific method. Inserting politically motivated jibes in one’s scientific criticism detracts from one’s scientific points, but the reader can chose to not get into tone police role and filter such nonsense in an effort to uncover the science (while having one’s skepticism detector appropriately tuned to high while doing so).

      Observer in reply to Barry Soetoro. | March 22, 2020 at 3:38 pm

      Medium took down Ginn’s article, and I was addressing my remark to them. As I said above, I have no problem with Bergstrom stating his disagreements with Ginn’s conclusions, and I don’t particularly care if Bergstrom does it in a rude, snarky manner or not. What I don’t like is platforms like Medium deciding to simply erase opinions that don’t adhere to the current “consensus” view. The consensus view isn’t always correct. It was the consensus view for many years that the sun revolved around the earth, and anybody who expressed doubts or counter-arguments was deemed to be a fool or a dangerous heretic, and they were silenced. We don’t need to go there again.

        Milhouse in reply to Observer. | March 22, 2020 at 5:40 pm

        anybody who expressed doubts or counter-arguments was deemed to be a fool or a dangerous heretic

        This part isn’t actually true. Copernicus was a churchman in good standing, and the Pope himself approved of his work.

        Galileo was different for a number of reasons, partly to do with politics, but mostly because he didn’t express doubts or counter-arguments, he declared with certainty that the earth orbited the sun, without having an answer to the overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary (which is why the consensus was against him).

        As Cardinal Bellarmine said at his trial, there are only two sources of absolute truth: Scripture and science. Whatever either of those tells us must be true, and if they seem to contradict then we must not have understood one or the other properly. But there is no third source. Since Galileo could not substantiate his position based on science, he sought to do so by reinterpreting scripture, and that, the cardinal said, was the church’s job, not his. If he could prove his position scientifically the church would accept it and look for the correct way to understand scripture, but it would not do so based on mere questions and speculation.

    Dantzig93101 in reply to Observer. | March 22, 2020 at 3:44 pm

    Shutting down debate is now the default response of a large segment of society. We seem to have abandoned the idea that the most reliable path to truth is the marketplace of ideas. The usual suspects now demand that networks stop broadcasting daily briefings by the president and the Covid-19 response team, lest anyone hear things of which they don’t approve.


    It’s fascistic censorship, plain and simple

    Pillage Idiot in reply to Observer. | March 23, 2020 at 11:56 am

    Bergstrom somehow thinks his point #28 is devastating, but both numbers can be true. If he thinks they are mutually exclusive, then he is the one that lacks understanding of the data.

    Only after community testing is put in place will we know exactly how many of the Covid-19 cases contracted will actually be “severe”. You must test an entire population (or at least a significant randomized portion of a population) to determine if the “1% severe” number is correct.

    AFAIK, the 2.3% case fatality rate (CFR) cited by Berstrom IS NOT a community testing sample! Is is a sample of people know to be suffering from Covid-19 and is therefore subject to severe selection bias.

    If a large number of people (e.g. young, non-smokers, living in clean air Chinese rural communities) actually contracted Covid-19, but showed no symptoms and were therefore not in the tested group, then Bergstrom’s CFR of 2.3% is greatly overstating the actual numbers. How does he not know that?

Barry Soetoro | March 22, 2020 at 2:06 pm

“Data is data.”

The guy’s not credible. The data ARE the data.

    paracelsus in reply to Barry Soetoro. | March 23, 2020 at 1:30 pm

    Not quite true: figures can still lie and liars are always figuring
    Unless this “data” is properly parsed to account for co-morbidities, we will never have an accurate number for deaths resulting from the virus itself: viz. fatal pneumonia as a direct result of viral infection without any other extenuating circumstances

The Scientific Method is create a hypothesis, then question / test it, and revise hypothesis. Just shutting down a different opinion can actually retard progress. Sounds like a bit of hubris, and NIH syndrome.

The Politization of WHO I find a lot more worrisome. WHO lied about the CoronaVirus NOT spreading via people contact, backing the China party line, and ignoring warnings from Taiwan back end of December. As well as saying a travel ban was not warranted. And WHO is being used as guidance, on what is acceptable news by the MSM, Google, and FaceBook.


Non Paywall Version:

Median has a history of silencing dissent, especially if you are labeled “Alt Right”.

Labeling ZeroHedge as a right wing conspiracy site makes me question his credibility / politicization. I find the silencing of Zerohedge by Twitter deeply disturbing. Zerohedge is a mixed bag, some of their stuff is way ahead of the curve, and others junk. I am surprised they were not labeled Alt Right. There articles on the origin of the virus are interesting.

And for those into conspiracy theories, Dr. Fauci’s Love Letter to Hillary Clinton. My guess is he was just playing smart politics, since everyone assumed she would win, and she remembers those that help her, and those that don’t.

Science is the business of arguing over the interpretation of facts. You get to argue your own theory, but you don’t get your own facts. However most theorists acknowledge that they don’t have all the facts, because perfect knowledge of any system is essentially unknowable. No real scientist would argue for the banning of an opposing interpretation of the facts, no matter how egregious. A real scientist would only be concerned with proving his own theory or disproving the theories of others. “Shut up” is not in a scientist’s lexicon.

Science is only settled when a theory has been falsified. A theory need only be falsified once to be considered settled (i.e., false). (Remember this the next time a climate alarmist tells you “The science is settled.” They’re unwittingly admitting current “greenhouse theory” has been falsified.)

The gentle readers here may find this interesting:

Epidemics always kill the sick; the oldest, weakest sick in particular. We try and fight the inevitable, so Medicare spends somewhere around 25% of all spending on someone’s last year of life. Many physicians would rather have ‘end of life care’ instead of an end of life spending spree. I am not talking about euthanasia, but perhaps those $25,000 per month drugs that get you an extra month of life (paid for by ‘the government’) which may or may not be worth it, but are ‘free’. Go and look at some articles pointing out whatever lives are ‘saved’ via social distancing, more will be lost by suicide, especially in populations who are being ruined economically.

When you analyze data, oftentimes you leave emotion and opinion out of it. He tried. What’s the worst-case scenario; that he is right and our epidemic isn’t like China, we don’t get as sick, we spend less time in shutdown and about the same number of people are sick? This guy seems to have wanted to point out some contrarian views and used publicly available charts and data to do so. Why take it down?

Everyone knows if you torture the data long enough it will confess. It was good, for a couple of days, to see it in public.

    beagleEar in reply to Chicklet. | March 22, 2020 at 5:18 pm

    The flu of 1918 hit the young hardest.

      McGehee in reply to beagleEar. | March 22, 2020 at 6:43 pm

      There’s apparently a recent study arguing that over-reliance on the then-new wonder drug “aspirin” may have aggravated many patients’ conditions.

      Never be an early adopter.

pablo panadero | March 22, 2020 at 2:42 pm

I read the article in its entirety. The article makes very good points about the quality of the data. For that reason, it is very good to update that article as more data comes in. Criticize it, yes. Shut it down, absolutely not.

And the WTF comment simply means that the professor had not read the article. When you have limited tests available, you are only testing those that show symptoms. There are plenty of asymptotic people that have not been tested yet. As the asymptotic are tested, the death rate will undoubtedly fall.

Yeah, the data are the data. This is a rather flimsy bar to use as a credibility meter. Perhaps someone can point to another article, opinion or not, that had as many linked sources? You may not have agreed with the opinion, but at least it was presented in such a way that it could be checked and argued. Now it has been disappeared, with no continued discourse. Very bad form.

    Barry Soetoro in reply to Engineer_RD. | March 22, 2020 at 3:27 pm

    That his work has been ‘disappeared’ is wrong, but a self-proclaimed data analysis expert who does not know that ‘data’ is the plural form of ‘datum’ is not worth prostrating oneself before.

In addition to the coronavirus disease, there is also the mass hysteria.

The social distancing may be, in part, to tamp down bad consequences of many people behaving just a little weirdly, and a few people behaving a lot weirdly. Not even deliberately bad behavior, just enough unexpected and off-kilter interactions

Keep people apart for several days and stupid mobs won’t form (or at least be much less).

An anecdote, not data: Yesterday morning, a woman I encountered on the street was distraught that she did not have a mask. She saw another woman with a mask, and that made her upset. Nevermind that if a person is not sick and not near anyone, there is no need for a mask. She said that her husband was in the hospital and it was total chaos there. I had just been at the local hospital, and it was the picture of tranquility. I went by bicycle and photographed the buildings from the perimeter road. Zero ambulances at the ER (usually there are a few), not enough cars in the parking lots for there to be chaos inside. A grounds crew person advised that everything around was totally quiet.

    paracelsus in reply to pinesol. | March 23, 2020 at 1:55 pm

    I had to go to the hospital ER two days ago (not related to virus). Before I was allowed to enter (in order to register), I was closely inspected and interrogated for about ten minutes; in fact, all but patted down for weapon.
    Once inside I saw a vast assortment of hospital personnel: some wearing horse-face masks and long debutante nitrile gloves while others were wearing no protective devices/clothing at all.
    Go figure!

I just learned that over 90 people die in car accidents each day in the US, and this is not seasonal, but year round! We need to immediately ban cars to save lives. /s

    Nah, just apply “social distancing” to cars. Only one car allowed per mile either direction on the highway. One car per block in town. 😉

mickshrimpton | March 22, 2020 at 3:30 pm

My vote would be to write in “STFU”.

GIGO…” garbage in..garbage out”. The present Johns Hopkins map tallies positive cases with death rate. Of course, it is incomplete as this is just a subsection of the disease’s spectrum. It can help with trends. Rush likened this to the approach of a hurricane… I go with tidal waves. I passed through SeaTac week and a half ago and 5 days later came down with sniffles, myalgias, minimal dry cough and lethargy but no fever. Fortunately, I have the two weeks off (some vacation). Do I have “it”…if so, I would reduce the percentage of deaths vs. positives. I did a few procedures the two days after returning.. but always wore a mask and gloves (both mask and two weeks off is mandated in Alaksa now….

This about educational pedegree more than anything else.

The author that wrote The Great Influenza was invited to sit on an important corvir19 oversight taskforce. He accepted. He’s not a clinician or a lab techician involved in viral research nor does he hold a university degree qualifying him to act in such a role. Should he be a member of said taskforce?

Yes, of course he should be involved.


What are the current numbers on Washington state now?
They appear to be slowing their growth rate? Or, am I missing info?

    Here is a good website that seems to provide solid numbers for all the states:

    As of now, the 4 last day totals for new cases of COVID19 look like this:

    3/19 – 175
    3/20 – 189
    3/21 – 148
    3/22 – 269

    I think it is still too early to make a determination…and we have to account for the backlog of tests that need to be done as well as the new ones in the system.

Credentialism has certainly gone too far.
At the same time, a bachelors in education is a negative qualification. Anyone who wasted four years of college on that degree has less credibility then some guy waiting tables.
Although, still more than a bartender with an economics degree.

    McGehee in reply to beagleEar. | March 22, 2020 at 6:48 pm

    The professor I learned most from in college was teaching political thought — with a bachelor’s degree in a different field.

    It might be worthwhile to have a look at his work before dismissing him.

Christopher B | March 22, 2020 at 5:45 pm

The 15-day plan is rapidly becoming an indefinite lock down as state after state succumbs.

    MajorWood in reply to Christopher B. | March 23, 2020 at 12:50 am

    There plan was to always go from A to F is several steps, because no one would have accepted where we are right now if they had introduced it on day 1. But the problem with that approach is that it also sends the message that we are going to more extreme lengths because the problem is getting much worse. The facts to me are that things are getting slightly worse but nowhere near the shift in the restrictions worse. In Oregon we have had 160 confirmed cases and 4 deaths, and starting tomorrow we enter week #2 of the near shutdown of the state. And the worst part is this morning I noticed the first dusting of pollen on the windshield following 3 days of sunny mid 60’s weather. I wonder who will get beaten over a hayfaver induced sneeze. We are rapidly approaching what has become an episode of The Twilight Zone.

    I recall a discussion of Dr Strangelove last week, which reminded me of the scene when General Turgidson pulled out the war scnario book and told the President that if we attacked right now, we’d probably suffer only 20 million casualties, 30 max. I wonder if similar discussions took place as our dear leaders were discussing the various ways to deal with this. What I am afraid of though is that they took what they believed was the easier softer way and that will have the worst outcome. And I am doubly worried that they intended the wort outcome.

      Yep, allergy season is definitely complicating this.
      Also, the military bases around where I live have gone to “Health Protection Condition” Charlie (C), which – if other “Protection Conditions” are the model – would be the next to most severe possible condition. Which just seems nuts for an illness that’s treatable.

JackinSilverSpring | March 22, 2020 at 6:36 pm

There is no reason to censor Ginn. Moreover, there have been worse epidemics in the US and we didn’t shut down the country. 2009, H1N1 led to 12000 US deaths; country not shut down. 1957, H2N2 led to 70000 US deaths, country not shut down. Every year there are 30000 to 60000 influenza deaths, country not shut down. Thus far 414 Covid-19 deaths, country shut down. This is mass hysteria induced by the Marxist Stream Media and yellow-bellied politicians.

    This is mass hysteria induced by the Marxist Stream Media and yellow-bellied politicians.
    dems want the president to take over the medical supply chain. I’ve been telling people they’re fascists for years. Even now people still don’t think they’re as bad as they really are.
    I’d like to see andy cuomo put in prison.

The “cure” is becoming worse than the disease. The economic shutdown is causing all sorts of damage, particularly to small and medium businesses. Many will not survive.

As another poster stated, the death toll from auto accidents is much much worse, as are gun deaths. Let people get back to work.

    Milhouse in reply to Madman2001. | March 23, 2020 at 1:17 am

    The “cure” is becoming worse than the disease. The economic shutdown is causing all sorts of damage, particularly to small and medium businesses. Many will not survive.

    Not only that; more people will die from the economic damage than would have died from the virus.

The nation has had a grater number of elderly than most countries
Things might have changed after this fiasco.

    paracelsus in reply to GWB. | March 23, 2020 at 2:13 pm

    I don’t think “age” per se makes a difference.
    As you age, you will find that you are subject to other “diseases” that in an earlier time would have taken you out of any sample: viz. heart, liver, lung, kidney problems that today are being treated surgically or with medication without a second thought; you’ll find these “elderly” out playing tennis half a day or hiking out sailing solo in a fifteen footer: they’re in excellent shape, but they still have serious underlying conditions that they ignore (properly so, as far as I’m concerned).
    The important point is (finally!): these co-morbidities must be accounted for in some manner when counting the deaths due to the virus or the data is totally worthless.

I wouldn’t care if Aaron Ginn had a high school diploma in toilet cleaning: he has a brain. And he proves it by his organization of available data. And he proves it by understanding that not all the data is in yet and states that his conclusions may be different tomorrow as the figures change.
C.T. Bergstrom has diplomas, which proves only that he can regurgitate whatever his professors tell him to say (I have a couple myself, so I learned this bit of wisdom early on). But, quite obviously, there is, at least, one thing that Dr. Bergstrom doesn’t have.