Not in my lifetime or probably ever, have we been so inundated with numbers. Each day brings a new headline. Predictions of how long this pandemic will last, predictions of numbers of deaths, the actual numbers of death by day, month and country abound.
The numbers vary widely. Which expert (or headline) do you believe?
Although I am secretly fascinated by numbers and statistics, this is not my field; neither is public health. However, I am also not going to stick my head in the sand until this pandemic “blows over.”
Personal and Public Health
From a personal health perspective, I am interested in resilience, responsibility and freedom.
When it comes to public health, the considerations are both broader and more detailed. I look at the following points:
- What is the variable that is being discussed e.g. number of deaths, number of ICU beds needed, number of transmissions?
- Is this variable important e.g. number of transmissions?
- Have all sides of a variable been explored?
- Have as many of the consequences as possible be considered?
- Has provision been made for a change in policy or direction, should new information come to hand?
- Does the modelling make sense? This last point may seem to be outside the understanding of non-mathematicians. However, being curious and critical can shed insights and raise questions.
When looking at news reports, my approach is to:
- Ignore the headlines and read the article, as well as the articles or papers that are referenced.
- Question everything, including the conclusions of experts, politicians, and conspiracy theorists; openly consider the points of view presented.
- Calm curiosity. We all have biases. I try to practice being calmly curious when exploring an opposing argument. This may end up in a sleepless night, but may deliver greater understanding and freedom.
- Of course, none of us has time to read everything. The more balanced the argument and the more it explores different perspectives, the more likely I am to follow the author(s). The less the authors are open to criticism and debate, the more skeptical I am of the content.
Who I have found useful
Time will tell which predictions have been useful in the COVID-19 pandemic. I have found the following three articles to be helpful when looking at the numbers in this pandemic. The first two are about the numbers and the last one about a different approach to that of the elimination of SARS-CoV-2.
https://medium.com/@wpegden/a-call-to-honesty-in-pandemic-modeling-5c156686a64b – Click on the links in this article, they are fascinating.
You be the judge.