Kris an’ Murphy: And The Enemy, As Usual, Is …

“If you’re a regular reader of FiveThirtyEight, you’re probably used to looking at data in sports – where basically everything that happens on a basketball court or a baseball diamond is recorded …

“COVID-19 statistics, especially the number of reported cases, are not at all like that. The data, at best, [are] highly incomplete, and often the tip of the iceberg for much larger problems. And data on tests and the number of reported cases [are] highly nonrandom. In many parts of the world today, health authorities are still trying to triage the situation with a limited number of tests available. Their goal in testing is often to allocate scarce medical care to the patients who most need it – rather than to create a comprehensive dataset for epidemiologists and statisticians to study.

“But if you’re not accounting for testing patterns, it can throw your conclusions entirely out of whack. You don’t just run the risk of being a little bit wrong: Your analysis could be off by an order of magnitude. Or even worse, you might be led in the opposite direction of what is actually happening.”

Nate Silver, 4 April 2020

Murphy: “So, let me get this straight … what?”

Kris: “Your mike’s on mute, Roger. Your lips move, but I can’t hear what you’re saying.”

Murphy (unmuting): “Dammit, Kris, I only wish that I could be comfortably numb.”

Kris: “Careful what you wish for, Murphy. Don’t know about you, but all my neighbors and Facebook friends are, like, done with the COVID-19 lockdown already. And those peeps mostly still have jobs!”

Murphy: “And university degrees that are proving to be even more useless than we thought they were! Did you get the point of Nate Silver’s rant about statistics?”

Kris: “You mean, how we can come up with an accurate daily record of the number and length of LeBron James’s nose hairs, but for a disease that could wipe out 20% of humanity, we have either bogus numbers or none at all?”

Murphy: “Precisely. Ain’t what you say you want, it’s what you’ll actually buy that counts. And we ain’t been buying what matters for ages now, Senator Proxmire. How have your online lectures been going?”

Kris: “C’mon, Murphy, this connection’s wonky enough without you trying to get me to fry the wires! I’ve basically told our IT department, and the department chair, that my students are going to get straight lectures and like it, because all the fancy graphics that they want me to spend time designing and displaying don’t work. Even for those students who have up-to-date hardware, which isn’t all of them by a long road. And doesn’t include the sorry ancient bricks, masquerading as computers, that the university is saddling the poo… er, the underrepresented students with.

“And the transcription service? It manages to get “And” and “The” correct maybe 50% of the time. Any words longer than one syllable, it turns into garbage. I told IT to turn it off and stop wasting my time and the time of those students who are still hanging on. And if some students have to drop out because they can’t follow my lectures, well guess what? What else is new? You wish us to be entertainers, you have to invest in that. And if you want students that get it, they have to invest in that! Or be given incentive to choose another path in life. And society’s got a slightly bigger challenge on its hands right now than ensuring that the university sucks up fees from every body it can seduce.”

Murphy: “Yeah, same here. Sorry, Styx, it doesn’t look like this’ll be my last time on the unemployment line after all. What we all get for investing in hard facts and rigorous analyses that get ignored, instead of the parlor walls that matter. Speaking of making a living telling people what they wish to hear instead of what they need to know, Mr Silver was not too kind to Great Britain in his assessment. ‘A recent paper published by Imperial College London estimated that the true number of people who had been infected with the coronavirus in the U.K. as of March 30 was somewhere between 800,000 and 3.7 million – as compared to a reported case count through that date of just 22,141.'”

Kris: “Well, their Prime Minister – who was also responsible for Brexit happening, you’ll recall – just landed in the hospital with his dose of COVID-19.”

Murphy: “May he and his recover. And maybe learn something.”

Kris: “Like just how much being named ‘a great friend’ by Mr Trump is worth?”

Murphy: “You mean, being named a great friend by us?”

Kris: “Mr Trump is not …”

Murphy: “Who elected him?”

Kris: “You know that’s been argued …”

Murphy: “And who has done exactly nothing to so much as slow him and his down these past three and a half years?”

Kris: “Um …”

Murphy: “Mr Trump is our President, by the only acclamation that matters. Our collective actions. His words and deeds are our words and deeds. Or didn’t you notice that he’s now got his highest job-approval ratings since just after he was elected? And We the People of these United States have no business whatsoever calling out anybody, anywhere in the world for their alleged failures and crimes. You wish to see failures and crimes, look in the mirror. While you can, before it smashes from the ugliness it sees. We can only hope that, despite the gutting of science and intellect from the public domain, we can still stop enough human-to-human transmission of the virus to get this disease licked before we all go broke.”

Kris: “So you haven’t heard the latest.”

Murphy: “… whut?”

Kris: Lions and tigers get COVID-19. One tiger at the Bronx Zoo tested positive, and another half dozen animals are sick. All were tended by a zookeeper with the virus.”

Murphy: “O … my …”

Kris: “Here, kitty kitty.”

Murphy:Get outa here, kitty kitty! Just what we need. A disease reservoir tied up with the pet lobby!”

Kris: “Going to be a lot of lobbies that have to start hearing about things they need to know. Like how you can’t trash the environment, and massively overpopulate what you haven’t trashed, and not expect the environment to trash you back.”

Murphy: “I think students of the Black Death in the Middle Ages would have something to say about COVID-19 being the first clear link between environmental degradation and deadly pandemics. But they would have no argument against the proposition that we humans are no way as smart as we think we are.”

Kris: “Yeah. We heed what the planet is telling us, and go broke. Or ignore it and go dead. And we dump on those who study the facts and tell us ‘those are our choices’. Not entertaining, LeBron.”

Murphy: “Oh well. I suppose that’s what ‘acts of God’ are for.”

Kris: “I suppose. Homo what??”

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2 Responses to Kris an’ Murphy: And The Enemy, As Usual, Is …

  1. Melli says:

    Yes!!! Eloquently put Sir Charles!

  2. nathhoke says:

    I’ve gone mad. This all makes total sense to me. Congratulations Charley.

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