The memory hole pandemic

Greg Cochran hasn’t been writing about Covid-19 as much as he has in the past, and without the the same sense of urgency. His most recent entry, a short post from June 8th titled At the Mountains of Madness, has nothing to to with Covid, but rather concerns H.P. Lovecraft’s views on insanity. His penultimate post, from May 24th, again, has little to do with Covid, but is about AIDs. This is a far cry from his repeated exhortations to flatten the curve, such as March 9th post Nuking the Curve. So in the span of around 6 weeks, Greg went from posting almost everyday about how much of a crisis the virus is, to now not even talking about it. What happened?

Greg’s forecasts have not held up as well in light of recent developments, those being that the IFR (infection fatality rate) is much lower than initially thought, no overcrowding of hospitals, that the stock market has recovered faster than expected, and that the economic situation seems to have stabilized. Greg needs to just admit that he overreacted, than attempting to memory hole this. I don’t think there is anyone who reads his blog whose memory is so poor that they cannot recall what he wrote from 2 months ago. His attempt as misdirection and forgetting is so obvious, does he really think he is going to fool anyone by ignoring it.

The first point, about the IFR, is especially important. Until as recently as mid-April, which also coincided with the bottom of the market crash, the general consensus by the media and experts was that the IFR was as low as 1% to as high as 10% (such as in Italy). This is pretty bad, about the same fatality rate as certain early-stage cancers, so it is understandable how so many people were scared and why governments reacted so drastically. But then as more testing data came in, and also due to the very high incidence of asymptomatic carriers, the IFR, in the span of weeks, was slashed by 10-fold, to around .1-1%. This is a huge downgrade, indicative of Covid-19 only being about five times as deadly as the flu instead of 50 or 100 times as deadly, as originally thought. This revision came as a welcome surprise, but received scant media coverage relative to the initial headlines back in February.

This is also why the stock market recovered so abruptly in April and May, because something that only has a .5% fatality rate is manageable economically, and from a psychological standpoint, tolerable, as opposed to a 3-5% fatality rate, which is on par with the Spanish Flu. With this new data, sentiment improved beginning in mid-April, and people began to go outside and restrictions were gradually lifted. Rather than social distancing and curve flattening saving the day, it was increased testing, which revealed that the virus is considerably less deadly than originally assumed.

Even though the rate of new cases is still rising in several parts of the US, there is less panic than there was in April because the mortality rate has been revised considerably lower. That is not to say there won’t be a lot of deaths, but the economic and social impact of possibly as many as half a million excess American deaths over a one-year period due to Covid, is tolerable. That is similar to WW1 and WW2, which temporarily caused significant excess annual American deaths, yet the economy boomed afterwards, both in the ’20s and then the ’50s. The US birth rate is high enough that such population loss can be replenished in less than half a year.

Same for Nassim Tooleb, who has also abruptly stopped tweeting dire Covid forecasts and is now mostly posting about math. He mistakenly believes that if he stops talking about Covid or adopts a more nuanced or calm tone, people will forget about how wrong he was or his fearmongering, but screenshots of his tweets, including one in which he advocates denying medical treatment to people who question the efficacy of social distancing or mask wearing, have been archived. He may pretend to forget, but the internet does not. Tooleb is also conspicuously silent about the death George Floyd, but based on his blog posts equating IQ with racism and his support for social distancing and mask-wearing, if I had to guess, Tooleb secretly supports BLM and believes in systemic racism. He is trying to maintain what little intellectual credibility with the ‘right’ he still has, without going full SJW.

In fairness, almost everyone was wrong about the virus, either being too optimistic or too pessimistic. Some, such as myself, were too optimistic early on, underestimating the virulence and case count. Very few people foresaw the market crash, or that democratic countries would follow in the footsteps of China and forcibly quarantine healthy people and and forcibly shutdown businesses. Too many people, the media latched on to the initial erroneous 1-10% IFR estimate, without having nearly enough testing data to attempt to draw such a conclusion. Given the rarity of pandemics, it’s understandable how so many people, including even experts, were wrong, as there is very little historical precedent from which to try to make inferences from. We’re talking twice-in-a-century type events.