This Is a Good Time to Stop Getting Your Information from Ideological Zealots

All humans are political and ideological. We’re political in the sense that we have beliefs about the groups we’re part of—what those groups ought to have done in the past, ought to do now, ought to do in the future, and what sort of people should lead them. And we certainly have strong views about the groups we’re not part of.

We’re also ideological. Even the most down-to-earth among us hold to some big ideas, reject some big ideas, and look at the world through an ideological set of lenses. People’s worldviews range from highly rational, systematic, and coherent to highly random, chaotic, and contradictory, but we all have them.

And we’ve all got narratives we believe in that both flow out of, and sustain, our political and ideological commitments.

But something’s wrong if we let group identities, dogmas, and stories dominate our thinking to the point that we’re no longer able to recognize bunk (as in balderdash, hooey, flimflam) when it’s being sold to us by those we see as “our own.”

From where I sit, this seems to be a growing problem on “the right” these days. It’s probably an equal or greater problem on “the left,” but we’re primarily responsible for ourselves, and we’re supposed to be better than that.

Zealots and COVID-19

The latest example is the assortment of ill-informed attitudes and claims about COVID-19 I’m seeing echoed by fundamentalists, conservative evangelicals, and not-at-all-Christian folks on the right. I say “echoed,” because they seem to originate from two often-overlapping flavors of political-right media: partisan-right media and conspiracy-right media. I don’t want to get into a tiff about what sources belong under which heading, but the partisan-right media are the ones who are in lock-step with the GOP talking points—which means in lockstep with President Trump’s talking points.

These are the media personalities who were sure COVID-19 was a big politically motivated hoax … until they were sure it wasn’t … until they were sure it was “just overhyped, and we should all get back to work by Easter” … until they were sure that “nothing would be worse than declaring victory before the victory is won.” Their messaging is perfectly synchronous with the White House.

By conspiracy-right sources I mean media personalities who occasionally or constantly trot out a range of anti-mainstream suggestions and claims, usually with bad data and sloppy reasoning for support—if there’s any effort to support it at all. Sometimes its theories of sinister secret machinations, sometimes just dumb (and misleading) comparisons of supposed death rates (COVID-19 vs. flu, COVID-19 vs. lightning, etc.), and the like.

In both cases, what we’re getting is not very good information. One is just GOP propaganda—thoughtless cheerleading for the administration. The other is a weird mix of paranoia, reflexive nonconformity, and cynicism.

Either way, what you get from these sources is advocacy for a group, a leader, a movement, or a mood—not advocacy for truth and solutions to problems. Zealots are loyal to their agenda and truth is only one tool in the box to use, or abuse, in service of that agenda.

Toward Better Sources

It may come as a shock to some, but the majority view isn’t always wrong. There’s a really strong consensus that sunshine is warm, that birds are generally poor swimmers, and that horses don’t have feathers. Contrarianism has gotten so mindless on the right lately, I wonder if I could start a movement and get famous on the claim that horses really do have feathers, because “the left and the mainstream media say they don’t … and it’s all a plot to make Trump look bad.”

Here’s the point: for many matters in life, political and ideological zealots are the worst sources of information. COVID-19 is one of them.

It’s true that nobody is really “objective.” It doesn’t follow, though, that nobody is rational, rigorous, and committed to good information. Thankfully, some are much more interested in being accurate than they are in advancing a party, ideology, or conspiracy theory!

At the top of many organizations, you’re going to find some very political people. Because these leaders interface with national figures, some of whom are elected officials, that’s to be expected. But the CDC and WHO and countless other public and private organizations working on COVID-19 are full of professionals in biochemistry, virology, epidemiology, and related fields, who really aren’t very interested in what political party is dominant at the moment or what the current U.S. President’s popularity numbers are—or even who wins the next election.

We can get COVID-19 information straight from these sources as well as other more local ones.

We can also get information from media sources that aren’t dominated by political or ideological zealots. Although MSNBC on the left and Fox News on the right aren’t always delivering heavily spun information (or outright misinformation), there’s little need to go there—or turn on the TV at all—when you can read National Review, or better yet, The Dispatch. Though fallen humans like the rest of us, these folks are willing to look critically at the political “us,” and not just the political “them”—a key characteristic of any source’s commitment to truth. The Dispatch has even been known to argue that, as a nation and culture, we need to stop this madness of trying to politicize everything.

A small fact salad

These links are a bit old now, since I was gathering them mostly last weekend, but they may be of some use in countering a tiny bit of the misinformation bouncing around in the zealot-fandom echo chamber. There are also some good sources here for more up to date information.

What if they’re wrong?

Maybe the people I trust are giving me bad info. Maybe the thousands of medical professionals at CDC and NIAID, the state health departments, the private and university researchers, and the many national health departments all over the world will somehow turn out to all be wrong about the severity of the disease and the need to flatten the curve. The economic analysts I’ve been reading have me convinced that COVID-19 was going to tank the economy with or without all the state and local efforts to flatten the curve, so crushing it on purpose to save lives was the right strategy. Maybe they’ll turn out to have been wrong, too.

But if my sources turn out to be wrong, it won’t be because they put their passion for a political agenda, or party, or leader ahead of their commitment to reason, research, and helping people. If they’re wrong, it will be because they did their best to get the facts right and the response right, but failed. I’ll take that over the  distortions of ideological zealots any day.

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JNoël's picture

I really like this article and will certainly be sharing it. Thank you so much for putting the time into it!

A couple of issues, though.

Aaron Blumer wrote:

But the CDC and WHO and countless other public and private organizations working on COVID-19 are full of professionals in biochemistry, virology, epidemiology, and related fields, who really aren’t very interested in what political party is dominant at the moment or what the current U.S. President’s popularity numbers are—or even who wins the next election.

"Full" is misleading; you have no way of knowing how many of those professionals aren't interested in politics. In fact, there are many cases where organizations like these have proven highly political. Just take the WHO and China right now, for example. There are plenty of ways that it is clear the WHO pandered to China. Consider the naming of the virus and the disease, for starters. And professionals all over the world come from highly secularistic intelligentsia and are often shown to ignore facts in favor of agenda.

Aaron Blumer wrote:

A small fact salad

I was especially intrigued that you included this section. The below article isn't the only place that speaks to the meaningless numbers, and it is very easy to understand just how useless all of the numbers really are. Some countries have high death rates, some have low. Many factors account for the wide differences, not the least of which is how extensive the testing is. The only possible way any valid, useful conclusions can be drawn would be to test every human and to do it almost every day. It took experts years to come up with even a wide range of estimates with MERS and SARS, and those were diseases that very rarely, if ever, presented in mild or asymptomatic ways. The only numbers that should really matter to the general public are the total number of hospitalizations and deaths. Hospitals are filling up, and people are dying - both are happening at a much higher rate than any other disease in over a hundred years. This is sufficient to shape our behaviors. Anything beyond that is subject to such huge swings in estimates that it only serves to drive either paranoia or carelessness.

https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2020-03-28/confirmed-coronavi...

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg (1720-1768)

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

...you have no way of knowing how many of those professionals aren't interested in politics.

I can know with a fairly high level of certainty, but not absolute. First, I'm not talking about "interested" in politics; I'm talking about driven by politics. I may not have been very clear about that... I would say "not interested in how politics relates to their work" is better. I'm basing this observation mostly on experience interacting with people at federal agencies (and more interacting with people who are interacting with people at federal agencies)... as well as reading work by people that work at these places. Probably most of them of them have some political opinions, but their 40+ hours a week work just doesn't have much to do with all that.

So the point is that, ironically, the people on the right who are trying to cast all this as politically driven are actually projecting their own political obsession onto people who are really just professionals, focused on their professions. Because they look at everything through a binary political filter ("us" vs. "them"), and do everything they do in devotion to a political agenda, they assume everyone else does, too.

But I have rarely encountered people in the workplace, either in the healthcare sector or the justice sector, who look at life and their work that way.

... I mean, I'm way more interested in politics and political philosophy than most people I know, and even I don't do my work in service of a political agenda.

I added a few more links to my "salad" section. I've come across so much solid stuff over the last week, it's a bit overwhelming to try to sort it out.

About experts

I wanted to write a whole section on how to think about experts and tie in The Death of Expertise by Tom Nichols. But I'm not ready to do that anything like justice. I just want to point out that experts may be wrong, but they're way less likely to be wrong than non-experts. Nobody is saying you have to be an expert to have an opinion. They're pointing out what should be obvious: that all opinions are not of equal value and trustworthiness. Genuine expert opinion may be a "best guess," but it truly is a better guess than most of us are qualified to make.

... and an MD in regenerative medicine and orthopedics is not really an expert compared to a consensus of MDs in epidemiology, infectious disease, virology, etc. So, sure, you can always find an "expert" to take a view you like. But is he/she really an expert? And even if he/she is, what do his claims weigh against people with considerable more and more relevant expertise?

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

<rant> I'm so tired of complaints about "the media." If you don't like what the media you're watching/reading/listening to are saying, stop watching/reading/listening to them. If you're getting all this second hand from others are watching/reading/listening to them, what's the point?  If you can't fix it, ignore it. Move on to other things. </end rant>

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

JNoël's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

Complex, not meaningless

The title of your post is interesting, but it didn't address my usage of the word "meaningless" in my original post, so I'm wondering if you were going to say something about my comments regarding why I believe all of the statistical analysis is meaningless. And, actually, I think all of the statistical analysis may be worse than meaningless - I think it actually can create more problems than anything. I know we can never stop the flow of that kind of data because people love to see the numbers, so I am in no way advocating the removal of the data. My point is that people need to understand that comparisons between countries and even states must be understood in such complex ways that the raw data is virtually useless.

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg (1720-1768)

TylerR's picture

Editor

The media has made us all armchair experts on things we know nothing about. I always smile when I read pundits criticize "the government," and stereotype bureaucrats as mindless drones who can't do anything. It's actually hard to do things. I know that isn't sexy, but there it is.

I trust the experts on the numbers and the facts of the virus, insofar as they can be known at this stage.

But, the response by State and Federal government is a political question; a leadership issue. The technicians do their thing and predict what they predict. Trust them. But, the politicians have to make the best decision based on other factors. The economy. Unemployment. Re-election.

I trust the experts. I am less certain about the wisdom of the responses we've received. WA State just extended it's "Stay at Home" order until 04 May. Is that the best decision? Gov. Inslee said it was a "moral imperative" that we extend the order, to save lives. I cannot help but sneer at him as I recall his unqualified support for Planned Parenthood and the murder of unborn children. He says U of WA predicts 1000 WA deaths. I am not convinced 1000 deaths is worth the cost of shutting the State down for a total of six weeks. However, I'm not certain whether our very comfy culture will stomach 1000 deaths. We are so very comfortable, so very spoiled, so very removed from the world the Biblical authors lived in.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

John E.'s picture

Thank you, Aaron.

Predictably, though, many of the President's followers (including Trump himself) are now in the "we've always been at war with Eurasia" phase.

JNoël's picture

TylerR wrote:

I am not convinced 1000 deaths is worth the cost of shutting the State down for a total of six weeks.

The only way a person can believe in this manner is if he is of the belief that the specific point in time of a man's death is a fixed point, immovable by anyone, that even God himself does not change. I know there are many who believe the Bible teaches this, and I myself am not settled on the matter. Every life has complete value, and it comes across as callous, as indifferent, to approach COVID-19 in a way that puts the economy above human life. Yet we all know that everyone will die at some point in time. Over 1,700 people die in America every day from heart disease. Heart disease is a risk factor with COVID-19. So some number >0 of yesterday's 1,700 heart disease deaths will now be categorized as COVID-19 deaths. Does that mean COVID-19 is more deadly than heart disease? Did God know over 1,700 people would die from heart disease yesterday? Does God know who will die of COVID-19 today? Were any of those dates/times of death "premature" - either due to life choices that increased the likelihood of having heart disease or other sins that impact health? These are not easy questions to answer.

I believe that as Christians, our responsibilities are neither to direct nor to criticize our government, but to pray for them: that God would do a work of salvation in them, and that he would give them wisdom. Is our government right or wrong if they decide to focus on the economy rather than the death toll? It really doesn't matter (unless you're an elected official). Our responsibility as Christians does not change. We have the same God in 2019 as we do today, and we can take comfort in knowing he is in control. And so we can rejoice with those who rejoice (thinking of those who recover from COVID-19 or who do not lose their jobs), and we can weep with those who weep (the opposites). But let's not fall into the trap of blaming Trump, Xi, or anyone else for what God has sovereignly allowed. And let's also not forget that lives really do matter more than the economy.

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg (1720-1768)

T Howard's picture

TylerR wrote:
I'm not certain whether our very comfy culture will stomach 1000 deaths. We are so very comfortable, so very spoiled, so very removed from the world the Biblical authors lived in.

We are definitely a "soft" culture, in more ways than one. As I've been reading through and about the ancient Greeks, I'm amazed at how much hardship they not only endured as a regular part of life but also sought out to make themselves a hardier people. They knew the dangers that came with being "too soft." Of course, daily decisions led to life-and-death outcomes, whereas today most people never have to face death in a meaningful way until they are old.

TylerR's picture

Editor

I agree with what you say, in broad terms. What I didn't articulate was that the side impacts of shutting the State down will likely cost more than 1000 lives, and ruin untold more. What about people who commit suicide because of the loneliness? What about the people whose small business is destroyed? What about people whose lives are so upended by this shutdown that they never recover? What about the people who die from complications from medical procedures they can't get?

All of life is a conscious decision of cost-benefit analysis. It is incredibly dangerous for me to drive my car (so many people die from it), but I make the conscious decision that it's a risk worth taking. So does the rest of America. At some point, our elected officials must make the same decision when it comes to COVID-19. When does the cost of a shutdown outweigh the risk? It can't be as simple as "every life matters." Because every day we make lots of decisions that have the potential to take a life, even unwittingly.

I am personally unconvinced of the necessity of a WA shutdown until 04 May. But, we are complying. I just sent an email out to the congregation saying we shall continue our combination of Zoom for normal meetings and YouTube for the abbreviated worship service, which we've truncated to just the sermon. It doesn't mean I have to like it, but I do have to obey it.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

JNoël's picture

TylerR wrote:

TylerR

And I actually agree with your broad terms, as well. But about your "what ifs" - the trouble is this: none of us knows the answers to those questions, but we all know and agree that life matters. So as individuals, I find it difficult to complain to my government about a decision to keep things shut down when that decision is being made from the perspective of valuing life over the economy. I completely agree that the what-ifs have a strong potential to cause more death than COVID-19, but we cannot know that, only God knows that, which is why the conversation of fixed-point death vs. non-fixed-point death becomes a factor. Just a thought - if we decided to return to normal, could the death toll be so bad that the economy is wrecked anyway? That's another "what if" that we cannot know, but it is not an unfair question.

Military leadership in combat make cost-benefit analyses constantly, even knowingly sending someone to his death to protect the unit or the mission. Then there's the Truman-bomb issue, as well. And so I pray that our leaders make wise decisions, and I obey the government until they command me to disobey scripture. I am not of those who currently say that proclaiming the Word over the internet isn't church ("therefore we aren't doing it!!!"), and so we continue to find ways to be under the Word and even to fellowship virtually. We pray for those who are ill and try to help those who are now unemployed. In all of this, I am learning that it is during these challenging times that there is the greatest opportunity for the Gospel to shine. This dynamic is particularly tricky since we must minimize exposure to other humans, but we can still find ways to be vessels for God's use.

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg (1720-1768)

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

JNoël wrote:

 

Aaron Blumer wrote:

 

Complex, not meaningless

 

 

The title of your post is interesting, but it didn't address my usage of the word "meaningless" in my original post, so I'm wondering if you were going to say something about my comments regarding why I believe all of the statistical analysis is meaningless. And, actually, I think all of the statistical analysis may be worse than meaningless - I think it actually can create more problems than anything. I know we can never stop the flow of that kind of data because people love to see the numbers, so I am in no way advocating the removal of the data. My point is that people need to understand that comparisons between countries and even states must be understood in such complex ways that the raw data is virtually useless. 

Yes, got sidetracked. I was going to go into that. The data is difficult to interpret. I guess if we're going to be precise, data is always meaningless. It falls on humans to analyze, relate to other data, and interpret. Some data is definitely of higher quality than other data, depending on the conditions under which it was collected.

But anyway, I think I understand now that your point was that these numbers don't tell most of us anything useful. I do think that the experts in their fields who are doing the educating guessing can make good use of them. They are "just guessing" about what's going to happen, but I don't think that's a criticism. There are times when we all have to do that, and when it comes to epidemics, they're the right people to do the guessing as best they can.... and it's, in some cases, really rigorous guessing.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

TylerR wrote:

The media has made us all armchair experts on things we know nothing about. I always smile when I read pundits criticize "the government," and stereotype bureaucrats as mindless drones who can't do anything. It's actually hard to do things. I know that isn't sexy, but there it is.

I trust the experts on the numbers and the facts of the virus, insofar as they can be known at this stage.

But, the response by State and Federal government is a political question; a leadership issue. The technicians do their thing and predict what they predict. Trust them. But, the politicians have to make the best decision based on other factors. The economy. Unemployment. Re-election.

I trust the experts. I am less certain about the wisdom of the responses we've received. WA State just extended it's "Stay at Home" order until 04 May. Is that the best decision? Gov. Inslee said it was a "moral imperative" that we extend the order, to save lives. I cannot help but sneer at him as I recall his unqualified support for Planned Parenthood and the murder of unborn children. He says U of WA predicts 1000 WA deaths. I am not convinced 1000 deaths is worth the cost of shutting the State down for a total of six weeks. However, I'm not certain whether our very comfy culture will stomach 1000 deaths. We are so very comfortable, so very spoiled, so very removed from the world the Biblical authors lived in. 

Well, part of what the experts are saying is that the governing officials ought to do certain things. The whole flattening the curve thing didn't come from the government, in the sense of elected officials. So I see a difference here between what politicians normally do and what they ought to do. One difference between a mere politician and a politician who is also a statesman, is that he/she will, when the stakes are high choose to do what seems to be best for the people--even if the people don't think so (and are likely to significantly shorten the tenure of the leader). It's like parenting, where the kids get to fire their parents if they don't like their decisions.

Of course, that's the ideal. We have seen not just nationally but at state and local levels that sometimes the voters are the parents who, for some reason, put the kids in office.

Humans are strange. (Or maybe it's really kids putting kids in office... there not being enough adults to prevent it.)

Strong point on the softness of our times ... We would not attach so much importance to the # of deaths in past ages. But here's where I see the situation a bit differently, I think: because we can protect life better, and routinely do (as evidenced by lower levels of mortality by both natural and criminal causes), there is an "oughtness" that goes with that. So I think it's not necessarily that we're all whimpier than we used to be--though there's truth in that--but that we are society that tolerates much less harm routinely, and so a higher standard is appropriate.

Plus... I really am convinced that if we didn't flatten the curve, the surge in sick people would more severely overwhelm the medical system, and that would result in many more deaths of causes that aren't normally fatal. Keep in mind that all the usual things that send people to hospitals (except traffic accidents and workplace injuries, which have to be lower than normal right now) are still happening. So if COVID fills up hospital A, and Mitch next door gets a acute apendicitus, he's going to die if there's nowhere he can get care.

This could have happened, still could happen, on a large scale.

What the medical experts might not be doing, though is looking at how crushing an economy badly enough for long enough will also affect public health. The relationship may be complex and hard to trace, but it's definitely something to think about, and I'm wondering if epidemiologists normally have that on their radar. Maybe they do. I have to claim ignorance on that one. I do know that epidemiology normally kind of dances with both medical science and social science.... so it certainly should be something they take seriously.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

TylerR's picture

Editor

I agree with the concept of "flattening the curve." My question is whether we're trying to flatten it too much, beyond what is prudent.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Don Johnson's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

What the medical experts might not be doing, though is looking at how crushing an economy badly enough for long enough will also affect public health. The relationship may be complex and hard to trace, but it's definitely something to think about, and I'm wondering if epidemiologists normally have that on their radar. Maybe they do. I have to claim ignorance on that one. I do know that epidemiology normally kind of dances with both medical science and social science.... so it certainly should be something they take seriously.

The whole concept of modeling bothers me. Yes, these people are supposed to be experts in their field, but when they use the term "models" that reminds me of "climate change models" and the "models" that dogmatically proclaim evolution as gospel. The majority of the experts in those fields speak with one voice. Most of us here would disagree with many if not most of the experts on climate change or evolution.

I ran across an article that contained this quote:

We’ve been through alarmist projections of viral mortality before, and I don’t mean just Sars or Mers, but HIV. Researching Game Control in 1990, I tracked down all seven studies then available that modeled the impact of Aids on population growth in Africa, where the epidemic was exploding. Four (all authored by epidemiologists) predicted that HIV would devastate African populations, whose growth would plunge to the negative. Three (authored by demographers) predicted that HIV would have a negligible effect on the continent’s population, which would continue to soar. Thirty years later, guess who was right

Link: The longer lockdown continues, the more imperiled we become

I agree that the virus is a serious problem, public policy needs to address it. However, if public policy destroys the economy and ushers in some kind of totalitarianism, we won't be too happy. Last week in Canada, the government (a minority government) tried to tie a spending bill for relief for workers and businesses to authority for the Cabinet (ie, the Prime Minister) to raise and lower taxes and have no limit on spending for the next TWO YEARS, without having to go to parliament for approval. That would remove what little checks and balances we have here (which are no way as robust as yours).

The attempt at total control by our Prime Minister thankfully got shot down. For now.

But we know how he thinks, the totalitarian instinct is obviously there.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Larry's picture

Moderator

Aaron, I think you are absolutely right about zealots but can we press in on the reasoning here in the larger picture. You previously argued that the effects of a Trump presidency were so disastrous that you could see no way for a Christian to support him. There was a line at which the cost was too great.

In this case, is there a line in which the cost is too great for you to bear?

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

 that the effects of a Trump presidency were so disastrous that you could see no way for a Christian to support him.

I don't think a Trump vote is a clear win in the outcome analysis department, but this is not primarily what I have argued. The most important part of my view on this is that, independent of the question of outcomes, it isn't right to vote for a man who lacks the character for the office. The question of character is prior to the question of outcomes... and makes it moot in this case. I was going to repeat a lot of stuff I've already said on that, but... I've already said it many times. I don't (yet) have any new ways to say it, and I'm weary of watching myself type it. Smile

As for the outcomes/cost of flattening the curve, it's not at all up to me to determine that. I don't have the expertise, and I don't yet have any reason to think the expert consensus on that is incorrect. The consensus view that the cost of ending the "flattening the curve" strategy now would be greater than the cost of continuing it seems like the best guess. That's how it looks to me, for what it's worth (not really very much).

My thesis here isn't really that these guys are right... it's that these guys are the best minds we have on these matters and they're most likely to be right (vs. the ideological zealots who are extremely likely to be wrong).

About modeling

It's easy to not see the use of modeling if you're a layman. I'm also not a scientist or a mathematician, but I've read enough to know that modeling is SOP in all sorts of statistical analysis, engineering, and so many many fields of study. Sometimes models fail. Sometimes they work but are misused. Sometimes they work but are fed bad numbers. This SEP entry is a pretty good read on modeling in general as a methodology... or just as a tool.

One more thing about modeling and COVID ... in this case, the models are, best I can tell, statistical projections. So they're structured and rigorous ways to guess about the future. The alternative would be to randomly guess instead. We have no choice but to do some guessing on this. I'm for the modeling as a way to guess in a disciplined way.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

JNoël's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

My thesis here isn't really that these guys are right... it's that these guys are the best minds we have on these matters and they're most likely to be right (vs. the ideological zealots who are extremely likely to be wrong).

My question is this: does it even matter? God is sovereign, and God works in the minds of kings to accomplish his plan for the ages. I'm not promoting fatalism, I'm saying that we should take comfort and continue to be vessels for his use. Pray for whoever is in authority - mostly for their salvation, but also for wisdom. But pray that God is glorified in all of this. Pray for those in Christ, all of us, to willingly submit to God and increase in our dependence on him. It really doesn't matter whether these guys are right or wrong, statesmen or scoundrels - God will have his way. We really are just along for the ride; the manner in which we conduct ourselves on the ride will play out at our judgment.

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg (1720-1768)

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

JNoël, I mostly agree.

I want to nuance it though. The fact that God is in control and we clearly are not doesn't change the fact that we're to love Him with heart, soul, mind, and strength. This means, among so many other things, that what what we believe about things matters. We are supposed to be lovers of truth and wisdom as a way to love Him and express His nature ("glorify Him") as His image bearers. So, on the matter of COVID and the response to it, it matters not only what we think but how we do our thinking... and sometimes there can even be practical outcomes in how we physically behave, what our attitudes are, and how we influence others' attitudes and behavior.

So... I have to say that though God is sovereign, and we have very little influence over what our leaders decide to do, it matters very much how we think about it all.

Sovereignty is often confusing... the reality of God's control never means that humans aren't making genuine choices for which they're responsible, or that we can't influence those choices.

It does mean that whatever happens will not be meaningless or wasted in the long run.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

JNoël's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

So... I have to say that though God is sovereign, and we have very little influence over what our leaders decide to do, it matters very much how we think about it all.

This is a very important observation and I thank you for bringing it up, as it certainly must be figured into our thinking during this time, especially.

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg (1720-1768)

Don Johnson's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

About modeling

It's easy to not see the use of modeling if you're a layman. I'm also not a scientist or a mathematician, but I've read enough to know that modeling is SOP in all sorts of statistical analysis, engineering, and so many many fields of study. Sometimes models fail. Sometimes they work but are misused. Sometimes they work but are fed bad numbers. This SEP entry is a pretty good read on modeling in general as a methodology... or just as a tool.

One more thing about modeling and COVID ... in this case, the models are, best I can tell, statistical projections. So they're structured and rigorous ways to guess about the future. The alternative would be to randomly guess instead. We have no choice but to do some guessing on this. I'm for the modeling as a way to guess in a disciplined way.

Really, Aaron? Did you see this quote? It's going around in a lot of publications, this one is from Newsweek:

"I've looked at all the models. I've spent a lot of time on the models. They don't tell you anything. You can't really rely upon models." Dr. Anthony Fauci said during a coronavirus task force meeting this week, according to the paper, citing two officials with direct knowledge of the meeting.

Here is the link

It is hard to take the "modeling" talk seriously when

  1. The models are all over the map and widely divergent
  2. Even the so-called experts say they can't get anything out of models

We are just going on guesses, not hard science.

But we know we are committing economic suicide. We don't need any models to tell us that.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

pvawter's picture

This is an interesting perspective coming out of the UK, but since the models used by virtually all government officials are those produced by the Imperial team, it's worth considering. 

http://hectordrummond.com/2020/03/30/soap-opera-science/

The fact is, we're all dependent on "experts" to one degree or another, but even the experts can be really off for any number of reasons. Sometimes, it's just politics. 

http://thefederalist.com/2020/03/25/inaccurate-virus-models-are-panicking-officials-into-ill-advised-lockdowns/

 

JD Miller's picture

Aaron, I really liked your headline, but my fist thought once I saw who the author was went something like this, "I wonder if Aaron will be able to set aside his disdain for Trump and not attack the right in this article?"  I do not mean to be critical.  I would have similar challenges as to not attack the left if I were to write an article with the same title.  The point I am making is that it is easier said than done to set aside politics and to not look at things through a biased lens.  I have noticed that some who have a disdain for Trump are upset when the media on the left is held accountable and others who almost worship Trump are upset when the media on the right are held accountable.  No doubt we need to be objective when looking at all media sources.  I would hope there is someone who could write an article without political bias, but I am not so sure anymore.  My thoughts are that most of us who comment on these political threads already have our biases and those who do not follow politics would not be informed enough to cover the subject adequately. 

I am glad that our KING is just and will be able to rule without partiality.  Let us rejoice that He humbly rode into the capital city and gave His life for us.  Let us also rejoice that His word is true and can be trusted.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Don Johnson wrote:

 

Aaron Blumer wrote:

 

About modeling

It's easy to not see the use of modeling if you're a layman. I'm also not a scientist or a mathematician, but I've read enough to know that modeling is SOP in all sorts of statistical analysis, engineering, and so many many fields of study. Sometimes models fail. Sometimes they work but are misused. Sometimes they work but are fed bad numbers. This SEP entry is a pretty good read on modeling in general as a methodology... or just as a tool.

One more thing about modeling and COVID ... in this case, the models are, best I can tell, statistical projections. So they're structured and rigorous ways to guess about the future. The alternative would be to randomly guess instead. We have no choice but to do some guessing on this. I'm for the modeling as a way to guess in a disciplined way.

 

 

Really, Aaron? Did you see this quote? It's going around in a lot of publications, this one is from Newsweek:

"I've looked at all the models. I've spent a lot of time on the models. They don't tell you anything. You can't really rely upon models." Dr. Anthony Fauci said during a coronavirus task force meeting this week, according to the paper, citing two officials with direct knowledge of the meeting.

Here is the link

It is hard to take the "modeling" talk seriously when

  1. The models are all over the map and widely divergent
  2. Even the so-called experts say they can't get anything out of models

We are just going on guesses, not hard science.

But we know we are committing economic suicide. We don't need any models to tell us that.

I'm not going to put a lot of stock in what an unnamed source says Fauci said.

But even when models are all over the place, there will usually be overlap... things they agree on. The flattening the curve strategy is not dependent on the models anyway. That part isn't hard to figure out. What we're looking for models for is to try to project how soon wave 1 will be over, whether measures in place are working well enough, where numbers are sick are going to exceed hospital capacity and where they're not, etc.

You have to put it all in context, and the Fauci quote, if it even happened, needs some context as well. He has not been talking that way in general.

But let's suppose the people who have devoted their lives to understanding pandemics are looking at the models and saying they're all useless: that must mean they're all going with their best guess without the models, because strategy-wise there is a strong consensus. So... who's best guess are you going to go with, theirs or some political pundit talking head?

I'm not betting on the pundits.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Aaron, I really liked your headline, but my fist thought once I saw who the author was went something like this, "I wonder if Aaron will be able to set aside his disdain for Trump and not attack the right in this article?"  I do not mean to be critical.  I would have similar challenges as to not attack the left if I were to write an article with the same title. 

I didn't attack anyone at all, right or left.

I pointed out facts. Ideological zealots are devoted to their parties, their agendas, their chosen leaders, their conspiracy theories. Professionals are devoted to their professions. The zealots may have a bit of professionalism going for them and the professionals may have a bit of political bias going for/against them, but which of the two is to be relied upon is genuinely obvious.

Nobody (sane) who needs heart surgery looks at available personnel to do the job and reasons "Well, I wonder if I should go with an accredited surgeon or with this conservative who says all that heart surgery fussiness is just a bunch left wing hype, and all you really need is a mirror, a needle and thread, and a sharp knife."

I mean, a lot of things are obvious to me, but am I wrong about this? I can't see how. But I'm open to a reasoned argument against expertise if someone can make one.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

JNoël's picture

What's interesting about models is 95% of experts can be in agreement, and God can (and often does) order things to either fit the 5% unlikely model or to not fit any of them at all. Just look at HIV in Africa. Most late 20th century experts agreed that HIV would run rampant in Africa and cause utter chaos. Well, that never really happened, at least not nearly on the level virtually every expert predicted.

. . . 

Aaron Blumer wrote:

But let's suppose the people who have devoted their lives to understanding pandemics are looking at the models and saying they're all useless: that must mean they're all going with their best guess without the models, because strategy-wise there is a strong consensus.

I assume everyone saw the headlines over the weekend about the Trump administration ending the USAID PREDICT program only a couple of months before Wuhan happened? Before this past weekend, most Americans have probably never even heard of this ($200 million USD) program. That program was dedicated to the study of predicting pandemics and was staffed by many experts. Regardless the fact that it was shut down, one would think there were enough of those experts still alive with enough information in their possession to see Wuhan and immediately dust off their 2 month old practices and alert the world. This one should have been easy, were it not for China's communist, information-suppressing ways.

It would be nice to believe that politics does not get in the way of science, but China's most certainly got in the way of this.

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg (1720-1768)

JNoël's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

But I'm open to a reasoned argument against expertise if someone can make one.

Medically speaking, yes - I'll take those experts over politicians/elected officials any day.

---

This isn't an argument, just an observation and opinion.

Economically speaking, I cannot think of a better person to be at the helm than Trump. He has three years of nothing but off-the-charts winning to back up his claims that he can handle the economy better than virtually any veteran politician.

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg (1720-1768)

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

It would be nice to believe that politics does not get in the way of science, but China's most certainly got in the way of this.

China is a clear example of the fact that not all "politics" is the same. If anyone is saying that an oppressive regime can't interfere with science, it certainly isn't me.

As for Trump on the economy, economics is complex and the current situation illustrates how other, huge fields of knowledge intersect with it. There are so many ways to kill an economy, everybody being sick is one. Everybody staying home to avoid being sick is another. If the former results in a whole lot more death, it makes sense to choose the latter. Where Trump has shown a problematic pattern is, among other things, an inability/unwillingness to discover what he really doesn't know and ought to accept from others. The whole situation illustrates dramatically why character in leaders must come before party success. In a crisis, a leader has to have enough humility to listen to those who know better than he does on the matters most closely connected to the crisis. Trump eventually did that (at least for now), but the delay was costly. 

Given the antiintellectualism and populism that now dominates on the right and how that conjoins with his lack of character, I wouldn't be surprised at all if he flipped back on all that any day now.

As for the "Aaron just hates Trump and this renders all his reasoning invalid" response I hear so often, I think those taking that tack aren't listening to my reasoning at all, and won't listen to this either, but maybe it helps someone else: I don't blame Trump for what has happened to conservatism. I blame what happened to conservatism for Trump. As for him, personally, he clearly is what he is. It makes no difference at all how I feel about him... and I don't attach any value to that.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

JNoël's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

In a crisis, a leader has to have enough humility to listen to those who know better than he does on the matters most closely connected to the crisis. Trump eventually did that (at least for now), but the delay was costly. 

Yes - Trump delayed.

Don't forget about what the Democrats were doing in late January and February, too, though. In other words, there's much blame to pass around regarding the US's response timing.

And even Fauci himself, on January 21st, said "this is not a major threat for the people in the United States and this is not something that the citizens of the United States should be worrying about."

https://youtu.be/kD-xBdMKiSQ

 

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg (1720-1768)

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