Saturday, November 20, 2021

Statistical Truth Vs Real Truth

I have covid, which already seems to be receding. My immediate temptation is to attribute this to having been vaccinated in Feb-March. Of course I have a mild case. That's what happens when you are vaccinated.  Ain't I smart? 

That narrative could in fact be true. It is the most likely true narrative. Yet it is also the narrative that I want to be true, the self-serving one. That doesn't really prove the case though, does it? If I had not been vaccinated, I might have gotten covid at a different time, maybe more severe, maybe less severe. Or the diminution of symptoms from getting vaccinated then might be so minimal as to be worth no more than a shrug. Or I might have done the hokey-pokey in a different order this month and gotten no virus at all. I blame Jane Russell.  Frankly, if one changes any tiny thing, there is no telling what happens.  Asimov wrote "The Ends of Eternity" in the 50s, but Ray Bradbury and others have also had a go at it. 

Even knowing this, it is hard to fight against it.  "But mine is the most likely scenario," I whine. Maybe so, but that's not enough.  It only matters over a thousand repetitions, and even then, it might be only an emerging outline.

Grim mentioned that there are times when a single counter-example can be meaningful against an absolute claim.  I would go even a step further, and note that for highly declarative claims, even a few counter-examples can raise a red flag. "Marines who enlist after age 20 are almost always..." or "Episcopalians secretly don't like black people, whatever they say..." or  "Southerners refuse to answer the question of..." It is not impossible that the person making the claim might have really solid numbers backing that up.  Yet if I know four people in that category, and none of them fit that description, then I don't mind raising an objection.  I might turn out to be wrong, but against a nearly-absolutist claim, I'll take the risk.

Yet we know, from my N=1 post and just having to listen to jibroneys who somehow get paid to assert stupid stuff that people want to hear, that people will keep saying this anyway. You say that fourth-graders don't care much about masks, but my Dylan hates them, or My son-in-law eats nothing but vegan and you never saw anyone in better shape. 

 I have no solution. Just let us not do it, even when a possible PR victory is within our grasp.


HMS Defiant said...

And I too got the COVID at age 60 just last week. I gotta tell you. It was brutal. I had a sore throat for a day and was very tired for 3 days and mostly stayed in bed because tired.

Yep. One super killer totally dangerous uber killer of a disease.

I think that is about how 95% of the cases work out for the 'disease'.

It makes me laugh now at how the stupidest people alive today drove the world to madness over a killer disease that is basically harmless.

If there was a way to stake them all down on ant hills and leave them for a couple of months, you know, just to be sure, I'd do it to them all. Those useless stupid panicked motherfuckers wrecked the world for a joke.

Seriously, death is too good for them. They deserve long torture and impalement on a short stake.

james said...

There are so many examples of differences of distributions: Men are taller than women on the average (unless height is now a social construct?), but some men are shorter than some women.
VAX vs unVAX disease rates
VAX vs unVAX disease progression

Christopher B said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Christopher B said...

I have no solution. Just let us not do it, even when a possible PR victory is within our grasp.

I'm a bit confused about the antecede to 'it', and that makes me confused about 'no solution'.

Are you saying we should let absolutist statements like no black man could be acquitted on grounds of self-defense like Kyle Rittenhouse stand if we can't cite double-blind peer-reviewed internationally-published research on the proportions of blacks and whites who are acquitted by self-defense, but instead are able to point to court cases that show black men have been?

I guess if you mean that seriously then the solution would seem to be two words - 'Prove it'. Demand they show the evidence that backs up their declaration. What evidence do they have that blacks are unsuccessful in self-defense claims, fourth-graders don't care about wearing masks, or that all vegan diets are unhealthy?

I'm will to bet that the majority of people making those statements are pulling them out of their nethers with even less factual support than personal knowledge of a possible counter-example.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

The "it" is the bad N=1 reasoning or its relative "a few guys I know." You are correct that the solution is in fact simple, though perhaps not easy. Challenge bad reasoning and don't let it stand. I said there is no solution because most of us have been doing just that for decades, with not much apparent effect. There is no solution to "the world being this way" perhaps. I don't think better education will make much difference, if any. I don't think engaging in public debate sways minds for logical reasons, as we might hope. We might wonder that if we had not been doing these things, would it all be worse?

We try to be reasonable because it is the right thing to do. The outcome is God's.

Grim said...

There is a parallel to other ways our minds work. For example, we think of space as Euclidean even though we have very strong scientific reasons not to believe it is. This habit seems rational and it’s truth obvious, so much so that Kant declared it to be a truth knowable by reason. In fact, it’s an imposition of our minds upon reality that we can only set aside temporarily and with difficulty.

james said...

It is quite reasonable to think in Euclidean terms: space is locally Euclidean. The only problems come when you try to expand to larger scales. For example, a rectangular grid of roads is fine in a small town, but you have problems when you try to plat out a state with a rectangular grid.

Even on small scales, if the terrain is irregular enough, we have no problem with understanding that the shortest distance between two points may involve going around hills instead of over them, or following the curve of the river.

In fact, on those city streets, the shortest distance between two points isn't a Euclidean straight line, but more like a stair-step pattern. (The taxicab metric)

Sam L. said...

I had the shots in Jan and Feb, and the booster last month. No side effects, nor front of back effects. OK, maybe I'm a little silly...

Assistant Village Idiot said...

@ HGMS Defiant - I followed Instapundit until quite recently, but increasingly disliked his telling only one side of every story.

Deaths increased 16% in 2020 and are following the same trend this year. We are closing in on a million excess deaths. I'm curious what you think would be a serious epidemic, if this one isn't. You fall into the N=1 statistical trap I just posted on. Your personal story might be interesting to people who know you, but is irrelevant in evaluating claims over a population of 330M. There is a statistical trap that people fall into, or can get bamboozled by. When something happens infrequently, we think of it as "never" happening, essentially. Our brain just reads "zero." Every mile you drive has extremely low danger. Almost zero, really. But in aggregate, it becomes one of the most common causes of death and injury in the country. In fact, even tailgating isn't all that dangerous on a per-mile basis, and there are yahoos who do it all their lives and take no damage. Yet it is dangerous, and we all know that.

I consume no mainstream media. None. I'm not the one being the sheep here. You think because you moved to a different flock that you are an independent thinker. All the other sheep in your new flock assure that this is true. And they should know, right? No amount of explaining statistics to you is going to change your mind. Only the personal humility of admitting you might be wrong will have any effect. My money would be against that, having worked with people with fixed beliefs for decades.

Anamaria said...

Let me tell a story. About 10 years ago, I lived in a homeless shelter. Yes, I was homeless. A flue bug hit the shelter and everybody, including staff, got it.

I was sick for 2 weeks straight but had no complications. A staff member got sick enough to be in the hospital and a fellow homeless person died. Was that flue a bad one?

If I considered only myself, it wasn't bad. But I knew a person who died and another who ended up in the hospital. And I didn't know many people. How many died or were hospitalized that I didn't know?

Second story. Most people who have seizures don't die. The risk of dying is low but not zero. A person staying at the homeless shelter had a seizure late at night. She didn't go to the hospital. She was found dead the next morning. The risk was low but it did happen.

Check all the data. Low risk is not zero risk.

HMS Defiant said...

This would be the truth from a Navy Captain, for what it is worth.

Like 99.8% of the population who got the disease, I survived. It didn't even hurt.
Some go to hospital, some people are hypochondriacs and Oh God! Haven't we given you and arc or two of people lost and then there are the ones who have co morbidities.

this scam is right up there with the south sea bubble and the subprime mortage scam. Only the truly stupid fell for it but oh, God, we have an awful lot of stupid people.

Your derision of instapundit? You prove yourself to be a stupid ignorant twit who is party to the ones who think Kyle Rittenhouse is guilty of something.

Instapundit is a guide to some real truths.

TELL ME NOW what link you think poisoned that well of truth.

Go on. This is your place. Here I am. My blog is an open source of my thoughts but instapundit is a view into the real world. I'm REALLY CURIOUS TO SEE YOU REFUTE THIS.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

@ HMS Defiant - I already have refuted it. You have not answered, merely repeating yourself and calling me stupid. If you won't answer my first pass objections, why should I give you my more detailed ones?

@ Anamaria - very well put. I would add what was recently pointed out to me, that a symptom like lightheadedness can come from both the disease and the vaccine. Much more common from the disease and also worse, but it's a legit side effect of all vaccines. Usually that is no big deal. You sit still, maybe put your head between your legs, maybe even have to go to the floor when it gets bad. Then it's over. But what if you are driving? When you go over the embankment, do we say you died of covid? That seems a stretch, but there's some justification for it. Or would we say you died of the vaccine? You wouldn't have gone over that embankment if you hadn't gotten it. A big deal was made repeatedly months ago about a motorcycle fatality attributed to covid. (It was debated internally and he was eventually removed from the covid count, but he was the driver, and it wasn't entirely indefensible. Widely ridiculed, but not indefensible.) Please note that incidents like this are recorded in the VAERS database, which are being taken in aggregate to suggest high rates of vaccine death. And I know at least one instance where some people are attributing a vaccine death in just this way.

Tom Bridgeland said...

@ HMS Defiant. The vast majority of covid cases are mild and cause no lasting problems. But that is not the same as saying severe cases are rare. My job as a nurse puts me face to face with the many severe cases, and many of my patients have died. Even for the survivors the treatment process resembles torture. Some patients can't tolerate the treatment and choose to die instead. From my perspective, you comments are simply silly.

That you were fortunate in having a mild case is meaningless to anyone but you and your family. Most car accidents are mild too. Many heart attacks are mild. By that way of thinking we should simply ignore them both.

Tom Bridgeland said...

@ AVI and HMS Defiant. I am very happy to hear that both your cases appear to be quite mild and hope that this continues to be the case. Beware though, because we often get patients in after about 10 days of symptoms starting. It's the relapse that kills, not the original infection. If you are completely symptom-free you are probably fine. If symptoms continue to drag on, take care of yourselves.
God bless, brothers.

ruralcounsel said...

Several countries are reporting that the vaccinated are coming down with covid in higher proportion than the unvaccinated.
Just more unwelcome facts to ignore for those who have convinced themselves otherwise.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

@ rural counsel. If the population is 70% vaccinated and 30% un, and the vaccinated average 20 years older than the uns, what would you expect the numbers to be? You make mention of "unwelcome facts." You have shown no evidence that you have taken any qualifiers into consideration.

My contention is that at least some of those who are very much in favor of vaccinations are looking very hard at what they might be missing, even though many pro-vaxxers have not, and those many make the news on sites familiar to all of us here. Yet can you find those, including you yourself, who are on the skeptic side who can show evidence you have looked at the possibility "Gee, maybe it's me who is not looking at unwelcome facts?" I am not interested in The New Fact that anyone is offering on any side. I am interested in listening to people who show evidence they have heard counter-evidence, understood it, and have a reason why it may not apply and their own perspective has better explanatory power.

It's okay to take your time. In fact, it's encouraged. There is a new fun concept that contrasts arguing with strawmen to "steelmanning" your argument, anticipating possible objections and trying to head them off, discourage following those lines for good reason, or depth-charging it early so that it gets no air, ever. I have rapidly become very fond of it. I have been wrong enough times in my life and been humiliated for it that I am (mostly) immune. I don't need to be right. I need the right answer. I am frustrated but not irritated and certainly not angry or dismissive, by the way. I need people to up their game, because if i can't get that from this group, I don't know where the hell I am going to find it.

Tom Bridgeland said...

AVI, We are still seeing primarily unvaccinated patients with the severe cases, and the occasional elderly or immunocompromised (cancer) vaccinated patients. My experience is that obese diabetics, and the obese generally do poorly once hospitalized.

But I do question what is actually going on. Given the number of vaccinated, and the number of confirmed cases, the pool of vulnerable people should be very tiny. I question where the current wave's victims is coming from.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I think David Foster touched on it. I don't think vaccination affects contagion, especially contagion WRT variants half as much as we hoped. It affect the severity of disease a fair bit, and contagion only partially. Part of why the original C19 disappeared so quickly may not just be that Delta has superseded it, but that the vaccine works on that way better than on Delta. Is the original over 90% gone now? Talk about good news that no longer matters.