“A very bad recipe”

Prof. John Ioannidis of Stanford says the early estimates of the coronavirus’s deadlines were greatly exaggerated. It would be good news if demonstrably true, which it neither is nor can be, as the professor admits:

“I love models… I do a lot of mathematical modeling myself. But I think we need to recognize that they’re very, very low in terms of how much weight we can place on them and how much we can trust them… They can give you a very first kind of mathematical justification to a gut feeling, but beyond that point, depending on models for evidence, I think it’s a very bad recipe.”

Fair enough. No contest. Now let’s apply this to results obtained by Ioannidis and his team at Stanford. They have published “a study on the prevalence of coronavirus antibodies in Santa Clara County.”

Based on blood tests of 3,300 volunteers… they estimated that between 2.49% and 4.16% of the county population had been infected. That… implied a fatality rate between 0.12% and 0.2%, consistent with that of the Diamond Princess.

As I’ve just said, good news if true. Let’s see if the results are water-tight up to a reasonable depth:

Some statisticians questioned its methods. Critics noted the study sample was not randomly selected, and white women under 64 were disproportionately represented… [T]he study acknowledges that “other biases, such as bias favoring individuals in good health capable of attending our testing sites, or bias favoring those with prior Covid-like illnesses seeking antibody confirmation are also possible. The overall effect of such biases is hard to ascertain.”

“Hard to ascertain,” exactly. “Very low in terms of how much… we can trust them,” in Ioannidis’s own words. One critic even claims the Stanford team’s results were mostly due to false positives:

It’s perfectly plausible (in the 95% C[onfidence] I[nterval] sense) that the shocking prevalence rates published in the study are mostly, or even entirely, due to false positives.

There’s also the nagging question of how high the fatality rate would have been if the hospitals had been overwhelmed in a zero-containment scenario.

To his credit, Ioannidis doesn’t try and sweep all those doubts and criticisms under the carpet. Instead, he admits his conclusions are vulnerable and exhorts the audience to trust his gut:

Dr. Ioannidis admits his study isn’t “bulletproof” and says he welcomes scrutiny. But he’s confident the findings will hold up…

One is left to conclude that in matter of life and death the public should only trust the most self-confident oracles. Maybe test for intestinal flora to see whose gut feeling is the purest.

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