A coronavirus prediction you can bank on

How many cases will there be on June 1? Beats me. But there’s one thing I’m sure of.

My confidence bounds on future behavior of the epidemic are still pretty wide. While there’s good reason to be optimistic about a lot of locations, there are also big uncertainties looming. No matter how things shake out, I’m confident in this:

The antiscience crowd will be out in force. They’ll cherry-pick the early model projections of an uncontrolled epidemic, and use that to claim that modelers predicted a catastrophe that didn’t happen, and conclude that there was never a problem. This is the Cassandra’s curse of all successful modeling interventions. (See Nobody Ever Gets Credit for Fixing Problems that Never Happened for a similar situation.)

But it won’t stop there. A lot of people don’t really care what the modelers actually said. They’ll just make stuff up. Just today I saw a comment at the Bozeman Chronicle to the effect of, “if this was as bad as they said, we’d all be dead.” Of course that was never in the cards, or the models, but that doesn’t matter in Dunning Krugerland.

Modelers, be prepared for a lot more of this. I think we need to be thinking more about defensive measures, like forecast archiving and presentation of results only with confidence bounds attached. However, it’s hard to do that and to produce model results at a pace that keeps up with the evolution of the epidemic. That’s something we need more infrastructure for.

3 thoughts on “A coronavirus prediction you can bank on”

  1. I think it is unfortunate that two of the models most visible to the public have been those the IHME and CovidActNow. I have continued to look at the IHME model to see how they try to deal with the day to day numbers, it’s entertaining at least. CovidActNow changed something in their model shortly after I asked you about them and it drastically changed the outlook. There continue to be too many unknowns with this virus. Hopefully, we will learn and your models will help in future pandemics. Because it will happen again.

  2. Tom,

    So true nonetheless the other problem is only a few people understand confidence bounds. Reality is modelling has been at the forefront of shaping the decisions around different non-pharmaceutical interventions to confine its’ spread worldwide. This is the conclusion of a recent study from Institute of Epidemiology and Healthcare, UCL, London, UK. [https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12889-020-08671-z]

    Modelling will continue to grow and organizations in the lead of modelling such Ventana System I think should prepare to offer the demand for training in the near future as organizations and employers will focus on modelling as a result of COVID.

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