Follow the Damned Numbers

Just because people feel strongly and voice those feelings persistently at high volume doesn’t mean that they’re right. It usually does mean than they’re feeling angry and frustrated. Sometimes, those frustrations are justifiable, as in the case of people who’ve been denied equal rights and fair treatment under law for generations.

And sometimes, they’re anything but justified. Like many Americans, I’m more than a little tired of those who shout and scream that the last election was stolen. It wasn’t. They lost fair and square, as shown by the numbers, counted in more states by Republicans than by Democrats, but the people who stormed the Capital on January 6th, as well as many others, continue to refuse to believe that. But such individuals equate their “cause” with those of civil rights protestors and black and other activists.

The difference between the two “groups” is simple. The civil rights and most other activists have the law and the facts on their side. They also had the numbers of the election results. The “Trump-related activists” just have anger that they didn’t win an election that Trump then tried to steal. They’re also angry that the other guys might have gotten a little more power. So they shout and scream louder.

The same is true of the conflict arising over vaccinations. I’ve read and heard a great deal from both sides, but the plain fact is that vaccinations work on an individual level, and the Covid vaccinations have a higher level of effectiveness than any flu vaccine, as well as many others.

All the arguments against the vaccinations are, from what I can tell, based on the literature, flawed or theoretical. The facts are simple. Over 93% [roughly] of the hospitalizations and deaths are among the unvaccinated. So the vaccines don’t last forever. Many don’t. So they don’t stop the spread. Of course, they don’t, not when anywhere from thirty to fifty percent [or more] of the population, depending on the state and locale, aren’t vaccinated.

Yet far too many Americans, including many considered intelligent, ignore the basic numbers in so many areas and argue, vociferously, on the basis of feelings not grounded in hard fact or grounded in hard facts that are largely irrelevant.

Millionaires argue for lower taxes, saying that all that excess wealth creates jobs, and it does, but far too many of those jobs pay so little that those who hold them live below the poverty line, and with each reduction in tax rates for the wealthy income inequality and the federal deficit and debt increase.

The numbers show that negative media and Facebook presentations gain more supporters than balanced or positive ones, which is one case where following the numbers “works,” at least for those owning those media outlets.

Just follow the hard basic numbers and learn what they mean, not what you think they mean.

9 thoughts on “Follow the Damned Numbers”

  1. Joe says:

    Just because people feel strongly and voice those feelings persistently at high volume doesn’t mean that they’re right. It usually does mean than they’re feeling angry and frustrated.

    If I counted correctly, this is the 12th frustrated blog post on this site about vaccinations…

    Our best understanding of mechanisms is the correct basis for making decisions. Numbers are simply tools to falsify such hypotheses.

    But we have left the age of Science, and entered the age of verificationism. First, hold an opinion strongly. Then find anything to argue you’re right. Numbers will do. It’s a sign of the degeneration of the times. A small world in which curiosity is a failing.

    1. I said that you have to understand the numbers, and that means understanding what’s behind them. I’ve posted before on lying with numbers… as you may recall. Science isn’t just observation and theorizing. At its heart lies mathematics.

      1. Joe says:

        I think you’ll find most mathematicians will tell you that mathematics is not just numbers.

        I think you’ll also find that organic chemists and biologists would disagree with your statement that mathematics underlies Science. Rather mathematics is a convenient language in which to describe behaviors, particularly those we see in Physics. The Scientific method, not mathematics, underlies Science.

        But that aside, Public Health England states that vaccines may reduce transmission by half (low certainty). A paper in the Lancet last week pointed out that household transmission occurs just as much with or without vaccination… and if something happens at home, I expect it happens equally much during the 8+ hours per day spent in the office with coworkers. (Children usually sleep in different rooms)

        An N95 mask reduces transmission by between 4 and 10 times. I.e. more than the vaccine, yet it is the unvaccinated that are evil, must be punished by losing their job or suffer lockdowns (Austria).

        The other argument is that we take the vaccine to save our hospitals. Leaving aside the fact that US hospitals are cut to the bone to improve capitalist efficiency (no slack, rather like your complaints about Just in time), my question is why are governments not recommending vitamin D. It’s cheap, and improves people’s chances by between 81% and 35% ( see vdmeta full-stop com ). It also improves many other conditions and is really hard to overdose on.

        So, here is my simple question: why are the media and the government monomaniacally focused on vaccines? Makes no sense to me.

        The argument seems to be “if it doesn’t work, vaccinate harder: everything, children, babies, zoo animals…”. The most vaccinated county in Ireland currently has the highest level of COVID cases. Singapore suffered a similar fate. Not everyone can get vaccinated anyway (some people allergic to both PEG and polysorbate). Others have strongly held religious views. I’m losing good colleagues over this… an economy can’t run with 30% of people resigning, and screaming at people doesn’t convince anyone.

        These vaccines don’t stop transmission, and since that’s the main point of a vaccine, they are bad tools. If we had vaccines that did stop transmission, our pandemic would be over. It’s not a nice to have, it’s an essential to have.

        Also, this won’t be over soon. Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau has announced he’s got a contract with Pfizer for 6 monthly boosters until 2024. Each new vaccination comes with a new risk of adverse reactions.

        Taiwan is tracking deaths caused by vaccines, unlike the US. So far they’ve recorded ~850 deaths for a population of 23 million. Scale that up to the US population, and you get ~10,000. Getting a vaccine is a risk-benefit trade-off. There is no “one size fits all” in medicine.

        I’m sure people will complain I did not post sources. When I do, my posts appear spammy and don’t get through moderation. So people will need to learn some google-fu.

        1. Joe says:

          Oh… I forgot to include:

          “Increases in COVID‑19 are unrelated to levels of vaccination across 68 countries and 2947 counties in the United States” by Subramanian and Kumar. It’s not a preprint. Can be read at www ncbi nlm nih gov .

          You’ll notice no decrease. I.e. no herd immunity being reached.

        2. You said: “These vaccines don’t stop transmission, and since that’s the main point of a vaccine, they are bad tools. If we had vaccines that did stop transmission, our pandemic would be over. It’s not a nice to have, it’s an essential to have.”

          The main point of vaccines ISN’T to stop transmission; it’s to keep people from getting hospitalized or dying. They’re doing a very good job on that front, provided, of course, that people get vaccinated. The numbers, even your numbers, support that point.

          By the way, I’ve never endorsed “herd immunity,” and I’ve never questioned the effectiveness of masks and certainly support their required use in crowded and other appropriate situations.

          1. Joe says:

            I guess that is the crux of our disagreement, if indeed we have one.

            If a vaccine only protects a person from harm, then there is no argument to mandate it. It’s simply a matter of personal choice and risk/benefit assessment. Then there is no point in complaining about the unvaccinated since it is matter of personal choice.

            Only if a vaccine prevents transmission, might there be an argument to mandate it. I do not believe the case can be made with a 50 +/- 10% transmission reduction.

            From my perspective, the point of a mass vaccine campaign is to prevent transmission and to prevent a disease from continuing to exist.

          2. Joe says:

            It turns out my definition used to be that of the CDC, but they changed it on September 1st 2021.

            Vaccine: A product that stimulates a person’s immune system to produce immunity to a specific disease, protecting the person from that disease.


            I wonder who works as Winston Smith at the CDC…

        3. R. Hamilton says:

          Vaccine works, not perfectly, but nothing is perfect in an imperfect world where people (and over time, viruses) are also different in ways that affect how it works.

          That said, the reason for the focus has very little to do with science, it’s all about the power to tell people what to do. There are those both in government and private capacities that are _addicted_ to that power, that may well genuinely believe that results will be better if they use that power and expand it. I don’t get the press part (in the decades since McCarthy, the left has become far more anti free speech than the right ever was), except that most were indoctrinated early in socialism. Anyway, the power addicts are WRONG. Except for the military where it’s necessary, and to a far lesser degree businesses, command-driven approaches are a huge fail. People and situations ARE different, and command-driven approaches not only stomp on liberty (and in a country where some still remember what liberty is, provoke a backlash), but since such approaches tend to be one-size-fits-all, they neglect or disparage solutions that may be equally or more effective in some circumstances (no, I’m not talking about drugs that don’t help!) as long as the one-size-fits-all solutions is tolerably effective and lends itself to simple use of power, superficial evaluation, and enforcement.

          If you’re going to mention vitamin D, there’s a study or two suggesting that (if you’ve got it, but where’s the line between having it and not having it if you’ve been vaccinated but exposed)? the combination of C, D, zinc (don’t overdo that!), quercetin (helps the zinc be more effective) and sometimes bromelain (anti-inflammatory properties) can improve outcomes. This is NOT described as preventative, but again, in moderation it won’t hurt and might be the edge on winning the fight much faster if exposed. I doubt the bromelain makes much difference for that use unless one actually has it. NAC (N-acetyl cysteine) is also said to help with the lung problems if one has it bad, although again, that’s probably irrelevant if one doesn’t.

          PS IMO which is not dependent on either numbers or consensus or court rulings, the 9th and 10th Amendments mean that leftists are illegitimate at the federal level regardless of whether they honestly won an election. Aside from borders and national security and sovereignty, the federal government’s foremost job is NOT to save the planet, the environment, the children, the whales, or meet needs; it’s to hold the domestic power vacuum mostly EMPTY. To bleep with consequences, liberty is what matters. No, I don’t mean yelling fire when there’s no fire, nor unjustified use of force, nor property crimes (most of which are state rather than federal crimes anyway). I mean letting people mostly make their own mistakes (or non-mistakes!) even if that’s suboptimal for public safety or has some other argument in favor of restrictions; or at the least, leaving that up to states as long as the states honor the equal protection and due process clauses.

          1. Daze says:

            “The federal government’s … job is NOT to … meet needs.”

            I think you have to accept that that isn’t a view held by more than a tiny minority of Americans: they just disagree what what the needs are that have to be met. Even Republican senators and congressmen are not known for voting down government expenditure on projects or causes that they agree with.

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