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I am interested in feedback on this, particularly but not only from Blair Fix. Have I made any glaring or hilarious errors of fact or logic? Does this critique over-reach scientifically or rhetorically?
Full Title: A Short Note on the “Science” and Math of COVID-19 Denialism.
COVID-19 denialism I define as the attitude that COVID-19 is either not a real disease or it is not a serious disease. This can encompass views that the morbidity, deaths and sequalae from COVID-19 disease are also not real or that they don’t really matter because it is only the vulnerable and elderly with preconditions who die and they were due to die soon anyway. None of these views of Covid denialists are factually correct nor are they ethically supportable. COVID-19 denialism (sometimes called “minimising”) has nothing to do with the epidemiological concepts of elimination and eradication. Indeed, COVID-19 denialism and minimization of the disease’s seriousness function ideologically and socially to further and greatly spread the dangerous mutating and evolving pathogen, SARS_CoV_2. COVID-19 denialism is a recent development of health supremacism as a general ideology. Health supremacism is an integral part of ableism and eugenics and thus of the full spectrum of supremacist and fascist ideologies. A good article on this is:
“Loathe fascism? Then don’t be a health supremacist.” by Maarten Steenhagen.
However, in this note I want to focus on the insidious methods of rationalization and data cherry-picking employed by the scientifically literate, but ethically challenged, in their effort to concoct a scientifically and logically compelling deception of COVID-19 minimisation. They do not always use pseudoscience or pseudo-math though some do. The more intellectually Machiavellian use a misapplication of science and math to get a predetermined QED. The misuse of math is particularly interesting. As a specialized and somewhat arcane language, what math (as opposed to mere arithmetic) says or proves is not open to refutation by the math-illiterate. Furthermore, as a precise language, the math qua math, if accurate, is not open to refutation at all. However, if the math is ill-applied to the real situation it can still be completely fallacious and dishonest. This process is often effected with calculus (differential calculus & integral calculus) because calculus is difficult enough to bamboozle the arithmetic-literate who are yet math-illiterate. Strictly speaking, calculus ability is not necessary for a basic logical assessment which is able demonstrate where the math is being fallaciously or dishonestly deployed.
simply First, one needs to understand what calculus does. It permits calculation, or estimation, of change in a dependent variable over time. It does this via equations with a finite number of terms (variables or parameters). For scientifically applied mathematics, the terms or parameters must relate to something measured in real scientific quantities or the so-called “scientific dimensions”. One can refer to the International System of Units (SI) for these real “scientific dimensions” and their units. These units are well established as scientifically, empirically valid and dependable. Units derived from combinations of such units are also valid (eg. meters per second). There are also cases where ratios or dimensionless quantities are valid. Here’s a useful list of the latter.
We can note that this list is not exhaustive because R(0), the basic reproduction number of an infection, is not listed. The R(0) is a scientifically valid dimensionless quantity. It is a theoretical, predicted ratio of infected persons to persons infected in the next cycle of infection. R(eff) is the effective ratio observed from a real, empirical event. Any equation with R(0) in it, is NOT theoretically invalidated by that sole fact. It may be empirically invalidated as an estimate by later real outcomes.
How and when may a valid equation or valid calculus equation with R(0) in it be scientifically invalidated or highly dubious? First, it could be invalidated by not recognizing/admitting that the R(0) is estimated, thus giving a false impression of objectivity and real applicability to the theoretical exercise. The estimate is context relative (to the real population context) but it becomes invariant to subsequent context once estimated and then adhered to for multi-cycle calculations. To project forward with an invariant R(0), it must be assumed that the dynamic context in and of the system will not vary even if individual and collective behaviours likely will vary as infections proceed and spread. This is a mathematically heroic assumption to say the least. In addition, the other parameters or variables employed must be relatively small in number or the whole equation becomes immense and unwieldy. It can become one of multiple interacting variables which could differentially affect each other: a nightmare of multi-function calculus one might say. So any neat, “physics-simple” R(0) equation may well be pretending to be something it isn’t.
I say “physics-simple” not to denigrate physics. Physics can and does derive simple, elegant and very powerful equations. This is not always the case however. A consideration of the 3-body or n-body problems illustrates the point. Any R(0) style equation that is used to project future pandemic waves will have made a great many greatly-simplifying assumptions. One major assumption inheres in the fact that many potential, radical, “known unknown” change factors are excluded like mutations. Pandemic projection is a a wicked “n-body” physics problem. Fundamental laws don’t change in physics or at least not in orbital physics for example (outside of quantum effects introducing probabilistically induced chaos perhaps?). The “fundamental” chaos dynamics of the observed large, non-homogenous population system in an R(0) problem do change and can change; among other factors they from the unpredicted emergent evolutionary trajectory of the pathogen. Researchers of molecular evolutionary genetics analysis are now working with brute force calculations on supercomputers to attempt to predict the evolutionary possibilities. This would only increase the combinations and permutations involved in attempting to predict how these would interact with human immune systems, let alone how it would affect pandemic population dynamics.
We are forced in the case of this horrendous real complexity to resort to more basic logic, heuristics and even to straightforward consequentialist ethical precepts. We should not let mathematicians, physicists or even epidemiologists of minimizing intent baffle us by throwing mathematical bulldust in our eyes. There is a real and very near limit to what they can predict about the future of such super-complex real world biological systems. A simple fact is that every infection stopped then stops n more infections where the relevant theoretical function is R(n). Trying to “scientifically” and “mathematically” finesse our way through a dangerous pandemic by calibrating titres of acceptable hospitalizations, acceptable deaths, acceptable quantities of disabling and so on and is a piece of breath-taking and callous hubris that is profoundly dishonest at all levels: a dishonest pretence by some self-appointed experts or by oligarch appointed, enabled, paid and captured experts (hired guns), that they know and can predict a lot more than they can really know and predict. This is basically true because we can’t accurately perform n-body or n-parameter style pandemic trajectory projections where n is a very large number and the number of further unknown parameters is also large.
This pushes us back to the realization that suppression / elimination of the SARS-CoV-2 virus (always and still realistic if ideology, fatalism and defeatism are rejected) is the correct and only path to reject and obviate the emergent, insoluble combinations and complications (mathematical and real) of a dangerous, highly mutable pandemic pathogen when it is permitted nearly unlimited evolutionary space to evolve in with nearly 8 billion humans as handy evolutionary reactor vessels.
I have reached such a point of exasperation with some narrowly based experts in the mainstream, captured it seems by the ideological far-right, that I feel I have to point out the above to, or at least about, such scientists and mathematicians. Some of them are becoming mere useful idiots for eugenicism and social murder or democide. To possess extensive science and math technical knowledge without understanding the nature of the ontological interface and the epistemological limits involved at the boundary between applied mathematics and complex relational system empiricism is a sad, sad cul-de-sac of over-specialization and an ossification of that kind of extensive learning and imagination necessary to sense new paradigms arising in the latest research and in current historical-empirical events. What’s even worse is these said scientists’ and mathematicians’ complete loss of any vestigial ethics. Science/mathematical genius combined with moral idiocy is an extremely dangerous combination.
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