The missing metric
COVID scares me, more than most people may imagine and for reasons that most people will not understand. If you want to be worried, you have come to the right place. Otherwise please read no further, see you next week with approaches for managing ignorance, which in my opinion is the main reason for the suboptimal responses to COVID.1
Let me start by quoting a fragment of Wikipedia on Red Planet. It is not a new nor an acclaimed movie, but spoilers nonetheless:
[A robot] wounded [someone] instead of killing him because [the robot] has been programmed with knowledge of the old guerrilla tactic that a wounded man will slow the enemy down since effort must be expended to transport a wounded teammate.
Now, COVID may in fact kill you, and this has logically been one of the main metrics considered. However, there is not the same coverage about how much it is slowing everyone down, and if that may be too much to avoid any potential existential threats.2 Some ways COVID slows everyone down:
- Healthcare system overload.
- Brain fog.
- Long COVID.
- Unknown long term effects.
The cognitive impact of a COVID infection may not be statistically significant to be considered as “a thing” in a peer reviewed paper (the null hypothesis cannot be rejected). Consider recurrent infections in a population of millions, and it may be significant. Much like the excess mortality does not seem to fit the number of deaths by COVID, but it is clearly visible when considering large statistics. Add the now endemic status of the disease and its effects for generations, through billions or trillions of infections.
Certainly COVID is not my field of expertise. Some knowledge may be extrapolated from similar diseases and viruses. But with respect to SARS-CoV-2 in particular, I do not think anybody has more than 3 years of experience.3
“Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.” — Richard Feynman
Do we have brainpower to spare on preventable infections? Or are we in short supply of it? We now have a feedback loop increasing the acceleration of our self-destruction:
- Things that harm us make us less capable of facing upcoming challenges.
- We are sustaining damage from past challenges, e.g. preventing COVID from reaching endemic status.
On the positive side, this solves the simulation hypothesis trilemma and the Fermi paradox. So maybe try to keep that as a final positive remark.
If on the contrary you want to bask in the horror, here are a few tweets inviting you to their corresponding rabbit holes.
In consideration of long covid and the potential compound effect of multiple reinfections … this is a fasctinating post on “Endemic Pathogens Are Making You Crazy And Then Killing You” — https://t.co/z6PJPzMGqD … oodles to consider and lots of questions raised.
Largest global study of #LongCovid The most frequent symptoms reported after month 6: Fatigue 78% Tiredness after exercise 72% Cognitive dysfunction 55% They experienced an average of 13.8 symptoms! https://t.co/bP7CwqFgFc @martinmckee @trishgreenhalgh @Azeem_Majeed https://t.co/q5H0USxMQi
For the second worry one point to consider is the very strong correlation between GDP per capita and the disease burden from infectious diseases — shown in red in the chart below. [from our paper academic.oup.com/heapol/article…]
Indeed I am not an expert in viruses, diseases, or pandemics, but I have some experience in managing ignorance.
Existential risk — One where an adverse outcome would either annihilate Earth-originating intelligent life or permanently and drastically curtail its potential.
Italicization by me.
Biological pathways are complex, and so is anything involving the human brain. I know there are many people who are very clever and are working very hard on this, but science needs time, especially for cumulative effects.
Obviously, politicians chose the least necessary action. Potential consequences from an overreaction would be their fault, but any consequences of inaction are blamed on the virus. However, “experts” failed in raising awareness, for the citizens to demand strong action from politicians. In an attempt to avoid unnecessary alarm, perhaps necessary alarm was avoided. I digress, that is why I like footnotes.
Cross-posted from the Sigmoid newsletter