Two useful reminders

From Derek Lowe, who's spent a lot of years in "very early stage drug discovery," and who is both calm and reasonable:

It’s weird and startling, though, if you haven’t had the opportunity to go back through clinical research (and even patient treatment) and seen how many things looked like they worked and really didn’t. It happens again and again. Alzheimer’s drugs, obesity drugs, cardiovascular drugs, osteoporosis drugs: over and over there have been what looked like positive results that evaporated on closer inspection. After you’ve experienced this a few times, you take the lesson to heart that the only way to be sure about these things is to run sufficiently powered controlled trials. No short cuts, no gut feelings – just data.

(And who has a fine answer to the "Why don't we need clinical trials to test parachutes?" objection.)

From Alan Beard, who is "an international banker who finances highly structured multimillion loans in emerging markets for power projects, railroads, toll roads, port expansions, etc." and an adjunct professor at Georgetown: 

Those of us who use computer modeling on a daily basis to assist in our analysis know how dynamic projections can be. These types of dramatic changes are routine when there are significant changes to the inputs that go into the models. In fact, that is the reason for modeling: determining the parameters of the inputs and how they affect the underlying outcomes.

Unfortunately, a superficial, agenda-driven press, which universally reports on outcomes from these imperfect tools as “settled science,” inevitably does a disservice to the casual reader in an effort to generate news and affect government policy.

"Confused About Obesity, Supplements And Organic Food? Here's A Handbook For Busting Nutrition Myths"

Book recommendation from Cameron English of the American Council on Science and Health:

This is a recurring theme throughout Lightsey's book. Whether it's a mainstream reporter, a supplement salesman at the gym or a celebrity athlete, nobody's entitled to our trust when it comes to nutrition. That's not because these sources of information are inherently unreliable, although they often do peddle nonsense. The real reason is that informed consumers should make decisions that comport with the available evidence, and not based on the conclusions of a single study . . . 

"Economics is the Dismal Science"

Writer David L. Burkhead usefully applies to the virus one of Bastiat's core ideas as well as my favorite of Thomas Sowell's axioms: There are no solutions, only tradeoffs.

Does Winnie the Flu kill people? Yes. It does. However, you know what else kills people? A faltering, let alone crashed, economy. The thing is this is exactly the kind of thing you get with Bastiat’s “seen and unseen”. Those directly (or slightly indirectly through opportunistic infections) killed by Winnie are seen. Those who die because a treatment was delayed, or their heat was turned off because they were laid off and couldn’t afford it, or any of a host of other little things of people “at the margins” where the difference between “good economy” and “economy in the toilet” made the difference. Those are the “unseen.” 


"Regulators To Soften Antitrust Restrictions For JVs"

My wife asked whether firms cooperating on ways to cope with the coronavirus would need to be given leeway by antitrust regulators. I told her about this, that the antitrust authorities would try to speed up review of joint ventures to just one week.

She said that if she were in charge it would be quicker: "Just ask: for the virus? APPROVED."

"Inside the Story of How H-E-B Planned for the Pandemic"

I just love stories about how intelligent some companies are.

This isn’t the first time H-E-B has done a good job of managing a disaster—it played an important role in helping the Gulf Coast recover from Hurricane Harvey in the immediate aftermath of the storm—which led us to ask: How did a regional supermarket chain develop systems that allow it to stay ahead of a crisis as big as this one? We spoke with nearly a dozen employees, executives, and customers to better understand—in their words—how H-E-B has taken on its unique role in shaping its business around the needs of Texans in the midst of trying circumstances.

"How College Sports Turned into a Corrupt Mega-Business"

George Leef reviews a new book by James Bennett, Intercollegiate Athletics, Inc. I like this:

How about paying college athletes? Bennett gives that idea the back of his hand. He writes, “If college football and basketball players do join the ranks of the officially salaried, we will have the strange spectacle of ordinary students paying increased fees in order to subsidize not just the education but the livelihoods, the salaries, of their far more feted and celebrated sports-playing fellow ‘students.’ And if you pay those who play revenue sports, the big-time sports factories may need to shutter non-revenue sports, which would run afoul of Title IX.”

Not so "super" forecasting?

UPDATE: Thanks to a couple of commenters--thanks Albert, thanks Tim--I made a really stupid error. The forecasts are for March 31, 2021. So the post below--I'll leave it up as reminder to me not to be stupid--is premature, at the least.

A week ago I linked to short-term forecasts for the virus made by "superforecasters". (Superforecasters "qualified by being in the most accurate 2% of forecasters from a large-scale, government-funded series of forecasting tournaments that ran from 2011-2015 . . .").

Since the forecasts are for March 31 we can now evaluate how well they did. Most of the forecasts seem to have been made on March 13, but a few may have been made later. Here are the results (all data from the Johns Hopkins tabulations, here and here):

Cases, worldwide. Actual, 857,957; forecast as "most likely," "more than 53 million but less than 530 million".

Deaths, worldwide. Actual, 42,139; forecast as "most likely," "more than 800,000 but less than 8 million".

Cases, U.S. Actual, 188,547; forecast as "most likely," "more than 2.3 million but less than 23 million".

Deaths, U.S. Actual, 3873; forecast as "most likely," "more than 35,000 but less than 350,000".

While I have a healthy respects for the evil power of the jinx and while the forecasters may turn out to be, as they say on Wall Street, not wrong but simply early, for right now, they seem to have missed by an order of magnitude or more.