Saturday, 07.03.2020 – What’s the Best Way To Think About The Spread OF A Pandemic?

Link of the day: Growthers, base-raters and the spread of coronavirus

The term growthers refers to the notion of exponential growth, and indeed the number of Covid-19 cases appears (by some accounts) to be following an exponential pattern. Some scientists have estimated that the number of cases doubles about every seven days. If you play that logic out, it is easy enough to see how people might be complacent at first, then in a few months there is a public health crisis. […]

The base-raters, when assessing the likelihood of a particular scenario, start by asking how often it has happened before. That is, they estimate its base-rate likelihood. And history shows that major pandemics have lately been rare.

Base-rate thinking in many (if not most) cases is better at making predictions than expert opinions and complicated mathematical models. See e.g. the book Superforecasting. However, in some cases base-rate thinking is clearly inadequate and I am quite curious whether this is one of those cases. Many people I talk to agree that covid-19 seems to fall in the exponential growth category and is hardly comparable with past outbreaks of infectious diseases. We will at some point see who turns out to be right and why.

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