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Left Coast / Right Coast: Statistics and Coronavirus

As someone who has spent more than a fair amount of time studying mathematics, as we tabulate up all the incidences of the virus and all the deaths, it struck me that we can’t just accept all these conclusions. Why? Because in studying statistics you have to precisely specify the boundary conditions on the data sets.
Mike Gold living the dream in the Pacific Northwest. Photo credit: Scott Brown.

Editor's note: Some statistics to trust come from the University of Washington, the Washington State Department of Health, and the Snohomish County Health District.

By Mike Gold, a retired entrepreneur "living the dream in the Pacific Northwest."

As someone who has spent more than a fair amount of time studying mathematics, as we tabulate up all the incidences of the virus and all the deaths, it struck me that we can’t just accept all these conclusions. Why? Here’s why. Because in studying statistics you have to precisely specify the boundary conditions on the data sets.

For example, one can easily conclude that hospitals are very dangerous places. Reason is because such a high percentage of the hospital population dies there when comparing this statistic to the rest of society. See, that’s just one example of how you can come to an incorrect conclusion by not understanding the boundary conditions of that data set.

Here’s another: If one travels at nine tenths the speed of light on a spaceship and if you were on that ship for a year or two (in the reference frame of that ship), when you returned to earth you would have aged a year or two, while everyone on earth would have aged 100 years or more. 

Now this is an actual factual statistic. So what’s wrong with it? Simple, to accelerate to nine tenths the speed of light would take an amount of energy that in today’s physical reality would simply be impossible to achieve. See in Einstein’s theory of general relativity, as you approach the speed of light, time slows down (in your reference frame – say on a spaceship) when compared to a stationary reference frame (say back on earth). On the spaceship, time would appear “normal.” But back on earth much more time would have elapsed than on the ship. These facts have been verified by physical experiments which have proved Einstein correct.

Okay, let’s look at the statistics for Corona Virus. As it stands right now, cause of every death is reported by the doctor (on the certificate of death). It is my observation that in many cases, if a patient has circulatory or respiratory issues, which are exacerbated by Corona Virus, that patient may be listed as having died because of the Corona Virus. But in fact, it is very likely that the patient died due to circulation or respiratory issues. 

One supporting “statistic” I use to make this conclusion is that deaths reported due to the ordinary flu have come way down as these Corona reported deaths have gone way up. As far as I know, no one has attempted to take these death statistics apart to properly assign cause of death based upon what the patient actually died of.

Use of “averages” can be misleading. For example, if you drove your car for three hours at 60 mph, then drove for another hour at 100 mph, your “average” speed would be 70 mph. In this case it would be more accurate (to give someone an example of your driving habits) to use the “median” speed. That is the speed in the middle of the data set, which in this case would be 60 mph.

Or you could use the “mode” which is the most common number. Again, in this case we would have three values of 60 mph and one value of 100 mph. So the “mode” would be 60 mph – again a more realistic idea of your driving habits.

So all I’m saying is that you have to be very careful of understanding what “ball park” you’re playing in. If you had a major league baseball game on a little league field, where the left and right field home run distance is only about 175 feet or so, one might conclude that the “game” consisted of nothing but very powerful batters and poor pitchers as even routine pop ups would go over the fence and be a home run. Of course, the distance from the pitcher’s mound to home plate is only 46 feet. So a good major league pitcher, who throws fastballs well into the 95 mph area, might also strike out a fair number of batters who would only have three quarters of the “normal” time to see the pitch, swing and hit it.

Here’s another statistic that should be food for thought. The idea of social distancing to decrease the propagation of the disease. The problem is that the virus can live on surfaces for as much as 24 hours. So, if you go out and about and do “routine” things like opening doors, picking up things that have been touched by others, etc. and unless you wear disposable gloves when doing anything outside the house, you can still be infected.

Then, of course, we have one of my favorite statistics. The average American has one breast and one testicle. Good luck finding such a person.

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