“What About… The Monkey…”
This is an article about discourse and science, not about the Coronavirus.
There’s this thing called “Science.”
Science takes evidence from the past (as currently there is dear little evidence from the future) and uses it to build predictive models about what will PROBABLY occur in the future. Nobody knows exactly how gravity works, but you know that the PROBABILITY of floating off of the earth today is exceedingly low. That’s “Science.” Human beings have devised formulas and tests and charts to calculate effects and results even if we don’t know HOW exactly phenomena — such as gravity — function.
Now there is a POSSIBILITY of an elephant falling from the sky and crushing me to death as I write this article. The PROBABILITY is very low — say, a Saudi prince would have to be transporting an elephant from Africa to his private zoo in Montecito and the plane is shot down — many extremely unlikely moving parts — but the STAKES are very high, i.e., my untimely if not unnatural death as reported tomorrow on TMZ.
Similarly, with Covid 19 the STAKES are very high, yet the PROBABILITY of someone in the general population of 333,000,000 Americans dying from it is quite low. The overall chance of dying of Covid 19 or complications resulting from Covid 19 for 333,000,000 Americans is currently approximately .05% (actually .049% today), which is less than 1% and still less than .1%, the last time I checked.
Russian Roulette will kill you 16% percent of the time and you would never play it even for $1 billion dollars. But what if the odds were reduced to 1%? How about .1%? How about .05%? Would you play Russian Roulette for $1 billion dollars if the gun had 499,999,999 empty chambers? What about 999,999,999 empty chambers? You’re considering it — aren’t you?
So when you cite evidence BASED ON A COUNTRY OF 330,000,000 inhabitants, and Doctor Anthony Fauci tells you that approximately 40% of Covid cases have no symptoms, 40% have mild symptoms, 10% have severe symptoms, 9.95% have extremely severe symptoms, and .05% will die excruciatingly painful deaths, then the STAKES are very high but the PROBABILITY is very low. A low PROBABILITY doesn’t mean that it is impossible. Just like an elephant falling from the sky and landing on me isn’t impossible. It’s just highly unlikely.
And yet, none of us live our lives in underground bunkers to protect us from the POSSIBILITY of “Death by Falling Elephant” — do we?
Recently I have been victim to several non-conversations that unravel as follows:
Ira: “The mortality rate for me — a 54 year-old white male in relatively decent physical health without asthma or diabetes living alone in Santa Monica and wearing a mask whenever inside public spaces such as stores — is about the same as me dying in a transportation (car, bike, motorcycle) accident.”
Idiot: “Well what about the monkey that fucked the penguin that ate the squirrel that killed the chicken… and they all got Covid and died?”
“It was lovely speaking with you,” I say as I turn and walk away.
Because ONLY A FUCKING IDIOT WOULD USE AN OUTLIER OUTLIER OUTLIER TO TRY TO THROW A THEORETICAL MONKEY WRENCH INTO SOMEONE ELSE’S CONVERSATIONAL ENGINE. A monkey wrench does not advance a debate; a monkey wrench explodes and destroys any possible intelligent discourse.
I’m not a monkey, I’m not a penguin, I’m not a squirrel, and I’m not a chicken.
I am referring to a PREPONDERANCE OF EVIDENCE: the mortality rate for people that share my demographics and reside in my sliver of the universe.
The New York Times today reported that 40% of Covid 19 deaths come from nursing homes. I do not live in a nursing home (yet).
Did I spend two weeks in March writing my last will and testament and putting my affairs in order when we had little scientific evidence regarding this pandemic? ABSOFUCKINGLUTELY!
Could there be long-term side effects of Covid 19 like heart disease, vital organ failure, cancer, etc.? ABSOFUCKINGLUTELY!
Are asymptomatic super-spreaders possible especially in places like subways and airplanes? ABSOFUCKINGLUTELY!
Do I believe that a law requiring masks is beneficial for our society? ABSOFUCKINGLUTELY!
Do I believe that anyone who uses the terms “hoax” or “deep state” or refuses to wear a mask in public should go back and his G.E.D.? ABSOFUCKINGLUTELY!
Does my argument regarding “my demographics” stink of white privilege? ABSOFUCKINGLUTELY!
Do I believe that we will probably have to shut down the country again and close interstate travel for another 4–6 weeks? ABSOFUCKINGLUTELY!
But that doesn’t mean I want to have inane non-conversations with people who think it is amusing to start their responses with “What about the…” and then shove some random OUTLIER into the discourse.
BOOM! That’s the end of the conversation!
“What about… the monkey that fucked the penguin that ate the squirrel that killed the chicken… and they all got Covid and died?”
I mean, if I told every one of my patients at the conclusion of every session, “Well, our next appointment might be cancelled if an elephant falls from the sky and kills me,” they would think I was a fucking idiot — right?
As I have written elsewhere, “Science” is based on CAUSALITY, not CORRELATION; similarly, “Science” is based on a PREPONDERANCE OF EVIDENCE, not OUTLIERS.
It pains me to even imagine that Donald Trump could ever even unintentionally be correct about anything but when Jonathan Swan asked, “What about the 1,000 people who died TODAY?” Trump should have responded that over 7,700 people normally DIE EVERY SINGLE DAY IN AMERICA, a country of 333,000,000 people, so an increase of 12% is really quite nominal.
Yes, it sucks for those 1,000 people, but if the overall annual mortality rate in the United States over the past 50 years is around 870 deaths per 100,000 people, then how does that compare with the 2020 overall death rate per 100,000 people? And how does it compare for people in your zip code, of your race, of your age, of your physical health, etc?
700 of my 92,000 fellow Santa Monicans have tested positive for Covid 19 from March 1st until August 12th, many of whom were elderly people living in nursing homes; on average, the virus lasts for 2–3 weeks: so how many Santa Monicans walking around today would today test positive for Covid 19? And how many of those people (40% of them) are asymptomatic?
However, Santa Monica is included in the state of California Covid 19 statistics that include San Quentin prison (75% Covid rate), all of the central California agricultural workers living together in close quarters, East Los Angeles, and all of the nursing homes in the state. So our state — overall — is faring quite poorly.
But that is only because of the arbitrary manner in which we slice up geographic sections of the world — nations, states, counties, etc. Get it?
So what is the real PROBABILITY that you will spend 15 minutes or more in a poorly ventilated area with an asymptomatic carrier of Covid 19 today? It doesn’t matter how many people in the world have Covid 19 and all of the other hyperbolic statistics that the press reports in order to sell advertising space. The only number that matters takes into consideration your health, your age, your race, your diet, your pre-existing medical conditions, your living conditions, your accessibility to healthcare, your health insurance, your community, and how much time you will spend inside poorly ventilated areas with PROBABLE asymptomatic Covid 19 carriers. Period.
The fact that 1,000 Americans died from Covid 19 yesterday does not matter to you any more than the possibility of an elephant falling on your head today or the outlying fact that a monkey fucked a penguin that ate a squirrel that killed a chicken… and they all got Covid and died.
The problem is that the STAKES — an extremely painful death — are so high that it is SKEWING many people’s understanding of “Science.”
There are many things that we do not know yet about Covid 19, such as the long term effects of the virus on the brain, heart, pancreas, etc. But we do currently know the mortality rate and the fact that every day new remedies are seizing Covid 19 patients from the grasp of death; the mortality rate for people who have already contracted Covid 19 is going down.
In 1990 professor of linguistics Deborah Tannen wrote “You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation,” claiming that men are preternaturally primed to argue in their attempts to gain status, while women primarily communicate in order to build rapport. More recently in “The Argument Culture,” Professor Tannen claims that arguing has pervaded almost every aspect of our lives. Maybe this is a result of feminism, of women integrating into a predominantly male work force during the last thirty years? I don’t know.
Unfortunately, however, most people do not know how to DEBATE and end up tossing in oranges when other people are talking about apples. If I stood up in an outdoor cafe today and said, “The death rate of Covid 19 is lower than the death rate for heart disease,” within a millisecond someone would rise and say, “Well, what about the monkey that fucked the penguin that ate the squirrel that killed the chicken… and they all got Covid and died?”
Yes, that poor monkey did fuck the penguin that ate the squirrel that killed the chicken and they all got Covid and died. But they are outliers. And if “Science” didn’t categorize outliers as outliers then all of us would believe that elephants would fall from the sky and crush us to death every day.
It’s possible, but extremely improbable.
So before you try to throw a theoretical monkey wrench into someone else’s proposition by responding with “What about the…” I advise you to consult the system of facts currently regarded as “Science,” look at the PREPONDERANCE OF EVIDENCE, and carefully avoid citing OUTLIERS.
EVERYTHING IS CONTEXTUAL.
If your context is that your mother and father and children and spouse died of Covid 19 this week, then this article is profoundly unfunny, insensitive, and I wish you my most sincere apologies and condolences. Seriously, it’s truly truly awful for those outliers and my heart authentically goes out to each and every one of you and your loved ones. However, for the other 99.95% percent of us, I hope this articles helps us engage in more intelligent scientific discourse.