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Expert writes op-ed in NYT recommending that we trust the experts

Asher Meir points us to this op-ed by social psychologist David DeSteno entitled, “How Fear Distorts Our Thinking About the Coronavirus: The solution isn’t to try to think more carefully. It’s to trust the experts.” DeSteno writes:

When it comes to making decisions that involve risks, we humans can be irrational in quite systematic ways . . . The brain states we call emotions exist for one reason: to help us decide what to do next. . . . But when the emotions we feel aren’t correctly calibrated for the threat or when we’re making judgments in domains where we have little knowledge or relevant information, our feelings become more likely to lead us astray. . . . Time and again, we found that when the emotion people felt matched the emotional overtones of a future event, their predictions for that event’s frequency increased. . . .

Fear works in a similar way. Using a nationally representative sample in the months following Sept. 11, 2001, the decision scientist Jennifer Lerner showed that feeling fear led people to believe that certain anxiety-provoking possibilities (for example, a terrorist strike) were more likely to occur.

Such findings show that our emotions can bias our decisions in ways that don’t accurately reflect the dangers around us. As of Monday, only 12 people in the United States have been confirmed to have the coronavirus, and all have had or are undergoing medical monitoring. Yet fear of contracting the virus is rampant. . . .

You might think that the best way to solve the problem is to get people to be more deliberative — to have them think more carefully about the issues involved. Unfortunately, when it comes to this type of emotion-induced bias, that strategy can make matters worse. . . .

So how to fix the problem? Again, the solution isn’t to try to think more carefully about the situation. Most people don’t possess the medical knowledge to know how and when to best address viral epidemics, and as a result, their emotions hold undue sway. Rather, the solution is to trust data-informed expertise.

I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, sure, people can get scared over the wrong things. As a kid, some of my big worries were bee stings, skunks, and strange men in cars offering me candy. It turned out that bee stings didn’t hurt so bad, skunk smells were not so horrible, and nobody ever offered me free candy. Meanwhile, we went around eating unhealthy food.

On the other hand, sometimes some fear makes sense. For example, following Sept. 11, 2001, I do think it was rational to fear more terrorist events: the attacks on that day made us aware that further such attacks were possible. I remain fearful that someone will nuke our city.

And that brings us to the second point, which is risks of major damage. A nuclear explosion in the city might be unlikely, but it would have disastrous effects. Similarly with flooding and rioting from global warming etc. My impression from what I’ve heard about coronavirus is that it might turn out to be no big deal, but there’s a small probability that it will be a very big deal.

Next issue is comparison. So far coronavirus has killed far fewer people than the flu. But the flu is a big risk too, right? Any year there could be a major flu epidemic. So I don’t see why the two worries have to compete.

Next is that maybe we should be thinking less about worry and more about actions. Worry about terrorist attacks can motivate moves toward international cooperation and peace; that would be great. Worry that leads to unnecessary wars, not so great. (Tony Blair, John Yoo, etc.: if you’re out there, feel free to argue otherwise in the comment section.) The point is that the problem, or lack of problem, is with the reaction, not the fear. Yes, you could argue that fear motivated the unnecessary war, but I feel that this misses the point, in that fear also could’ve motivated helpful cooperative solutions: fear can shake us out of complacency.

Moving on to coronavirus: OK, maybe face masks are silly, but who cares about face masks? If they are indeed useless, they don’t incur much cost either. The larger costs come from the mobilization of the public health establishment . . . But that’s good, not bad, right? Future pandemics are likely to come, so it’s good to have a dry run, to test our systems for communication, quarantine, medical treatment, etc.

Let’s conclude with the discussion of expertise. David DeSteno is no expert on coronavirus or public health decision making, nor am I. He’s an expert on emotions, I’m an expert on statistics.

DeSteno tells us to trust the experts, so let’s see what the experts say from the CDC:

The potential public health threat posed by 2019-nCoV virus is high, both globally and to the United States. The fact that this virus has caused illness, including illness resulting in death, and sustained person-to-person spread in China is concerning. These factors meet two of the criteria of a pandemic. It’s unclear how the situation will unfold, but risk is dependent on exposure. At this time, some people will have an increased risk of infection, for example healthcare workers caring for 2019-nCoV patients and other close contacts of 2019-nCoV patients. For the general American public, who are unlikely to be exposed to this virus, the immediate health risk from 2019-nCoV is considered low at this time.

The message is mixed. On one hand, yeah, we should be scared: “The potential public health threat posed by 2019-nCoV virus is high, both globally and to the United States.” On the other hand, not quite yet: “For the general American public, who are unlikely to be exposed to this virus, the immediate health risk from 2019-nCoV is considered low at this time.”

They also recommend getting the flu vaccine. So I’m not arguing with DeSteno on the merits. But I don’t see fearful behavior as being so irrational, in general terms. It can be a good idea to prepare for large risks. I say this as a person who doesn’t have a cabin in the woods stocked with fresh water and canned goods. Like most of you, I’m probably too irrationally complacent. Maybe someone could do a social psychology experiment about this.

P.S. Bob sent in the above picture of a cat who has made the wise decision to trust an expert.


  1. DCE says:

    Perhaps this post can have a follow-up on “How do I choose which experts to believe?”

    While broadly, IMHO, Pigliucci’s “Nonsense on Stilts” offers some good discussion, there is the real issue of ulterior motives in crafting messages.

    As someone who both lived and worked in Downtown NYC on 9/11, I found the EPA’s decision to lie about air quality in order to “get back to work” unforgivable. We seem to be seeing something similar in China, with reports of friction between Beijing (pushing people to return to work) and local governments (preferring things to remain closed).

    How to pick your experts is a thorny meta-research issue IMHO.

  2. jd says:

    Haven’t many (all?) of the examples of poor research used on this blog been done by ‘the experts’?

  3. LemmusLemmus says:

    Perhaps the basic problem with this article is something else: The journalistic fetish of stapling together some general topic and some current news item. One sees this over and over again, especially (naturally) in columnists’ writings. Perhaps Dr. DeSteno had long wanted to publish something in the NYT about his research, and now he thought (correctly) that his chance had come. Or perhaps the journalists at the NYT sat around and thought, “What are the virus’s *themes*?” and someone said “fear” and they agreed to ask a fear expert.

    Me, I tend to think that either a topic is interesting generally, independent of current news, or not at all. But (as one might guess given that sentence) I am not your typical consumer of news.

  4. yyw says:

    Experts are not foolproof. Always think carefully. On issues on which experts have long track records of being right, by all means give the experts a lot more weight than your own thinking. However, there are many subjects on which experts have had very poor track record: second Iraq war, housing crisis, educational reform, psychology, etc. In fact, the initial expert assessment of low likelihood of human-to-human transmission was partially responsible for the inadequate initial response to this coronavirus outbreak.

    • Megan Higgs says:

      What information are “experts” basing their recommendations/predictions/opinions on? There is no magic line separating an “expert” from a “non-expert” — it’s a continuum and it’s relative to who’s playing judge. We put so much emphasis on the credentials (often irrelevant) of the person or organization and rarely focus on having the identified “expert” explain and justify what information they are using to come to their conclusions.

      It seems quite reasonable to me to put more trust in the words of people who have more, or better, information than I do (like some people working at the CDC in the case). However, just because someone has more information than you and me, does not mean they won’t make wrong predictions — they are human and even if they have more information, they certainly don’t have all the information needed for accurate predictions (particularly for extreme events).

      Ideally, we would all be able to review and assess all the information available (and underlying assumptions) and make our own predictions and decisions, but that is completely unrealistic given the necessary bandwidth. So, we have to trust (to some extent) other people to assess and filter information for us in many (most?) areas — but that doesn’t mean we should ignore the underlying information and just focus on the person. We do have to accept that part of the information coming through to us is filtered through the person’s experiences, biases, opinions, etc., — which admittedly does make it relevant to know something about the person passing on the opinion (beyond where they got their degree or work now). However, we should spend as much time as possible trying to evaluate the information underlying the recommendations, and less time focusing on credentials and irrelevant labels of the person or organization conveying it. I know …. easier said than done.

  5. Thanks for your thoughts on my piece, Andrew. I think, at base, we might agree. You’re right in that it’s better to be wrong than dead. It’s a point well taken that accuracy isn’t always adaptive for the individual. Different errors have different costs. But, when you mix that with incorrect knowledge for how best to prepare (which most people have), then even “adaptive choices” can be irrational. But I agree that certain well-informed protective mechanisms, balanced by the sacrifices they entail, can make sense now.

    • Andrew says:


      Yes, it’s tricky. We should be aware of cognitive illusions while also being aware that apparently foolish behavior can sometimes be adaptive. A complicating factor is that the experts can sometimes be wrong!

      For example, consider that the experts in cognitive psychology and behavioral economics spent 30 years mistakenly trying to convince people that belief in the hot hand was a fallacy. But it’s not. The actual fallacy in the room was the mistaken belief that the hot hand was not real. This mistaken belief was a product of mistakes in statistical reasoning, and I believe it spread in part because of the prestige of the researchers who were promoting the erroneous “hot hand fallacy” idea.

      Or, for another example, consider the hyped but unsupported “himmicanes” hypothesis, the idea that people respond more to male-named than female-named hurricanes. This is the kind of belief that could cause harm, if for no other reason than distracting from real public-safety measures. So following the experts (in the sense that publication in PNAS represents expert opinion) would be a mistake. This is another example where the experts push the idea that there is a cognitive bias, but there’s no real evidence for this claim.

      On the other hand, I do trust the experts at the CDC. I’d much rather people follow the CDC’s recommendations than do whatever is suggested by Alex Jones or some other person who’s parlaying our fear into money and fame. So, as I said, I agree with the merits of your argument, as long as we’re careful with the details and recognize that, on coronavirus, the experts do say that there are good reasons to be scared in the medium and long term.

  6. Dale Lehman says:

    Along the same lines as many of these comments: I am aware of considerable research indicating that “experts” have many of the same cognitive biases as the general population (of course, that research was done by experts, so….?). Further, in many empirical risk assessment surveys, public perceptions differ markedly from expert opinions, and the differences involve qualitative aspects of risk that experts tend to ignore. For example, the public has greater fears of an airplane crash than car crashes – out of proportion to the “actual” risks involved (which experts can identify more “accurately”). But, if we consider the aspect of control over one’s destiny, it may be that the public ranking of risks is based on different criteria than the expert ranking. Who is to say what the “right” criteria are to use in assessing risk?

    • This plays into my general thesis that the big problems in decision analysis are that the default seems to be everyone wants to keep their personal values secret (or just feels uncomfortable in general discussing values).

      It’s much easier for someone to say “I don’t think we should increase funding for public schools” (ie. to have an opinion on which actions should be taken) than it is to say “For me high school was a waste of time and effort and I suspect it still is, and we should just close public high schools and stop wasting taxpayer resources”. (ie. to have an opinion on what we should or shouldn’t value)

      The latter might well be a legitimate point of view for some people and for some high school districts and etc. But it will be seen as callous uncaring etc rather than for example realistic.

      Dale, this is actually related to that article you sent me… we’re outsourcing the discussion of values to people like economists. One reason may be because economists sort of act like the HR department… The purpose of an HR dept isn’t to help hire people, it’s to shield hiring managers from the deluge of people trying to get hired. Similarly Economists and other social scientists may provide a buffer between people who advocate for a position, and the desire they have to not have to reveal their motivations. If you can get some third party expert to say what should be done, you don’t have to expose your own personal values to criticism.

  7. Koray says:

    > My impression from what I’ve heard about coronavirus is that it might turn out to be no big deal, but there’s a small probability that it will be a very big deal.

    As a non-expert, what is a “big” deal anyway? I was reading about the 2009 H1N1 pandemic and I was just shocked to discover that (per wikipedia) “…11–21% of the then global population … contracted the illness” and “estimated 150,000–575,000 fatalities”.

    I don’t want to trust experts blindly, but I also don’t have the capacity to take crash courses on every subject from pandemics to self-driving cars. That’s why there’s a scientific “community”; if an expert is caught blabbering, the hope is that the other experts will take corrective action.

    (It’s also not always true that “it’s better to be wrong than dead”. That’s how the terrorists want you to act. They want you to overestimate the risks due to fear so that you cripple yourself.)

  8. samuel says:

    The comparison to the flu is flawed for another reason, which is that our state of knowledge regarding the flu and how to prevent contracting it is much greater than our state of knowledge regarding the coronavirus. Yes, the flu is widespread and kills many people every year. But we also have effective vaccines that can seriously reduce one’s *individual* risk of getting the flu. There is currently no such equivalent for the coronavirus.

  9. Anoneuoid says:

    Moving on to coronavirus: OK, maybe face masks are silly, but who cares about face masks? If they are indeed useless, they don’t incur much cost either.

    I am fairly sure “evidence based medicine” disallows considering risk/cost when making decisions. Unless there is a guideline saying “give treatment x for y”, they will call it “bad medicine” and can get sued for trying even the safest and cheapest thing. Not much has changed since the days of Semmelweis:

    • Andrew says:


      I’ve always understood evidence-based medicine to include decision analysis as one of its principles (it’s principle #2 here).

      • Anoneuoid says:

        I have had discussions with multiple MDs that demonstrated clearly to me that common sense is not allowed. Unless there is authoritative evidence that a treatment may work for that specific ailment they would not try it even if safe and cheap.

        Perhaps “evidence based medicine” allows for a cost-benefit after there is already an accepted treatment. However, what we really want is science based medicine which allows for making principled decisions.

        Eg, if a cheap and safe treatment seemed to work for Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) caused by problem X (say the plausible “effect” is 0 to 50% with no side effects), then we should also try it when ARDS is caused by problem Y even if no one has run an RCT for it.

  10. Some of the issues of having no real option other than just trusting experts along with the challenges of choosing them wisely were discussed here

    In some ways the Coronavirus is a replay of the SARs virus (and MERs virus and etc.). So the experts are well practiced, rated and well known. The postmortem on SARs in Toronto was heavily studied and reported on. For instance this link suggested by a former colleague who lead the postmortem on SARs in Toronto is recommended as a source of current information

    On the other hand, many students forfeited their spots in medical school in Toronto, at the insistence of their parents to leave. Very sad for those in their final year.

  11. > OK, maybe face masks are silly, but who cares about face masks? If they are indeed useless, they don’t incur much cost either.

    who says facemasks are silly? Specifically N95 rated respirators (which are masks that have two straps and the label NIOSH N95) are quite effective at filtering things. But even the surgical masks, whose purpose is to keep stuff *in* so that a surgeon doesn’t contaminate his or her *patient* might easily be effective in that they constantly remind people that there’s something on their face, and maybe they shouldn’t touch their nose or mouth or eyes…

    I’d be shocked if putting on facemasks, even of the surgical mask variety that don’t filter the air… weren’t a fairly effective way to reduce transmission. N95 masks even more so.

    Saying that face masks are ineffective is I think yet another example of where experts talk out of their asses without any information at all and probably harm the public good. Happens all the time.

  12. Yuling says:

    It is not clear whether the general audience are more fearful about the virus outbreak as in it current situation, the threat of which remains low according to experts, or about the fact that even the well-data-informed experts are “unclear how the situation will unfold”. Automatically putting the whole mass of that that small unknown territory onto the least favorable pandemic is arguable minimax optimal, and therefore slightly irrational to the extent that minimax is a wrong target to ask for in the first place.

  13. Michael Nelson says:

    DO listen to medical experts; DO NOT confuse the CDC with the medical experts who work there.

    The CDC’s actual expertise is managing the public response to disease, an essentially political task that uses information from the medical experts it employs. This is no arbitrary distinction: remember NOAA’s Dorian forecast(s)? NOAA’s employees, as experts, said that Alabama was fine. NOAA said (in an unsigned statement) that Alabama had been in danger. The same thing is happening low-key at the Departments of Interior and Agriculture re: climate change. This administration has many unsettling examples, but the problem is non-partisan: under Obama, you had to take with a grain of salt what the VA said about veterans’ medical care and what the Department of Health said about Obamacare–at least for a while there. And no one ever pretends that the DOJ’s legal opinions on executive actions are attempts at unbiased legal summaries.

    So, um, not a conspiracy nut. But don’t take agency websites as unfiltered expertise, sheeple! :)

  14. jim says:

    WHO and CDC Experts, circa 2010, Haiti:


    “we may never know the actual origin of this cholera strain.”

  15. oncodoc says:

    Of course you should trust the experts. The trouble is that there are no experts. There hasn’t been enough time to gather a large enough data base let alone for anyone to master the knowledge and to have fallen into the inevitable traps and mistakes that every situation presents. To become an expert in a disease requires learning from your mistakes. For instance, the current New England Journal of Medicine reports a cabdriver in Thailand who likely got infected from a fare. However, he has not infected any members of his immediate family nor his other fares. A woman on one of the cruise ships was diagnosed after developing a cough. She never got a fever and the cough cleared after about a week. No one can say what these cases mean. An expert has to have data, experience, and judgement which take time. We’ll have some real Covid-19 experts in another 12-18 months. The process can’t be rushed.

    • Anoneuoid says:

      Shouldn’t there be general principles the experts are aware of that allow them to make an educated guess.

      I mean I saw someone from the WHO announce that they just got evidence the virus could spread nosocomially. Did they really need to wait for evidence before warning people about that?

  16. Renzo Alves says:

    Japanese people generally know face masks provide little or no self-protection against anything expect possibly pollen. They (Japanese people) wear them (face masks) to show that they are being considerate of other people by not exposing them (other people) to their (the first people) sneezes, nasal secretions, coughing, etc. Also, I think (based on personal) experience, they like hiding (other people can’t critically judge you based on your face or facial expressions. Maybe that’s just me, but I do know Japanese people will don their masks at the drop of a hat.

  17. Bob says:

    The ‘experts’ would be more believable if they showed even a rudimentary understanding of risk and fat tailed distributions.

  18. Steve says:

    This editorial makes me angry. With respect to coronavirus, we should be terrified. Fear is good. In addition, the data that we have from China is false. WHO is compromised. They need access to China, so they are caught in a situation where they cannot say that China is not cooperating. Hong Kong scientists have warned that the numbers from China only include numbers from the hospitals, and that in Wuhan the hospitals were overwhelmed. People inside China reporting on the virus have disappeared. Even the official numbers show an exponential growth curve, and social media shows people collapsing in the street, soldiers shooting infected people, police welding shut apartment buildings, multiple bodies of children being put into a body bag, and on and on. The Chinese scientist responsible for the discovery of SARS has stated that the coronavirus can shed for up to 24 days before symptoms occur making all efforts to impose a 14 day quarantine useless. People minimizing this outbreak are being truly irresponsible and doing Communist China’s propaganda work for them. I hope the virus mutates into a less deadly form or we have an early summer. Barring that, millions may die. What is happening now is not an example of people letting irrational fear mislead them. It is an example of people putting confidence in numbers without asking where those numbers come from.

    • Anonymous says:

      The internet is FULL of conspiracy theories and fake news. There are active information warfare groups who think up and spread false crap all the time. Steve is very likely either one of them or one of their victims.

      That being said, China is not exactly an open transparent place, that’s why this kind of FUD takes hold so effectively.

      • Steve says:

        I am not an active information warfare group. There are videos coming out of China constantly. They could be fact, but it is very unlikely. What did I say that you believe is made up? You can go on to #COVID19 or many other twitter sites and look at videos that appear to be coming out of China. It is not believable that all of these videos are being made up. I have been following this since December because Hong Kong activists have been talking about it since then even though when China finally admitted that there was a virus, they claimed that the first case was December 31. We now know that the virus likely began sometime in November. The only information war has been waged by China’s government to suppress this information.

        Here’s Professor Neil Ferguson stating that we are at the early stages of a global pandemic.

        Also, Scott Gottlieb, former head of the FDA, has stated the same thing. Are all these people part of some information war. Am I the unwitting victim of Scott Gottlieb’s effort to spread hysteria. I thought we were suppose to trust experts.

        • Steve says:

          I wrote, “There are videos coming out of China constantly. They could be fact, but it is very unlikely.”

          I meant “They could be fabricated, but it is very unlikely.”

          • The level of intentional fabrication out there is *very high*. So I’d argue that whatever videos you’re seeing, in all likelihood a large percentage of them are fabricated/false/hoaxes. I wouldn’t say all, but there’s no doubt if I search for coronavirus videos that I will find many many hoaxes.

    • Anoneuoid says:

      The Chinese scientist responsible for the discovery of SARS has stated that the coronavirus can shed for up to 24 days before symptoms occur making all efforts to impose a 14 day quarantine useless.


      It is an example of people putting confidence in numbers without asking where those numbers come from.

      Where did this number come from? How could they possibly know the last exposure was 24 days earlier?

      • Steve says:

        See article

        or see this

        Yes, we cannot confirm that these videos which are everywhere in Asian social media are accurate. We also can’t ignore this data which shows young people spewing out blood, collapsing in the street.

        • Zhou Fang says:

          Your comment illustrates the sort of chinese whispers that emerge in stuff like this.

          As the original paper explains, incubation period is defined as the time between the (estimated) transmission source date and the reported date of first symptoms. The 24 day quoted is given as the raw data *range*, and it seems obvious that with over 1000 patients there will be one where the true transmission source day is incorrectly estimated, or where the symptoms are mild enough that they don’t walk into the hospital until the infection is already over – and that absence of symptoms also makes them less infectious. Contrasting the median incubation time, which is what the authors focus on (reasonably, since it’s a more reliable number than the range), the incubation time of 3 days is actually shorter than that of previous diseases (median of 5 days).

          The 14 day maximum of prior viruses is based on a 95% confidence interval methodology. It’s statistically invalid to compare raw sample ranges to that. Consider that prior virus outbreaks in South Korea had one case (out of a sample size of about 100) which gives an incubation period of 21 days. More cases, more outliers.

          From an analytic POV it seems very likely that the incubation time is shorter this time round. The Independent reporting is very inaccurate, but that’s the sort of thing that gets popular in a climate of fear.

          • Steve says:

            Zhou writes: “The 24 day quoted is given as the raw data *range*, and it seems obvious that with over 1000 patients there will be one where the true transmission source day is incorrectly estimated.”

            There is a lot of uncertainty here. You cannot just assume that the outliers are incorrect estimates. We still don’t have that much data. It is also possible that the lots of people who aren’t very sick are spreading the virus for up to 24 days and never report to the hospital to be diagnosed. What exactly is the point of speculating that the incubation time is shorter? Governments, business and reassured citizens won’t take necessary actions and change their behaviors unless they understand the risk.

            • Zhou Fang says:

              We have a lot more data than previous outbreaks because we have more cases.

              If we assume a negative binomial distribution for incubation time, plugging in parameters from the South Korea MERS outbreaks gives an expected maximum amongst 1000 patients of 29. Even if we assume the 24 day figure is correct, the evidence is that incubation time is shorter than prior cases.

              “What exactly is the point of speculating that the incubation time is shorter?”

              It’s not ‘speculating’, it’s applying statistical methodologies to try and obtain accurate and reliable results. As to what is the point of accurate results, if certain people are out there falsely claiming that “all efforts to impose a 14 day quarantine are useless” then that will reduce people’s willingness to adhere to the best evidenced quarantine procedure, potentially killing a lot of people.

          • Anoneuoid says:

            The 24 day quoted is given as the raw data *range*, and it seems obvious that with over 1000 patients there will be one where the true transmission source day is incorrectly estimated, or where the symptoms are mild enough that they don’t walk into the hospital until the infection is already over – and that absence of symptoms also makes them less infectious. Contrasting the median incubation time, which is what the authors focus on (reasonably, since it’s a more reliable number than the range), the incubation time of 3 days

            Yes. I don’t see why these numbers are reported uncritically. I also don’t see why they can’t show us a histogram.

        • That twitter video is exactly the kind of thing I’d call information warfare. The probability that is a legit coronavirus case is about 0.

          • Anoneuoid says:

            No one is wearing a mask for one…

            How about this one though:

          • Anoneuoid says:

            This one has less footage but subtitles:

            I share it because this is the one that made me disturbed about whatever is going on over there. Six guys in hazmat suits showing up at a guys door trying to take his temperature is not normal. If it is fake, who faked it and why?

            • Steve says:

              There are videos like this coming out constantly. They appear to be from China. You simply could not produce these videos inside China without risking your life. Who would be producing all of these videos? It is not likely that they are all fakes. But, there would be an easy way for China to demonstrate to the world that they aren’t covering up the severity of the problem, unfettered access to the press and CDC. Why isn’t that happening?

              • Anonymous says:

                Sure, this is a video from china of a guy being suppressed by some government goons for showing the government in a bad light. And there is a bad virus. The implication elsewhere on this page is that this is Spanish Flu kind of thing that might kill 20 or 100 million people regardless of what we do. Rather than that the Chinese government doesn’t do a good job here and probably doesn’t care about giving aid to these people.

                When I see this video I see a political video showing “See, they are shitting on us here, if we had supplies not so many people would be dying”.

            • Nah, the government of China is certainly a dictatorship and certainly people have been suppressed for political reasons throughout its history. This is more or less “business as usual” in china, particularly during periods where the government doesn’t look good. Remember Tienanmen Square?

              • Anoneuoid says:

                Quarantining 400 million people isnt business as usual afaik though.

                I guess we’ll see if the supply shortages start showing up in the next few weeks.

            • It’s also entirely plausible that this guy is a political dissident, and the people who show up in hazmat suits are his friends, pretending to be government goons. The whole purpose would be to ignite anti-government sentiment by making it appear that this guy was “disappeared” by the government.

              Given the level of info warfare going on on the internet, and the known issues in the chinese government and the great firewalls and soforth, it’s entirely impossible to figure out what is “really” going on. The best info we will have about the viral severity will be from cases treated outside china.

              • Steve says:

                Daniel your position is not rational. There are a lot of these videos. You are acting like large groups within China can coordinate mass disinformation campaigns. They can’t. It’s a police state. Everything is censored. I agree that it is impossible to determine what is going on for certain, but we know that the communists have been lying. isn’t the rational response to tell those in charge give us access or we assume everything you say is false.

              • Anoneuoid says:

                Could be… but there are other videos of people being welded into their homes and you can see some of the people on the quarantine team holding up their phones and taping the incident.

                If it was all an act you’d think they would try to hide it. But if they could get in trouble for sharing youd think so too. I cannot make any sense of whats going on there.

              • Look, I have no doubt that this virus is bad. But the way I see it there are two inferences from what you’re seeing..

                1) People are being rounded up therefore the virus is really really bad.

                2) People are being rounded up therefore the government is really really bad.

                Now, both of these are plausible inferences. Next lets examine what happens to cases outside China… For example Steve Walsh contracted Coronavirus in Singapore, traveled around a bit, gave 11 people the virus, hung out at a pub for a while in the UK… eventually realized he was sick, was treated at a UK hospital, fully recovered and has been released.

                I personally give more credence to the idea that the government of China doesn’t give a crap about its citizens and is willing to round people up and kill them or subject them to infection if it suppresses rioting in the streets and unrest and soforth. They’re particularly concerned because of the Hong Kong situation and because they’re a horrible police state.

                So, is it a bad virus? Yes probably not something you want to get. If you get it in the US or UK will you be ok, most will, some won’t. If you get it in China will you be ok? No, because the govt will come along put you on a bus to some empty area of the countryside, shoot you in the head, and dump you in a mass grave.

              • Anoneuoid says:

                #2 is true for sure, I’ve always said it could all be cover for rounding up protestors. All I’ve concluded is *something* very messed up is going on there. Whatever it is, it is apparently enough for them to weaken their position in the world economy:

                What I’ve heard about this virus in particular does not really scare me, and does not match with the government response (or at least what it appears to be) at all.

                I do not agree that this looks like business as usual, or just “china being china” through.

  19. Zhou Fang says:

    A reasoning to trust an expert instead of fear is that the mass media (and social media) has a publication bias towards fearful reporting. A pre-selected collection of experts in contrast is more likely to have a balanced error distribution. I would also assert that usually reactions born of fear have negative consequences.

  20. Steve says:

    The mass media has all sorts of biases. One of the selection biases here is that it is impossible to get correct information out of China, and our media does not like to report un-sourced claims. That makes it hard for the mainstream media to report what is happening in China at all. Reporters and experts also have a bias against claiming that the Apocalypse is coming because it usually isn’t and then when disaster is averted, people will call them fools. The problem is that when disaster is coming if someone doesn’t sound the alarm, millions will die. I remember the AIDs crisis. It could have been prevented. It is just irresponsible to minimize the risk of a potential pandemic.

  21. Zhou Fang says:

    You remember the AIDs crisis because it was a thing. You don’t remember the crises that didn’t take place. Reporters that claim the apocalypse is coming and the apocalypse doesn’t are rarely punished – and the people that call them fools call them fools regardless. Saying the apocalypse isn’t coming because it usually isn’t is not a bias, it’s a reasonably chosen prior.

    If people sound the alarm falsely, millions can also die, either from mistakenly deployed countermeasures (for example, disruption of economic activity can cause large scale misery and even death), loss of public confidence the next time there is a real incident, or waste of the public attention (I don’t agree with Andrew when he claims that people can worry about multiple things. Time and cognitive capacity spent consuming media, and legislative capacity of governments are all finite quantities).

    In the end newspapers and the social media platforms have no incentive structure that deals with the error. If there is a large scale pandemic, that also sells newspapers and drives social media engagement. Even fear itself is reportable for the purposes of profit. Certain newspapers have been fearmongering about e.g. immigration for decades without negative consequence.

    • Steve says:

      The point is that there are biases that go both ways. It is not rational to dismiss a potentially huge risk just because someone may have a bias in inflating it. Others are biased in down playing the risk. China has been lying and trying to suppress information about the virus. Social media may not have great incentives to correct errors, but the Chinese government has declared that people spreading “rumors” about the virus will be executed. It seems plausible, therefore, that the people spreading these “rumors” have strong state sponsored incentives not to spread “rumors,” but they are doing it nonetheless. Maybe just maybe they are trying to warn us at risk to their lives.

      • Zhou Fang says:

        You have no way to figure out which way the bias balances out, but all the evidence suggests that the bias works way more one way, no matter the chinese government’s efforts – as was demonstrated in the Independent’s misreporting further up the page.

        But like, it doesn’t matter. The answer is, as I stated originally, to just ignore the social media, not try and adjust for their bias somehow.

        The advice I am giving is to pick *unconditional on their conclusions* good experts, and follow their expert assessment.

  22. Anon says:

    “OK, maybe face masks are silly, but who cares about face masks? If they are indeed useless, they don’t incur much cost either. ”

    There is a worldwide facemask shortage because so many people are (unnecessarily) buying them in response to the coronovirus. See–567943571.html. In this case, undue fear of a really unlikely event has clearly having negative consequences.

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