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Covid-19 -> Kovit-17 (following the himmicanes principle)

We all want to do our part to contain the virus. In particular, cognitive and social scientists have been encouraged to apply their special expertise to better direct social behavior.

I was thinking about this after reading this recent comment by someone named Jim:

What if we just spell “cancer” with a “k”? Wow!! Instant remission!!

OK, that won’t work. But, according to the National Academy of Sciences, (google “himmicanes” for lots more), it saves lives to give hurricanes the names of boys rather than girls, because people are more scared of boys so they’ll act with appropriate caution.

Hurricane Butch? Run away. Hurricane Missy? Who cares.

Put the above two ideas together, and . . . let’s rename Coronavirus to Koronavirus. That K is scary, huh? From the himmicanes paper: “our model suggests that changing a severe hurricane’s name from Charley (MFI = 2.889, 14.87 deaths) to Eloise (MFI = 8.944, 41.45 deaths) could nearly triple its death toll.”

41.45 deaths doesn’t sound like a lot, but those last .45 really hurt.

Apply these ideas to Kovid, and just think what it could do to social distancing behavior.

Come to think of it, should we really be calling it Kovid-19? Nineteen is kind of a soft, feminine number. What about Kovid-666? Or Kovid-17. Recall that, according to Pythagoras (really!), 17 is “the most despised and horrible of all numbers.”

Hmmm, one more thing. Kovid ends in that soft “d” sound. What about Kovit—that sounds a bit tougher.

OK, so here’s my proposal. No more Covid-19. Call it Kovit-17.

But that’s just my speculation. To really figure this out, we need to run an experiment on 42 undergrads and 100 people on Mechanical Turk and find a p-value of less than 0.1. Even then, I won’t fully believe it until it’s been published in Psychological Science or PNAS and been featured on NPR.

No need to wait for the Ted talk, though. This is serious business, and time is of the essence.

Ok, I did put this one on the six-month lag . . .


  1. bbis says:

    I was counting back before the last paragraph and said “Yup, April 1st ish.”

  2. dhogaza says:

    “Hurricane Butch? Run away. Hurricane Missy? Who cares.”

    Hmmm, maybe they feel extra threatened by a certain stereotype of lesbians …

    • Andrew says:


      I was not thinking of Butch or Missy as being gay or straight names or whatever, just as being stereotypically male and female in the style discussed by the himmicanes article: “Nine independent coders who were blind to the hypothesis rated the masculinity vs. femininity of historical hurricane names on two items (1 = very masculine, 11 = very feminine, and 1 = very man-like, 11 = very woman-like), which were averaged to compute a masculinity-femininity index (MFI).”

  3. Dr Bumspleen says:

    This is an excellent idea. Indeed recent work in our lab conducted on a random sample of fourteen grad students indicates that diseases with sinister Russian sounding names evoke 137.268% greater cooperation with health authorities; this increased cooperation has an exponential effect on transmission, reducing fatalities to -9% of cases. There’s really no time to wait.

  4. Patrick says:

    You’ve mentioned putting things on a lag before…what does that mean? You wrote this 6 months ago but didn’t publish it? What’s the point? Or it was a note that you had to finish writing?

  5. Chuck says:

    I totally agree COVID19 should be renamed. How about POTUS45?

  6. Martin says:

    Sometimes your sarcasm threatens to obscure simple truths. As if 17 weren’t the worst, I mean, come on.

  7. H says:

    This is an example of Andrew /not/ making cruel fun. (But we’re still allowed to laugh, I think).

  8. jim says:

    “OK, that won’t work. ”

    Apparently you don’t understand the theoretical basis for this treatment. When patients that they have “kancer” rather than “cancer”, they intuitively recognize the “k” as less threatening. In fact, brain scans show that the “k” – just like in “Krispy Kreme” – is associated with LSP (Light-Hearted Sensory Perceptor) activity in the brain. This constitutes quantitative evidence that the patients feel that “kancer” is less serious than “cancer”. And indeed in a study of 279 healthy people pretending to be serious disease patients found that patients who were told they had “kancer” were 7% more likely to improve quicker than patients who were told they had “cancer”.

  9. Dzhaughn says:

    “those last .45 really hurt.”

    I was half dead but couldn’t stop laughing.

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