Learning from Wuflu

Every crisis is also an opportunity.  In this case, we get to learn how people respond, under pressure, to a situation that ( for most) is very new.   Generally quite badly: most people  show very bad judgment.  But to what degree is this new information?  Mostly not: Most of the people responding with nonsense  ( of those I’m familiar with) were already obvious loons. But then, I think that of so very many people.

A question: I was thinking of one particular current marker of stupidity, the notion that in a population with an at-birth life expectancy of 80, someone 79 has one year to live.  Obviously that is very stupid, in an absolute sense  – but what percentile stupid is it? Would the bottom 50% of the population make that mistake?  The bottom 90%?  The bottom 99%?

The world wonders.  At least I do.

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93 Responses to Learning from Wuflu

  1. jbbigf says:

    How long has the idea of life expectancy been around? Was Newton an idiot because he never heard of it? Am I an idiot because I think Newton never heard of it? I am trying to find out who first came up with it, but the internet seems more interested in the historical life expectancy of the human race than with the history of the concept of life expectancy.

    Anyway, I doubt that awareness of a particular pitfall of a particular statistical measure is a good proxy for g factor.

    • gcochran9 says:

      Ah, but this is not 1693: the theory of probability was well-developed centuries before the birth of every idiot I’m thinking of, and practical applications of it abound. We are not discussing whether someone is sharp enough to invent these concepts from scratch – that is a false comparison and you should be ashamed of making it.

      Someone that can’t get this is obviously incapable of readily understanding a vast spectrum of practical policy problems.

      • Well, Greg, I dunno. I’ve met people who think that a 1% lifetime chance of non paternity wouldn’t drive counter-adaptations. What would you think of those people? Well, that person. Well, yourself. Number are tricky when they dont tell the story that you know to be true

    • Jim says:

      Newton’s friend Edmund Halley was basically the founder of actuarial science. Another friend of Newton whom he greatly enjoyed discussing mathematics with was Abraham DeMoivre who discovered the Central Limit Theorem ( for Bernoulli distributions ). So Newton probably was pretty knowledgeable about this stuff.

    • Jacob says:

      You don’t even need to know how actuarial tables work to know that a shitload of people at age 79 will live past 80, even if that is the average life expectancy.

      The quantitative explanation is that members of their own cohort got the average life expectancy down to 80 by dying early, and thus people alive at 79 should live longer than 80 on average.

      The explanation from trait biology is tautological, and shouldn’t need to be said: people who tend not to die are the same people who tend not to die, and thus the longer someone lives, the longer you expect them to live by comparison to everyone else. In other words, whichever heritable differences in all manner of cellular processes allowed them to dodge cancer, dementia, and atherosclerosis for as long as they have will help them do so a bit longer than you might otherwise expect. In other-other words, by living to 79, they’ve proven their ability to live longer than the people who died before 79, and should therefore live longer on average. This is really just another formulation of the above point, repackaged as biology rather than math.

      But let’s throw all this blabber away for a much simpler point: you, I, and everyone else all know someone above the age of 80. If coronavirus could have conceivably killed them before the age of 80, then it really does have the potential to cut lifespans short.

      • jb says:

        There is one situation I can think of where an average lifespan of 80 would indeed mean that 79 year olds had on average one year to live. That would be if everyone, without exception, lived to be exactly 80 years old. 🙂

    • timur says:

      For as long as they have sold life insurance people have had a pretty good idea how long people were expected to live. According to wiki the first life table was written by Edmund Halley (of the Comet fame) in the 1690s. By the mid 1700s pretty good predictions were being made (Galton’s work I assume was prominent).

      The US Dept of Vital Statistics puts out a nice book every year with the previous years life expectancy (average age depending on birth year) and expectation of life (how many years left on average(.

      • Jim says:

        Life tables and extensive tables of actuarial values computed on the basis of these tables were widely available and used in the 18th century. The tables though were based on the experience of the policyholders of the companies who at that time were very unrepresentative of the general population.

        Galton was a 19th century figure.

  2. Sinij says:

    I think you need a better example of showing very bad judgment. Like attending Sunday Service in the middle of epidemic.

    • gothamette says:


      “What we’ve been telling people from directives from the CDC for weeks now that if you start feeling bad stay home, those individuals could have been infecting people before they ever felt bad. But we didn’t know that until the last 24 hours” Brian Kemp, Gov of GA.

      /blinks eyes rapidly/

  3. Rosenmops says:

    As someone who has taught math and statistics at a small university for many years, I would say certainly a large majority if people would think a 79 year old would have an average of one year to live, given that the at birth life expectancy is 80. A large majority would be surprised and puzzled if you showed them life tables such as this:


    But they are young, the the phenomena you write about doesn’t kick in much until you are fairly old. So young people wouldn’t care about it much. I find that as I get older, the amount of time I might have left becomes a thing to be cherished more and more. Young people assume they have lots and lots of time left, so a few years here or there doesn’t mean much to them, when they are young, The way a few thousand dollars here or there might not matter much to someone who has a lot of money,

    • gcochran9 says:

      One particular innumerate guy I’m thinking of had already pissed me off by editing a piece of mine and stepping on a joke. But now, he has gone too far.

    • Steve Johnson says:

      You can explain the concept pretty simply with that table.

      “For each age group, the sum of (years lived + expected remaining years) is greater than it is for the next lower age group”

      Normally that sum slowly increases over the years as accidents and ill health weed out the least likely to live but in odd circumstances it can jump radically – like if there’s a filter that kills off a large number of people of a certain age but leaves those older unaffected.

      • Jim says:

        Yes it is easy to show that if e_x is the expectation of future life at age x then
        x + e_x is an increasing function of x.

        If the survival function s(x) is differentiable
        at x then so is x + e_x and it’s derivative
        at x is e_x mu_x where mu_x is the force of mortality.

  4. Space Ghost says:

    Thinking is hard, and so most people prefer to do as little of it as possible. People are also surprisingly bad at applying knowledge from one domain in another. For example I suspect most people would throw their hands up in despair if asked to mentally multiply 25 x 14, but would have no problem telling you that 14 quarters is $3.50. Thus, since most people don’t have first-hand experience of death I would suggest transforming it into another domain: “The average car breaks down after 15 years. Timmy has had his car for 14 years; how long until Timmy’s car breaks down?”

  5. dearieme says:

    High nineties.

  6. Anonymous says:

    As I said, some years ago I was watching a tv documentary about the grave of a 60yo lady that died in Venice during some plague. I think it was in English but not sure. It was argued that she would be suspected of being a witch, since she was that old when life expectancy was whatever it was. They even had a short scene with actors, where old lady is walking down the street and young passers-by look suspicious of her. So a bunch of presumably college-educated people were involved in a project of somewhat educational scope and nobody caught the mistake. I think that practically nobody would, except people trained in fields were statistics is taught, or people with specific interests (and the two will overlap alot).

  7. Jim O'Sullivan says:

    I hereby admit that a substantial fraction of the material presented on this site goes over my head. But I doubt there are so many people so more ignorant than I that they suppose that the life expectancy, in years to go, of a baby and an old codger like me is the same number.

    On the other hand, I think of those televised person-in-the-street interviews (like Jay Leno used to do) where they ask, e.g., “how many senators each state is alloted?”, and hilarity ensues. So maybe if Jay told them life expectancy is 80, and then asked long the average 79 year old has to go, we’d get a lot of “one year, of course.”

    I’ll be kind and say no more than 20%.

    • Jim O'Sullivan says:

      *HOW long. I’m the king of bad proofreading.

    • gothamette says:


      You’re being too kind. I think a lot of those Jay Leno man on the street people wouldn’t even know that 79+1 equals 80.

      I remember one instance where people were interviewed about when the Civil War took place. I can hardly bear to think of it.

      • Rosenmops says:

        I remember the Jay Leno questions, Someone said the Civil War took place in the 1960’s, or something like that. And they thought WW2 was in the 1800’s. It was mind boggling.

        • gothamette says:

          It really was.

          • John Massey says:

            When I interview civil engineers, one of my favourite questions to ask them is when the Last Glacial Maximum was. It’s a relevant question to ask. Guess how many of them give an answer which is not three orders of magnitude wrong? Of those who don’t just go glassy eyed and say: “The last what?”, the number who guess within three orders of magnitude is:


            • gothamette says:

              I had to look it up.

            • gothamette says:

              That’s interesting but I’d rather have a link to your source about the first five confirmed cases NOT being linked to the Huanan Wet Market.

              • gothamette says:

                Quote: “No. The first five documented cases in China had no possible contact with the Huanan market in Wuhan.”

                Can find no source about this on the Internet.

            • TerrifiedInSweden says:

              Could you clarify this a bit. According to wiki the Last Glacial Maximum was roughly 2*10^4 years ago. Unless I missed something that means any answer from 200 years to 20 000 000 years would be 3 orders of magnitude incorrect or less.

              Nobody just goes with “uh, a million years ago?”

              • dearieme says:

                My logic is that the ice had gone back about twelve thousand years ago. So the maximum must have been a bit earlier, say 20,000 years ago. That can’t possibly be wrong by one order of magnitude, never mind three.

                Anyway, cheer up. I once made a remark to a bunch of academics having coffee: “There are actually people who think that dinosaurs existed at the same time as humans”. One blanched!

              • John Massey says:

                Most of those who guess say: “I don’t know – 65 million years?”

            • ben tillman says:

              You can’t be serious. Any answer between 22 and 22 million would work.

        • Curle says:

          The New York Times readers think slaves were picking cotton starting around 1619.

      • j mct says:

        For stuff like that, one needs outtakes in order to see if it’s indicative of reality. What if Jay had to talk to 53 people for each one ridiculous enough to put on the air, assuming that no one is being deliberately idiotic so they get to do the ultimate American thing, be on TV?

  8. megabar says:

    My guess? Somewhere around IQ 100 and educated, assuming they get a a good explanation and a bit of time. Some adjustments based on how well/quickly you require them to understand it. Also, the level to realize that it’s wrong without being prompted is higher.

    However, I would not bet money on any of this, because I don’t know what kinds of questions people get wrong at various IQ levels, and I don’t quiz people in casual life.

  9. anon says:

    What about the professional mathematicians, including Erdos, who got the Monty Hall problem wrong.

    ” Paul Erdős, one of the most prolific mathematicians in history, remained unconvinced until he was shown a computer simulation demonstrating vos Savant’s predicted result.”

    So this probably doesn’t mean anything. Unless you want to argue that Erdos was dumb.

    • jb says:

      The “controversy” over the Monty Hall problem kind of baffles me. There are many puzzles that can initially fool even an intelligent and numerate person, for example the Wason task. But like the Wason task, the Monty Hall problem is pretty trivial once explained. I really don’t understand how it can be a source of controversy, and yet it is reported to be. Fake news?

    • Eponymous says:

      One issue is presentation. A very small change in the setup (the host picks one of the other doors randomly, regardless of whether they contain a goat) makes all the difference. Many presentations of the problem are not clear on this. For example, suppose I say, “You pick a door. The host opens another door revealing that it is empty. What should you do?” That’s not enough information to decide, because we don’t know what procedure the host used to pick the other door.

  10. Lior says:

    in 1992 out of a random sample of US adults, 7% could not do item SCOR300, which is to find the expiration date on a driver’s license. 26% could not do item AB60303, which is to check the “Please Call” box on a phone message slip when they’ve been told:

    James Davidson phones and asks to speak with Ann Jones, who is at a meeting. He needs to
    know if the contracts he sent are satisfactory and requests that she call before 2:00 p.m. His
    number is 259-3860. Fill in the message slip below.

    Only 52% could do item AB30901, which is to look at a table on page 118 of the 1980 World Almanac and answer:

    According to the chart, did U.S. exports of oil (petroleum) increase or decrease between 1976 and

    • Rosenmops says:

      It makes you wonder if these people are illiterate. But sometimes I wondered that about some of my students, especially when trying to teach introductory statistics.

      • gothamette says:

        We have a lot of dumb slobs in the US.

        My one and only teaching job, one student was a black guy from Guatemala working as a handyman. I didn’t even know there were black people from Guatemala.

        He handed in his assignments written in calligraphic script, in formal language. He was obviously translating from Spanish to English as he spoke. The American kids (mostly black) were slobs.

        There is something to be said for nuns whacking you across the knuckles.

  11. James Thompson says:

    A low percentage, say 1%. The problem is difficult, because an average figure is being applied to an non-average group. It fooled many life annuity issuers before 1693.

  12. gothamette says:

    Look, this is SARS, basically. Let’s not be diverted by the fancy new name, COVID19. It’s SARS, with a 2 at the end of the name.

    What, realistically, can we do for people who get it and who get sick?

    Sufferers are many, treatments are nonexistent. We are going crazy about ventilators, ventilators, ventilators – but do they do any good?

    If you have a 90 year old with half a dozen other conditions, should we be putting him/her on a ventilator, or at that point administering compassionate end of life care? The NY Times of all places had a decent article about this, and in the comments, a doctor said that the US was unique in what he called “end of life heroics.”

    If this were not a pandemic, would we be intubating 95 year olds?

    Just a question.

    • David Chamberlin says:

      The original SARS was quite a bit different. Much higher mortality rate, far less sneaky infectious. By that I mean Covid19 is goddamn sneaky. All these asymptomatic spreaders of Covid19 makes it sneaky infectious.

      Here we are wondering about stupid people again. It’s a never ending story isn’t it. I don’t care what percentage of people have a terrible feel for math. What I care greatly about is all the idiots out shopping today. Plenty of cars parked in the shopping mall parking lots means plenty of shoppers inside the stores. I mean WTF. What are they waiting for? Does a loved one have to die or nearly die to keep them out of the stores? It’s doubling every five days now in my state of Illinois. When friends die and close relatives barely make it, does it then double every ten days because they get a little less reckless? We are on a floundering ship of fools.

      • gothamette says:

        “The original SARS was quite a bit different. Much higher mortality rate, far less sneaky infectious. By that I mean Covid19 is goddamn sneaky. All these asymptomatic spreaders of Covid19 makes it sneaky infectious.”

        I know that. I’m talking about when you DO get sick – really sick, this isn’t a lot different than SARs. It is a sudden, acute, respiratory syndrome. OK, capish?

        And I’m asking – what, realistically, can we do for them??

        Ventilators! Ventilators! I keep hearing that word. They make it sound as if it’s a magic bullet – but it’s not. What I gather is that they really do NOT save a lot of people, exceptions excepted.

        • Rosenmops says:

          I found this:
          ” in the UK. Of 165 patients admitted to ICUs, 79 (48%) died. Of the 98 patients who received advanced respiratory support—defined as invasive ventilation, BPAP or CPAP via endotracheal tube, or tracheostomy, or extracorporeal respiratory support—66% died.”


          So it seems the ventilators can save a significant portion of those covid patients who need them. But the whole thing is terrifying for old people like me (65, immune suppressed). Will we get a vaccine? Will covid 19 disappear the way SARS did? Will I ever be able to hug my grandchildren again?

          • gothamette says:

            John Massey gave a link to the Medcram doctor who explains ventilators very clearly. Awesome Youtube channel – google it.

            OT, somewhat:


            Dumb as I am, I understand the concept of outlier and one data point and don’t make too much of this. Got that.

            BUT if you are 104 and still kicking around with your walker, you must have one iron constitution and and a hella immune system. I would be very interested to drill down into the details of these statistics and see if there’s a subset of the very old who survive this ordeal. Call them “supersurvivors.”

            But, if you are male, 70, got a roll of belly fat, with hypertension or COPD, it doesn’t look so good.

            • John Massey says:

              No credit to me – I got the link to MedCram/Roger Seheult from Dave Chamberlin.

              • gothamette says:

                A virtual and socially distant pat on the back to Dave.

                Where’d you read about the first five infected in Wuhan not being connected to the wet market? I have looked and cannot find.

              • dave chamberlin says:

                Hey buddy, still feel bad about ranting at you. These times can bring the crankiness out of any of us. Anyway the other Youtube guy I linked to a lot Dr John Campbell predicted a long time ago that we all were all going to catch Covid19, that it would spread in all the countries. He was pretty insightful, but there are a few exceptions to the rules and your home Singapore appears to be one of them. My fellow Americans just can’t keep their dumb asses indoors and out of stores, so the fire burns fast and furious here. All we can do is stay safe and sadly shrug. These oblivious people really don’t know what’s in store for them in late April and May because of their reckless actions today. We can delay catching Covid 19 just like the asians are until medical therapies come to the rescue, or at the very least until medical services aren’t swamped.

              • gothamette says:


                No worries.

                Back to the ventilators. I see that as mainly a political problem. We should be discussing do not intubate and do not rescuscitate. But during a pandemic is not good timing.

                A pol can’t get up and say, “Stop with the ventilators. Half of you aren’t gonna survive anyway.”

                They have to go along w/the program. Ventilate! Ventilate! Ventilate!

                The real pressing need is PPE for our medical personnel. It’s criminal to send anyone tending Covid patients without fully up to date PPE.

        • gothamette says:


          Sorry to sound so cross. It’s the lockdown talking, I tell ya.

          Read this:


          Well, let me explain the naming, which is very confusing, and I kind of hate it….The disease caused by this virus is almost identical to SARS, so why we need to name it a different disease, I’m not quite sure. It could have easily just been called SARS as well. Because that’s what it is: It’s a Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.

          About the wet markets:

          I think they might have possibly have contributed here. But I was talking to people that, you know, go to China a lot and that’s a pretty rare thing in China. Actually, they don’t have a lot of these wet animal markets, the vast majority of people there just go to the store, they don’t actually go to these markets. But it could have been one or two people that did it and, you know, started this outbreak.

          Google Dr. Anthony Fehr

      • LemmusLemmus says:

        “I don’t care what percentage of people have a terrible feel for math. What I care greatly about is all the idiots out shopping today. Plenty of cars parked in the shopping mall parking lots means plenty of shoppers inside the stores. I mean WTF. What are they waiting for? Does a loved one have to die or nearly die to keep them out of the stores? It’s doubling every five days now in my state of Illinois.”

        That’s more or less self-contraictory: People are out shopping because they have a terrible feel for maths. Thinking of things you can’t see is hard and exponential growth is counter-intuitive (probably because most things don’t grow exponentially.

  13. Allen Sheep says:

    One thing that I think might be missing from the discussion is whether people who get Covid-19 and survive end up suffering any long term health consequences.

    Perhaps we’ll have to wait and see, but what was observed with the 2003 SARs outbreak was pretty disturbing: lots of disabilities, chronic pain, and depression:

    “Chronic fatigue. A compromised immune system that’s more vulnerable to pneumonias and colds. A feeling of numbness in his feet and hands. ”

    “Sylvia Gordon is plagued by painful muscles and joints, shortness of breath and a lack of energy, all unwanted gifts of a disease that keeps on giving.”

    “While many people who were infected recovered completely, a fair number in Toronto and in other outbreak settings suffer long-term physical consequences of the disease or of the treatments used”

    I suppose Covid-19 may not have such bad long term health effects, but it’s still insane to me that most analysis on this treats the risk of death as the only negative consequence of the disease, without considering negative effects on survivors.

    • gothamette says:

      We’ll find out.

    • Martin says:

      Isn’t even measles suspected of permanently weakening survivors?

      • The Monster from Polaris says:

        If so, the introduction of a vaccine against measles should show up in some kind of statistics as an improvement in people’s health. Has anyone found such an effect?

        Vaccines against measles haven’t been around all that long. I got measles as a kid, probably in the late 1940s or early 1950s.

    • John Massey says:

      A lot of SARS patients were treated with massive doses of steroids (corticosteroids), which had long term bad effects. That is not happening with Covid-19.

      Chinese doctors are saying that a lot of Covid-19 patients who were severely ill but recovered have reduced lung function but should recover in 6 to 12 months – progressive gentle exercise like swimming helps to recover lung function. That’s actually not unusual with pneumonia, your blood markers recover quickly but it takes the lungs a long time to recover. A minority have some heart damage which would obviously not heal by itself.

      Long term – who knows?

      • gothamette says:

        This is only one case but the writer Katherine Ann Porter got the 1918 flu. While she was recovering, she tried to get up and broke a wrist. After that healed, she got phlebitis in one leg. She recovered, and lived to 90, and was pretty hale for most of those years.

  14. rgressis says:

    After watching that Alyward video with the Hong Kong reporter, maybe we should call it WHOflu.

  15. John Massey says:

    Aylward had a team, which included some Americans. Maybe you should ask them what to call it.

    Of course, if you’re that junior Republican senator from Arizona, you will say that Tedros is a Communist who should resign, and that China should write off the USA’s debts in compensation. If she is referring to the huge stack of US Treasury bonds that China has been holding ever since 2008, I’m not sure she understands how the bond markets work.

  16. German_reader says:

    I think you’re missing the point by going on so much about this life expectancy issue, a lot of people just believe that anybody over 80 is dead weight to society anyway and should just hurry up dying. Actually they probably already that think about people over 70, who mostly also aren’t economically productive anymore. The argument is that the economic prospects of the young can’t be sacrificed for the good of people who have lived long enoug already; of course there’s also a lot of intergenerational resentment involved. This is more of a moral than an intellectual issue imo.

    • Gkai says:

      Agreed. “ok boomer” tells it all… The intergenerational conflict was at a high level before Covid-19, growing those last years together with the green movement. And this will not help, especially if the lockdown persist…

    • sinij says:

      You summarized the argument, but I note that you did not refute it.

  17. Scott Novak says:

    Off-topic: The US has been shamed by world & domestic media for making noises about restricting mask exports. But they all went easy on other offending nations, with the exception of China. Here is a way to decide who is being comparably stingy: The ratio of Masks produced per day to confirmed coronavirus cases. China has probably 6X US mask production with ~80,000 confirmed cases (yes I know they lie), so they have a 15X higher ratio of masks per day per CV case ratio. But Taiwan about matches US production and has only 313 cases vs 270,000 for the US, so they have an astonishing ~900X higher ratio. This could be applied to other med equipment too.

  18. Garvan says:

    German_reader says: ” … a lot of people just believe that anybody over 80 is dead weight to society anyway and should just hurry up dying”.

    I have never met somebody who believed the “hurry up dying” part of this. Are you talking about yourself?

  19. Garvan says:

    I posed Greg’s question to my wife who has an iq of about 125. She said one year, without certainty. I told her a version of Space Ghost car analogy, and she laughed, instantly understanding the absurdity of her response, but still not understanding why she was wrong in the calculation. I explained in about 15 words and she understood.

    • Howitzer Daniel says:

      It is very easy to ask the question in the wrong way to get the wrong answer.

      An analysis of who gets the Monty Hall riddle right and who gets it wrong focuses not only on how stupid people are but also on how easy it is to ask the question the wrong way. For example, nobody who has played a lot of contract bridge (in which the play of the hand is half the game) ever has any problem understanding the Monty Hall riddle once it is explained.

      For a personal example, closer to home, the first time I heard the proposition that there is this Michael Crichton-like disease stalking the inner provinces of China and the average age of the deceased is 70, literally my first thought (after the normal human reaction of deep sorrow for the victims, of course) – my first thought was, well, that sounds fairly in line with the calculations of the ancient Hebrews, who in turn derived that calculation (i.e., anything more than 70 years is gravy) from their divinely inspired prophets.

      By the way, the latest news from China is both good and bad.
      According to news radio, the noble city of Shenzhen has finally outlawed as taboo the killing and eating of cats and dogs (good), but, also according to news radio, the CCP itself is beginning again to lose the trust of the people, who are beginning to panic buy again (very bad news, if true). I feel sorry for our hubristic young friends in the CCP – (I am a big fan not only of the Bible but also of the best writings of the classical Greeks) — they are like Agamemnon and Menelaus after Appolon Smintheus began expressing his rage (mice, plague) , but they do not know that they have to REPAY by freeing the daughter of Apollo’s priest, make full RETRIBUTION by shepherding the best of the women in the camp from the tent of Achilles to the tent of the leader, so that the repayment is fair among all the Achaians, and they have to show grateful praise and REPARATION for culpable past neglect by burning hecatombs to the powerful gods.
      The mayor of Shenzhen is on the right path, his kindness to the surviving cats and dogs is a little like freeing the daughter of Apollo’s priest.

  20. John Massey says:

    I have certain, shall I say, idiosyncracies. I keep notes on things. This is one of the questions I often ask people, as a test, so I know the answer: it’s 99%. And I live among a population who are supposed to have a mean IQ of 106.

    I also open doors for ladies. Done it all my life and can’t change now, and I keep notes on their reactions. My findings are indicative of something about different cultures.

  21. R. says:

    Dunno, but it seems obviously dumb to me. Without any math.

    My grandparents:
    78, glioblastoma. I miss her. She spent decades working as a judge, but to me she was my kind grandma, one of the best cooks I know personally and mushroom picking buddy.

    84, heatstroke followed by meningitis. My polar opposite, a born diplomat who was loved by many and liked by all. Despite never doing anything bad.

    96 from general frailty after being bedbound & out to lunch mentally. Bit of a Randian character. She loved me greatly though.

    At 95, il Commandante, Once a powerful bolshie, now a widower for 15 years, still alive through sheer force of will and clean living.
    Suffice to say, rigidity of mind and untreated hearing loss haven’t made dealing with him any easier.

  22. A host of semi-educated people – by which I mean learned less than half what they needed to on their way to whatever degree they got – have the thought wrong. But that may be because they were incurious and never thought about it independently, while absorbing the standard belief around them. When it has come up, I find people readily get it when I say “Those numbers are skewed by infant and childhood mortality. Once they cleared childhood lots of them lived to be 70 or more.” That’s a new narrative they can quickly grasp, and do. But they have heard nonsense on the topic all their lives and they just accepted it.

    As anything beyond basic algebra and geometry is mostly used by schools to identify who can think abstractly so they know who is college material (about 10-15%, which shows how ridiculous our current system is), I have long thought that a lot more focus should be put on teaching statistics, probability, and examples of field-specific math. Not that everyone needs to retain what centimeters and millimeters your mechanic or hygienist or realtor is working from, but it is good to have a clue about it.

    Hell, they should just update “How to Lie With Statistics” and teach that. Multiple years.

    • dearieme says:

      My students thought I was kidding when I recommended they read it. Then my clincher: “Buy it for your father for Xmas. Look on it as your assigned vacation reading.”

    • Curle says:

      “As anything beyond basic algebra and geometry is mostly used by schools to identify who can think abstractly so they know who is college material (about 10-15%”

      Which schools? I went to an event recently for an top 70 liberal arts college and the topic was unchaining themselves from the shackles of standardized testing at least as regards ‘socially marginalized’ populations. ‘College Material’ = socially marginalized + breathing + not in prison. Formerly imprisoned is probably OK.

      Lesbian college administrator of course. BTW – when was decision made to put lesbians in charge of higher education?

      • saintonge235 says:

        “BTW – when was decision made to put lesbians in charge of higher education?” A long time ago. The Lezzies mostly never marry, so they can devote themselves to their career in the college administration. The straight women mostly marry, and end up giving up jobs and moving, because their husbands got promoted.

  23. Lowe says:

    As of today, April 4, there have been 8k covid deaths in the US. According to Google.

    What do you think the number would have been at this point had the governors of various states not shut down large parts of their economies, putting millions of mostly poor people out of work?

    What do you think the total death toll is going to be, with all the measures taken so far?

    • saintonge235 says:

      What would the death toll be, if not for the shut-downs? Much higher. New York and New Jersey have around 8.6% of U.S.. population, and around 47% of the total #CCPVirus cases. Of course, they resisted the shut-downs longer than about any other part of the country. So, at a rough guess, about 3.5 times as many cases.

      Death toll, ultimate. I think we’re going to get lucky, and top out around 40,000.

  24. A couple thoughts.

    You can check out actuarial tables of course, or you can go the the Social Security webpage for their life expectancy calculator
    According to the calculator, a man turning 80 today can expect to live for another 8.7 years. Worth satisfying your own curiosity, and maybe worth showing to people who don’t get it (some of whom may be phobic about tabular data).
    I worked for a while, a long time ago, as a busboy at a restaurant. I was supposed to get 10% of waitresses’ tips. Some of the waitresses had trouble figuring out the correct amount.

    • dearieme says:

      I was about to pay a taxi driver using my contactless card. “What’s the fare?” “Eight pounds.” “Add on 10% for yourself.” Lengthy pause … then delight. “Eighty p?”

      A few years ago a nurse in hospital was under instructions to give me 3.75 mg of a drug. Her pills were 1.25 mg, 2.5 mg, and 5 mg. She couldn’t work out which combination to give me.

      • dearieme says:

        Let me digress. Another cabbie I used recently was a vivacious and intelligent middle-aged woman. I mentioned the Wuhan virus. She told me that she’d recently carried a couple of Cambridge college Masters and talked it over with them. So she was able to give me a reasonably detailed description of how the colleges (or at least two of them) were going to handle the problem.

        Days later the journalists of the national press caught up. It made me realise why foreign correspondents are always said to quiz cabbies when they want to know what’s going on.

  25. Cpluskx says:

    What percentage of people would this coronavirus kill during 15th century?

    • gcochran9 says:

      They averaged young, didn’t have too much of our standard chronic conditions, but they had plenty of their own problems, like malnutrition and tuberculosis.

      Probably a lower % than today.

  26. LOADED says:

    It’s odd since the things you believe to be common knowledge are obscured deeply and the things you adhere least to expresses itself at a high level in other circumstances.

    • LOADED says:

      I make the same mistake in a different sense. Some intelligent people overthink. I certainly do. Some think adequately and others think substantially lower than their abilities.

      It’s a spectrum for sure. Can’t be certain how far it stretches but a rough estimate would tell us for quite a bit of time.

  27. dearieme says:

    I’ve just realised that there’s an extraordinary omission in all the things I’ve been reading about the Wuhan virus. I’ve not seen anybody blame it on Global Warming. How can that be?

  28. j mct says:

    Most people aren’t ever going to be proving theorems about vector spaces, but it’s generally unfair to yell about how stupid they are if they cannot answer a question like that in the manner it is usually asked. The basic fact of the matter is that most of them haven’t given any sort of thought to the matter, aren’t huge into knowledge for knowledge’s sake, don’t have their egos heavily invested in being thought clever, and are posed the question in a situation where there is no payoff or difference in outcome of any kind whatsoever for getting the question right rather than wrong. For the most part, if you asked in a situation where there are stakes involved, performance will improve.

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