Alex Washburne and the Covid Community of Scientists

Posted On: Friday - December 23rd 2022 9:58PM MST
In Topics: 
  University  Pundits  Science  Kung Flu Stupidity

In the commenters under this Peak Stupidity post , commenter Dieter Kief suggested this Substack post by Alex Washburne as an interesting look at the conflict within the scientific world as the Kung Flu "raged" across the world.

Two notes: Firstly, that is a long post. Either Substack or Mr. Washburne himself says it takes "84 minutes" to read. That really depends! A word count, easy enough to get, would make more sense. About an hour and a half is not a bad estimate, but that depends on how much the reader wants to understand the technical details. or how much he is equipped to understand them. An 8 page engineering paper full of heavy math could take days! You can do a Ron Unz skim-job on this one and get er done in 10 minutes*.

Secondly, I noted that Mr. Washburne's URL (web address) for his Substack blog - called A Biologist's Guide to Life - uses a different spelling. He's missing the "h". That seems like a way to disconnect his blog just a bit from his other world, probably a wise thing for him to have done. I do similar things when ordering on-line, both to "throw them off" and to help me track what they up to a bit. (As in, who's using that same wrong spelling in the junk mail, for instance.)

Now, to the substance of the long article:

Mr. Washburne is a biologist, as per his blog's name. He was doing post-Doctoral work at Duke University in N. Carolina and was doing the same at Montana State University in Bozeman, Montana until his long-term dealings with the scientific community on the spread of the Covid-19. He does modeling of ecological systems and things like microbes in our guts, and he sees this type of work as carrying over pretty well into epidemiology. Additionally, he notes that his quantitative methods work pretty well for the financial analysis he has done too. Fair enough. He has really enjoyed his research, he states, but that is up until he tried to help out with analysis on the spread of the Kung Flu virus in 2020 and beyond. The problem for him was that other scientists involved did not WANT his help, most especially the big shots that had been dubbed "THE EXPERTS".

I would like to discuss this type of modeling and then discuss Mr. Washburne's attitude as a scientist. Though I respect his scientific achievements (though not really the financial ones he's so proud of), I'll state right here that I am not really impressed by him on either of the two topics.

The gist of the article, The Predictive theory of COVID-19, just to keep this in context, is that Alex Washburne's own modeling of the spread of the Covid-19 virus was a much better prediction of how many cases, hospitalizations, and deaths from it there would be over a timeline. In his words:
From my perspective as an epidemiologist, COVID was tragically fascinating. I studied morbid time-series of outpatient visits, hospitalizations, and deaths. I published cutting-edge research and entered the mosh pit of epidemiologists on Twitter, revealing tragic challenges with the scientist-scientist, scientist-public, and scientist-policymaker interfaces. I got to know a world of brilliant epidemiologists, yet I also felt I burned my bridge to an academic career by speaking my truths to world-leading epidemiologists on Twitter whose theories or policies I disagreed with. While I’ve been fascinated in epidemiology since my undergrad in 2007, there was much love lost during COVID.
I don't write here to argue with Mr. Washburne's claims. Though I read through the article, I also don't pretend to have followed all the details of the modeling and results. That is both due to time constraints (I'd indeed have to spend a day or two) and my not caring that awful much about who was right. That's not the point of this post. I will give Mr. Washburne the benefit of all doubt on his stated much better predicted results.

Now, to the modeling. Here is that description of Mr. Washburne's work:
I was a NSF-GRFP recipient, and I did my PhD in 4.5 years at Princeton’s program for Quantitative & Computational Biology, studying mathematical models of competition and discovering cool connections between models of ecological competition (trees fighting over canopy space, predators fighting over prey, microbes competing over food in our gut, etc.) and competition in economic systems (companies competing over customers, stocks in a portfolio competing over market share, etc.)
It does sound like cool stuff to work on. As opposed to in engineering, I wonder if all these cool mathematical models he's made were tested thoroughly by comparing to observation. With the computing power that's available now, one can model some very complex systems, but the models are only accurate if every single process involved is modeled. It's very hard to include everything that's happening in nature. I read of people modeling this and modeling that, but don't get to read the papers that show how well they comport to observation of reality. I get the feeling most of them don't, as otherwise the world wouldn't surprise us so much.

Peak Stupidity has noted that manufacturers add unnecessarily complicated features to products that are "cool" because they can be done with modern sensors and electronics. Along the same lines, Scientists wand to model all parts of nature with "cool" output showing all manner of predictions, because they can. The theory behind every equation in these models must be known very well, or their "products" are overly complicated junk.

None of that was written to denigrate the Covid modeling by Alex Washburne, however. As opposed to the 3-D models of more complicated systems such as the Earth's climate**, this modeling of the spread and effect of the Covid-19 is not that kind of math problem. It's 2-D of course, as far as physical contagion, but the modeling as described is 1 dimensional, the number infected, the number hospitalized, dead, etc., as a function of time. That's not to say there isn't any higher math involved, but I don't consider this to be anything like modeling the currents in the ocean (just an example).

That's not to say it's easy to get things right. First of all, you must start with good inputs. The one factor that Mr. Washburne sees as having made his model a much better predictor (as observed too) is the doubling time of the infections from this virus.
I’ve already shared some of my story on COVID-19 on how I estimated a much faster growth of cases in February 2020 that conflicted with estimates publicized by the most famous epidemiologists in the world. To be more specific, major institutional teams saw 6.2 day doubling times with June/July 2020 peaks whereas I saw 2-3 day doubling times with a high probability of a fast and massive March 2020 surge in places like NYC, and I saw this by mid-February 2020.
There's lots more he wrote on this doubling time difference. In general it was a matter of 2 days versus roughly 6 in NY City and the US, a difference that changes A LOT. He explains the errors in coming up with the higher period (lower rate) based on very early findings that caused the errors in the big shot Kung Flu experts' value.

This is not all it took to make Mr. Washburne's predictions much better, per his touting of his modeling. He does tend to toot his own horn...
My history of COVID tortures me as the predictive accuracy and out-of-sample insights of my theory, which I would imagine are cause for celebration, accolades and awards...
I don't know. I'll take his word for this. In this article, he wrote lots about his being shunned from the world of Covid-analysis, due to his not being an official Epidemiologist and his calling for solutions that didn't fit the narrative. Most of us could have foreseen the same. The PanicFest was NOT about doing the right thing (more on what the "right thing" is in the next section). This scientist knows he would have saved more lives by doing things much differently.

Next, as for the attitude of this scientist:

I'm sure Mr. Keif liked, as I do, that Mr. Washburne's prescriptions for the best outcome of the Kung Flu were in general less Totalitarian. Readers here may have read E.H. Hail's many posts on the "Corona Panic" (his term), with a number of them extolling the open policies in Sweden. This scientist agrees on Sweden and praises and demonstrates the better policies in Florida, S. Dakota, and other States here.
Sweden, however, wasn’t sure about the severity of the pandemic but was sure that such aggressive containment policies had a high likelihood of being worse than the disease, so Sweden chose to educate people on transmission and, albeit haphazardly, focus their effort on protecting the most vulnerable populations with the highest risk of severe COVID-19 outcomes.
It sounds good, so far.

Here are my big problems with the attitude of scientist Alex Washburne. After reading this long article, one gets a feel for how arrogant and smug even an outcast like this guy can be. If his models had predicted that Michigan would come out better doing what they did, he would be all for what they did there.

In general, he's against LOCKDOWNs. However, this not on principle, except when he virtue signals - which does quite a LOT of in the article, BTW. No, if the model shows you do it, then you do it. On the UK:
Their models recommended lockdowns without adjusting for different demographics or accounting for very different economic and public-health risks facing these countries.
From some of his graphical data regarding his models for New York City:
B) The purple outbreak shows a successful lockdown applying the brakes and ending the outbreak at fewer deaths per-capita.
Let's throw in more virtue-signalling:
I didn’t like lockdowns because I felt they were an unattainable ill-conceived idea. Even if we had lockdowns AND a massive social safety net to subsidize labor and pay everyone to sit at non-abusive homes watching TV and doing their math & reading homework, this wouldn’t solve the problem of people outside our borders.***
I personally don't care what the models say, accurately or not. LOCKDOWNs are Totalitarian. Period!

If better scientists like Alex Washburne had been let to be involved in the Kung Flu analysis, we may have very well seen fewer deaths. That'd have been fine with me if this was due to their RECOMMENDATIONS, not their POLICIES. Scientists should not HAVE policies. OK, well, on the masking then, this guy does sound like he'd have been making recommendations... but the smugness of it all:
I said one could encourage people in the center & right to wear masks by saying things like “when I wear my masks, it says I love my neighbor; when I wear my masks, it keeps the doors open for NY businesses; when I wear my masks, it keeps hospital beds available for others who need them.”
Do the people need to be humored like this? Screw you, Washburne.

On the vaccines, I never got a feel for whether Mr. Washburne was for mandatory vaccination or not. I suppose if the science says so, per his better models, than you do it. You find a way to break it to the peons in a nice, maybe virtue-signaling manner. Or, would it be a recommendation only? I feel not.

Here's how this scientist pictures us:
Let’s quickly back up in time to when Omicron was announced. When Omicron was announced, the world went into panic. Borders were closed to South Africa, vaccine apartheid and global inequalities were laid bare as people starved in Africa while people in the US and Europe locked their doors to get their guns & vaccines and hide from Omicron.
Nah, actually not. Many governments and the Lyin' Press kept up the PanicFest, but this guy was not running and hiding.****

Ahh, hell, let's wrap this up with another example of this lefty virtue-signaling/ It also show this smugness and arrogance yet again.
The concepts of the Great Barrington Declaration resonated deeply with me. Not only was the world being goaded into policy action by massive overestimates of how many would die, but they were also not being told the costs of COVID policies nor did they have the resources or support to feasibly contain COVID without causing massive, inequitable, and I believe unethical harm to the people starving outside our borders. However, the people I know love the people they’re with on a day-to-day basis, and it seemed feasible we could reduce all-cause harm by arming them with concepts about how transmission works, how masks work, which masks work, and some models for how one can protect the vulnerable.
No, we do know the costs - we saw them as it was all happening. We don't mind recommendations, but we can figure out how masks work... or don't. As for outside our borders, I was worried about Americans and America, because I'm American. We set new precedents in Totalitarianism. That's the problem!

Whew! That was a doozy. No more commentary coming on 84-minute articles for a while.

* To be fair, what I guess is that Mr. Unz only skims the articles I've read that supposedly support the Covid-origin theory he's wedded to. He seems to have a great handle on some of the material from the books on LBJ/JFK, etc.

** The long-term reader may well have his mouth wide open here, thinking "haven't you been writing that all those Climatologists are full of it?!" No, I just think that those who claim to have TESTED and WORKING mathematical models of the entire Earth's climate are full of it. Long ago, we posted a 5-part series named "There is no working mathematical model of the world's climate, dammit!" to explain this. (Part 1 - - Part 2 - - Part 3 - - Part 4 - -and Part 5) If they aren't the Carl Sagan types out for glory and enjoying scaring all hell out of the public, I respect the Climatologists that use the appropriate theory in Thermodynamics, Heat Transfer, Fluid Mechanics and Meteorology to try to understand changes in the climate around the world.

*** Here's more from that paragraph, showing his political attitude. (That's not the point of his article, but I sure don't have to like it!)
Most of the world is outside our welfare net, and I feel it’s cruel to recruit the world into our network of global travel and trade only to contract the network during an emergency, leaving the global poor to starve with no US citizenship welfare.
WTF?? Now, here's a real enemy of VDare, making him my enemy too.

**** I am just now working with a guy who just got over the Covid (knocked him back pretty good for 4 days, he says). am not worried. Will report back. If I don't within a few days it's because my portable keyboard is almost broken, that's all.

The Alarmist
Saturday - December 24th 2022 10:25PM MST

Mm, but she blinded me with science
(She blinded me with science!)
And failed me in biology, yeah.

Saturday - December 24th 2022 9:37PM MST
PS: I'll have to disagree on that first point, Mr. Blanc. Merry Christmas to you!
Saturday - December 24th 2022 12:59PM MST
PS I’ll take a contrarian stance here. Whether “lockdowns” (however those might be defined for the general population rather than a prison) is “totalitarian” or not is a metaphysical question of the pinhead-angel-dancing variety. Whether such a policy had the slightest chance of working is the real question, and it’s pretty clear that the answer to that is a resounding No! You just can’t hide from an airborne virus. Therefore, the only reasonable policy is to do what can be done to protect the most vulnerable populations and mitigate the effects of the disease on everyone else.
Saturday - December 24th 2022 6:44AM MST
PS: See, that tweet doesn't sit well in the same way as the long Washburne substack article, for the same reason. Experiment with a control group? I get that. Who gets to decide they want to be experimented on, though? This reminds me of the immigration invasion(s).

Oh, back to your comment, yes, I did read about Mr. Washburne's activities with the Indians. I cannot tell if there's any virtual signaling there or just concern for his neighbors - some Reservation in Montana I suppose. They did suffer more from this virus, I am told. I know the Navaho were pretty freaked out for the times in the summer of '21.

You may recall, I have a picture of a the big Hampton Inn electric sign out front. From "How to succeed in Marketing without really trying..."

"Stay Home!
Stay Safe
Follow Curfew!"

Hello, McFly!! You're a HOTEL!!
Saturday - December 24th 2022 6:35AM MST
PS: Yep, my primary cause is Liberty and Freedom, Dieter. (I know, I know, maybe I'd back off if "we're all gonna die!")

Yes, his predictions were very good, though, without spending lots of time - and further learning - understanding his models thoroughly, I can't be sure he didn't pick out and show us only the stuff that worked, and well.

I didn't know about his hearing problem - was it in the article? I see he writes regularly, and, BTW, he said he'd like this one to be the last he wrote about COVID-19. That didn't happen, understandably though.

On the financial business, yes I read all that and remember it also from your comment before. Good on him for that. I have a post in mind about this use of great minds to do nothing but trade money around the "best way". (Ron Unz is another example.) He did put his money where his mouth was on this, and that's got to feel very very good.

Thanks for bringing up this article. I'll check out your tweet.
Dieter Kief
Saturday - December 24th 2022 6:07AM MST
Thx. Mod., I have to say! - You left out Alex Washburne's engagement for the indigenous Americans.
The purity with which you focus on the social state and social medicine question is impressive and - ok with me. - This is a problem. Btw. - John Ioannidis is very much (explicitly - in part using the exact same words!) on your side regarding what science/scientists and political abstinence is concerned. These are, as sociologist Max Weber pointed out, two different roles. And the modern world, he wnet on, improved the level of rationality and effectiveness in it by seperating the two (and many more).

- Did you realize that Alex Washburne is a bit of an outsider because he has a hearing problem - since he was a kid (probably born that way). - Being overheard is at stake here, of course. So: Yep, this man is not least a character, and - I found it great that he showed that rather touchy aspect of his life/existence. an act of courage, not least.

So - yes, I think, he did a great job in finding a precise way to predict the New York Covid-numbers in springtime 2020 - - -I mean - - that is quite something and he did stand alone against impressively strong forces and - managed to keep a clear mind and - - - tried to get his point across. 
What surprised me as a reader of Alex Washburne's article is, that you did not mention, that he not only found ways to improve his predictive powers,, but that he also succeed in using them to make him rich. And that he even ran a second investment cycle -again completely against the grain, this time not by shorting the S&P index, but by buying life insurance stock. The rationale behind this decision being: People don't get that covid is much less dangerous than is - öh - trumpeted out in the media and they underestimate the performance of Life Insurance companies. Two smart investment moves in a row....According to the old Wall st. wisdom, this is the moment to contemplate restricting yourself, because the impression to be invincible is the surest way to bankruptcy on the stock market. 

Here is an interesting thought by vaccine-consequences researcher Christine Stabell-Benn about the Swedish decision, not to lock down- and why this decision is usually contextualized in the wrong way = upside down, so to speak:
WHAT SAY YOU? : (PLEASE NOTE: You must type capital PS as the 1st TWO characters in your comment body - for spam avoidance - or the comment will be lost!)