Saturday, August 1, 2015

CDC, Computer Modeling and Vaccines

"Science" done by Excel Spreadsheets. Here's the takeaway quote:
"Accuracy for the sake of accuracy is merely interesting," he said. "And interesting is not good enough."
Nope. Accuracy is not the point, not the target. So... what is?
CDC's top modeler makes estimates and courts controversy

"ATLANTA (AP) — Last fall, when Martin Meltzer calculated that 1.4 million people might contract Ebola in West Africa, the world paid attention.

This was, he said, a worst-case scenario. But Meltzer is the most famous disease modeler for the nation's pre-eminent public health agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. His estimate was promoted at high-level international meetings. It rallied nations to step up their efforts to fight the disease.

But the estimate proved to be off.

Way, way off.

Like, 65 times worse than what ended up happening.

Some were not surprised. Meltzer has a lot of critics who say he and his CDC colleagues have a habit of willfully ignoring the complexities of disease outbreaks, resulting in estimates that over-dramatize how bad an outbreak could get — estimates that may be skewed by politics. They say Meltzer and company also overestimate how much vaccine is needed and how beneficial it has been.

Overblown estimates can result in unnecessary government spending, they say, and may further erode trust in an agency that recently has seen its sterling reputation decline.

"Once we cry wolf, and our dire predictions turn out not to be the case, people lose confidence in public health," said Aaron King, a University of Michigan researcher who in a recent journal article took Meltzer and others to task for making what he called avoidable mistakes.

Meltzer, 56, is unbowed. "I am not sorry," he said.

He dismisses his peers' more complicated calculations as out of touch with political necessities, telling a story about President Lyndon Johnson in the 1960s. Johnson was listening to an economist talk about the uncertainty in his forecast and the reason a range of estimates made more sense than one specific figure. Johnson was unconvinced.

"Ranges are for cattle," Johnson said, according to legend. "Give me a number."

What Meltzer does is not particularly glamorous. He and others use mathematical calculations to try to provide a more precise picture of a certain situation, or to predict how the situation will change. They write equations on chalkboards, have small meetings to debate which data to use, and sit at computers. Meltzer spends a lot of time with Excel spreadsheets.

But modelers have become critical in the world of infectious diseases."
Much more at the LINK.

There is actually no possible hypothesis which can encompass the variables involved - human responses such as panic-spreading, political obtuseness, medical solution generation. So any hypothesis will be falsified in the analysis of the actual events. This then, is not science. This is statistical jerry-rigging purely for first world media and political consumption by those with the means to provide help. It's a political lever to nudge taxpayers from their dollars.

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