Positive Bias in Vaccine Effectiveness. Go Slowly, Very Slowly

Vaccines for COVID-19 may appear to be effective statistically while actually having zero effectiveness. So writes Andreas Martin Lisewski of Jacobs University.Lisewski notes that the disease has long periods of relative quiescence (inactivity) followed by bursts of high incidence. Assuming that the process that generates infections has this character, Lisewski simulates the double-blind studies being used by the vaccine developing companies. He shows that one can come up with nearly 100% effective vaccines over interim (shorter) periods but still with zero long-term effectiveness. He’s recommending longer trial periods, and he’s suggesting that test statistics that ignore the burstiness of the process are biased toward reporting vaccine effectiveness that’s too high.

Oddly, the recent election shows that unless we understand better the processes that generate votes and the potential influence of mail-in votes, fraudulent techniques, and machines sensitive to interference, we may over-estimate the accuracy of the voting outcomes and fool ourselves into thinking that we have found the clear winner when we have not done so. In the voting case, The voting was notable also for having relatively steady periods, albeit with Trump building up a big lead, followed by short periods of burstiness in which Biden made big gains.

Look before you leap. Patience. DO not adopt untried, or rather unknown procedures and techniques without sufficient bases for doing so. Understand the underlying processes and systems before embarking on wholesale changes in them. Examine long-term consequences.

The Green New Deal and its attempt to get rid of internal combustion engines by some arbitrary date are impatient moves that fail to understand our energy processes and what’s involved in replacing them with alternatives. The adoption of man-made climate change as a working hypothesis is another hasty and ill-thought out belief. Switching from paper ballots to machine turns out to have been yet another error of this kind. A mass vaccine could easily turn out to be another blunder, one in which a failure to understand the disease and its process leads to biased statistical tests and compltely misplaced faith in vaccine effectiveness.

We need to move a whole lot more slowly and far more thoughtfully in many things. Does defunding police make any sense? Do lockdowns and masks make sense? Did it ever make any sense to invade Iraq and Afghanistan? Does it make sense for a mayor to give up 6 city blocks to rioters?

We, meaning the officials who claim to represent us and those of us who support their hasty moves, need to stop running around like chickens with our heads cut off.

The rush of executive orders that impose lockdowns, interrupt businesses, forbid travel and many other activities, these are all examples of rush jobs, paying little or no attention to their meaning for liberty and their consequences. The governors who came out with these orders acted impatiently and emotionally. They lost their heads. They imposed severe and untried measures. They acted impulsively, thrashing around to do something — anything– against the novel virus, whether it be sensible or not, whether it be effective or not.


3:59 pm on November 21, 2020