Looking for scapegoats

For a stat head like me, it’s becoming increasing painful to follow the media. There’s an absolute orgy of misinformation, innumeracy and wild conspiracy theories, pouring forth in increasing volume.

One of the best examples is the claim that there are a vast number of hidden coronavirus cases. One argument is that many cases are asymptomatic. That’s true, but we have a pretty good idea as to how many asymptomatic cases exist, and its not enough to materially change the picture. It seems like somewhere in the ballpark of 50% of cases are asymptomatic.  Don’t be innumerate, there can’t be that many undetected cases.  Testing would have picked it up. Half the UK population did not catch the disease.  If it did, right now it would look far worse than Lombardy or Wuhan.

Now it’s reported that the UK government believes that China has vastly underreported the number of actual cases:

Boris Johnson’s government is reportedly furious with China’s handling of the coronavirus, with UK officials quoted on Sunday warning that Beijing faces a “reckoning” once the COVID-19 crisis is over.

UK government officials believe China is spreading disinformation about the severity of the coronavirus outbreak in its country, the Mail on Sunday reports.

The newspaper says scientists have warned Johnson that China could have downplayed its number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus “by a factor of 15 to 40 times.” China had reported just 81,439 at the time of writing.

Similar claims are being made about Japan, and other countries.

Here’s the problem with these wild conspiracy theories.  Everyone knows that the reported caseload totals are below the actual totals, because many people with coronavirus never get tested.  But that’s true almost everywhere.  Globally, there are 33,500 deaths and 700,000 cases.  Most evidence points to a mortality rate of roughly 1%, suggesting there are actually at least 3.3 million cases.  And even that’s a low estimate, as lots of people currently infected will eventually die.

China probably has less underreporting that average, as their caseload peaked much earlier and most of the deaths that will eventually occur have already occurred.  And yet despite that fact, even reported death rates in China are currently lower than the world average.  Adjusting for demographics, they are probably roughly equal.  Japan has very few deaths, so the caseload can’t be that wildly inaccurate.

We’re told that Boris Johnson is “furious” with China for its lies and misinformation.  I’m also furious with China for its lies and misinformation.  I’m also furious with the US government for all its lies and misinformation.  I’m furious that as Americans were preparing to attend Mardi Gras, Trump was telling them that everything was under control.  I’m furious with the UK government for wasting time on a “herd immunity” strategy before backtracking.  I’m furious that Boris Johnson is relying on experts who are innumerate.  I’m furious that my fellow white people have screwed up this epidemic 100 times worse that Asian people.  Look at the list of the top 20 countries, in terms of active cases (right column).  At least 18 are white countries, 19 if you include Brazil as white.  And the 20th (Korea) will fall entirely off the list by the middle of this week.  And this was an Asian problem as recently as mid-February.  We had plenty of time to prepare, and twiddled our thumbs.

A global epidemic?  Bull****, it’s a white man’s disease.  But that won’t stop white people from looking for scapegoats.  We’re no more advanced that the medieval peasants who blamed diseases on Jews and witches.

I expect some commenters to tell me the China data is fake, and that the disease is running rampant in China.  In fact, it would be shocking if the Chinese did not have the disease under control.  They adopted far more draconian social distancing tactics than did the rest of East Asia, and in most of the rest of East Asia the level of community transmission is also quite low.  (Japan may be picking up, and some others are seeing a recent surge of imported cases—as is China.)

Believe it or not, it’s possible to have a general idea of what’s going on in China without relying on the Chinese media, which is full of propaganda.  We know that they have draconian social distancing.  We know that there is no surge in coronavirus deaths occurring all over China (as of today, it may occur later), and we know the hospitals are not currently being overrun with coronavirus patients.  There are likely several million phone calls a day between Chinese people outside China and those within, including medical personnel within China.  It’s not a black box.

The key to interpreting the news is:

1. Don’t be innumerate.

2.  Understand what sort of things governments lie about, and what sort of things they don’t lie about, because they fear being discredited.  The lies undertaken by the Wuhan government were incredibly costly to the central government of China.  The Chinese public was furious, the truth got out anyway, and it delayed by a week or two the national lockdown and quarantine of Hubei.  It was a PR and health care disaster for China.  So why did the Wuhan government lie?  They probably thought the epidemic would blow over quickly and they’d get away with it.  (This article provided a narrative of how the lies played out.)

Governments lie when there is little cost.  Thus there’s not much cost to the Chinese government in claiming the camps for Muslims in Xinjiang are re-education camps.  The costs would be somewhat higher if they insisted no such camps exist.  A top Chinese official recently claimed the virus was created in a US lab.  Then another top Chinese official said that’s “crazy” (as it is).  That’s an example of an issue where the Chinese government itself probably had a change of mind on the value of the lie, due to a backlash.

Trump is quite similar.  He lies frequently in his twitter feed, but tries to avoid the sort of obvious lies that his supporters would immediately spot, and be embarrassed by. (Instead, he does the sort of lies that I easily spot.)

Unless you understand how and why governments lie, you’ll never be able to interpret data properly.

PS.  Tyler Cowen recently linked to a bunch of claims about the coronavirus data, many of which are unpersuasive.  Iceland is treated as an outlier because it has a low death rate.  But death rates across countries are quite uneven; just a few weeks ago Germany had a similar low death rate, and since then it’s edged upward.  It’s likely that some of the Icelanders now infected will eventually die.  Another link suggests as many as 40,000 deaths in Wuhan, which seems highly implausible.  That’s more than the entire world has today.  Ah, but you say, “It started earlier in Wuhan.”  True, but it also ended much earlier in Wuhan.  It started in late 2019, but even in early January it was just picking up momentum.  By January 23 you had the hard lockdown that stopped it in its tracks.  Not enough time to produce a caseload that would lead to 40,000 deaths.  If it were, we’d be seeing 40,000 deaths in many other cities.  But we aren’t.

PPS.  LOL at the innumerate Alabama governor who said “we’re not California”.  Yeah, you’re worse.

PPPS.  Wuhan is now building a lovely riverfront park.  Wuhan is not a symbol; it’s an actual place with 11 million people, all getting on with their lives.  We should be trying to cooperate more with China, not less.  Stop saying China is evil, and start saying Xi Jinping is evil.



72 Responses to “Looking for scapegoats”

  1. Gravatar of Ray Lopez Ray Lopez
    29. March 2020 at 10:44

    Sumner: “I’m furious with the UK government for wasting time on a “herd immunity” strategy before backtracking” – presupposes that herd immunity does not work? When de facto it’s the US strategy

    Sumner: “A top Chinese official recently claimed the virus was created in a US lab. Then another top Chinese official said that’s “crazy” (as it is). ” – seriously? Sumner knows about this link, HERE: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4797993/ since I emailed him about it. So should you reader. Keyword: “chimeric virus”. Solve for the equilibrium. Note two of the 13 Univ. of NC researchers from 2015 are from Wuhan and one of the two was helpful in sequencing the Covid-19 virus this year. Note no intermediate host has been found. SARS-CoV-2 (the Covid-19 virus) is a man-made (US) chimeric virus that was perfected since 2015 in Wuhan. Almost 90% certain of this. Thanks for reading.

  2. Gravatar of Chris Chris
    29. March 2020 at 10:47

    While I agree with you that there is a lot of unfounded conjecture regarding the infection rates, I do think that you are underestimating the chance that the Chinese government is publishing misleading data. They have significant reasons to make the world believe they are over the hump and that their authoritarian government is how they accomplished that. It invites investment because they appear safer than other economies, their often brutal authoritarian government is given justification and significant foreign support, and it sows confusion in other countries when similar isolation methods don’t work as well. On top of this, the Chinese government has historically shown little value for the lives of its citizens, so what we would call an atrocity is less of an issue there. Also, because of the state control over so many sectors, they are very much able to easily push the reported cases down.

    China is definitely not alone in this either; the U.K. doesn’t count deaths that don’t occur in a hospital, most of America isn’t testing people that die because testing is limited and it’s a waste of tests, and nobody seems to know what’s happening in Russia, which cannot possibly be avoiding this pandemic as well as they appear to be. And all of these are instances of reducing the official death toll which impacts our ability to define how deadly this disease is and how wide spread it actually is.

  3. Gravatar of Peter Peter
    29. March 2020 at 10:52

    Stop saying Nazi’s are evil and start saying it was only Hitler whom was evil.

    Or quit being aasinine. It’s understood when people say X political group is evil they mean “the authorities in that group are evil and not the rank-and-file”.

    But regardless China doesn’t pretend to be a liberal nation. We should be APPLAUDED for have more deaths as it’s a sign of freedom. Are are you now moving past TDS to full on authoritarian cheerleader?

  4. Gravatar of Ray Lopez Ray Lopez
    29. March 2020 at 11:08

    @everybody – if my top post is still there, just to make it easier for some of you that are not skilled in biotech like I am (I’ve helped obtain a couple of biotech patents for clients, though it’s not field):

    (1) a chimeric virus –like the 2015 cited NIH sponsored paper I cite at the top post– is always man made: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chimera_(virus)

    (2) the 2015 paper I cited at the top post was so controversial, for designing a chimeric bat virus that infects humans, the SARS-CoV virus (a close cousin of today’s SARS-CoV-2 virus) that the US government, a sponsor of the paper’s team, cut off funding to this Univ of NC group, which resulted in them publishing a year later, in 2016, a correct paper that does not reference a chimeric virus; in other words, they destroyed their chimeric virus. The speculation–and it’s pretty sound in my mind–is that the two Wuhan researchers went back to China to perfect the SARS-CoV chimeric virus and did so, and this virus (the SARS-CoV-2 virus aka Covid-19 virus) was negligently released in 2019. Of course it’s speculation but very plausible in my mind especially since the ‘intermediate host’ theory of how the Covid-19 virus may have arose naturally from bats has been disproved (the pangolin intermediate host theory does not, as of a week ago, seem to be the case). So the most plausible way Covid-19 virus (SARS-CoV-2) arose is a modification of its close cousin, the 2015 man-made (chimera) virus designed in the USA by the top cited paper. Draw your own conclusions but in my mind it’s 90% certain.

  5. Gravatar of msgkings msgkings
    29. March 2020 at 11:22

    @ssumner: it seems probable that many are overly concerned with fake Chinese data, but you seem overly unconcerned. It’s not binary. They are probably massaging the data more than you think, and less than the wildest conspiracies claim.

  6. Gravatar of DF DF
    29. March 2020 at 11:30

    Let’s see…

    SARS in 2003 started in a Guangdong wet market. The world told China to stop consuming wild animals in medieval butcher environments, China called those people racist and said don’t interfere in internal affairs.

    Last year African Swine Flu ravaged Chinese farmed pigs because incentives for provincial and local level officials abound, and there is no free media so while people may gossip there is no way to aggregate anecdotes into data and we are forced to rely on official numbers. Again, don’t criticize China because it’s an internal matter. Let’s talk about Trump and the trade war!

    Now with COVID19, China knew it was a new SARS type virus in November at the very latest, it silenced doctors and destroyed samples. Taiwan warned the WHO in late December that the virus was spreading person to person. A full two weeks later China’s lapdog, the WHO, was still spreading Chinese propaganda that there was no person to person transmission.

    As January wore on, large CCP banquets were held in Wuhan and life proceeded as normal for the city. People were naturally gossiping and millions left town before the lockdown was issued. The CCP had waited MORE THAN TWO MONTHS TO TAKE ANY ACTIONS, and now the virus had spread everywhere. The first COVID19 case in the US was tested positive on January 20; the Wuhan lockdown did not begin until January 23. They could have shut it all down in Wuhan, eliminating all other global cases. Calling the Wuhan cover-up just as bad as any other country’s response is just plain ignorance. Wuhan was the original sin, every other case on the planet stems from Wuhan.

    In January the WHO and the Chinese government were calling restrictions on Chinese travel visas at best unnecessary, at worst racist. The WHO refused to raise the alarm, and China refused to let the WHO into Hubei.

    Now as Chinese official case numbers dip to zero (they haven’t admitted to any domestic to domestic transmission for weeks), the Chinese narrative shifts to blaming foreigners, forcing mandatory 14 day quarantine on foreigners based on skin color rather than travel history, and raising conspiracies at the highest levels of officialdom about how the US Army had managed to import and spread COVID19 in Wuhan.

    This is the country we are dealing with. Damn straight I’m blaming the Chinese Communist Party, all their propagandists, all their sympathizers and deflectors, and all their useful idiots.

  7. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    29. March 2020 at 11:41

    Chris, Oh, I agree they have plenty of incentive to lie. I think most people underestimate how difficult it is to lie effectively. China is a sieve; information leaks out in millions of communications every single day. Cover-ups of that scale are really hard.

    Peter, I think you are naive about the level of anti-China racism. I see it all the time in my comment sections.

    You said:

    “Are are you now moving past TDS to full on authoritarian cheerleader?”

    Don’t expect me to take you seriously if you post this sort of garbage. You and many other of my commenters have a severe deficit in reading comprehension. I’ve always opposed authoritarian governments; it’s Trump who supports authoritarian governments. He’s the “cheerleader.” I’m not interested in defending governments; I’m interested in reality.

    Funny that someone who complains about people with “TDS” doesn’t pay attention to Trump’s non-stop praise of murderous thugs.

    msgkings, I never claimed the data were completely accurate, just accurate enough to have a general idea as to what’s going on there. Even if you doubled all the numbers, or even tripled them, it wouldn’t change the basic trajectory of what’s been happening in China, and indeed East Asia as a whole. Suppose instead of 5 deaths a day there are 10, or 15, or even 50? So what?

    The problem is not that I’m naive, it’s that most people are innumerate. They don’t have an intuitive sense of how to handle data.

  8. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    29. March 2020 at 11:43

    DF, That’s so over the top and full of lies I won’t even respond. Come back when you want to have a serious discussion.

  9. Gravatar of Ewan Ewan
    29. March 2020 at 11:49

    It’s worth bearing in mind that, as China eases the restrictions, epidemiologists expect the number of cases to rise again. Likewise, when cases peak elsewhere and restrictions are lifted. In effect we are all trying to balance keeping the health service working, and keeping food supplied and utilities working, until a vaccine is found (12-18 months is the guesstimate).

    Why devote so much energy to hating China? It does no good. There are more immediate concerns. And epidemiologists will continue to try to work out what happened (they seem to think China did a fairly creditable job).

  10. Gravatar of foosion foosion
    29. March 2020 at 11:56

    “We had plenty of time to prepare, and twiddled our thumbs.”

    Worse, the government actively denied there was a problem, from Trump’s claims of only few cases that would soon be gone, cutting the CDC’s funding requests early, demanding fealty as the price of helping states, etc., to the CDC testing fiasco to the continuing refusal to act to produce and distribute an adequate amount of ventilators, PPE, etc.

    We had the information in Jan and Feb. Sen Burr got briefed and sold stocks. Meanwhile Trump didn’t want a cruise ship to dock in California because it would make numbers look worse.

  11. Gravatar of Bob OBrien Bob OBrien
    29. March 2020 at 11:57


    The post by DF may be full of lies as you say but this is the story I am seeing from many tv and online sources. I have no idea if it is true. If it is not true I would like to know why it is not true. Just saying it is full of lies is fine for you since you know more about it than the rest of us but I don’t think this helps many readers (like me) to separate fact from fiction.

  12. Gravatar of DF DF
    29. March 2020 at 12:00

    Professor Sumner,

    It’s telling that you don’t even call out Ray Lopez’s post claiming COVID19 is a US man made virus, but you feel compelled to call my post “over the top and full of lies”. Care to cite my lies? You may becoming too sympathetic to CCP rhetorical methods because it sure seems you are dismissing a post full of facts entirely based on your preferred narrative.

  13. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    29. March 2020 at 12:01

    Re:China stats

    Scott, you have to be more even handed on this. You directly tossed out a number to me a week or two ago that your guess was China had 300k cases. Ok, it was a guess. But why do you need to guess? Because they are not telling us what the actual number is. So if you believe the number is understated by almost a factor of 3-4, then how do you discount the damage such lying does. And saying others lie is crap. No one is lying like China. I don’t get why. You say they are not lying on the one hand but on the other you “guess” they have 3-4 times more cases. And it matters, because we are not getting info we need.

  14. Gravatar of Brett Brett
    29. March 2020 at 12:06

    It’s likely that some of the Icelanders now infected will eventually die.

    It’s almost certain. Iceland’s first confirmed case was on February 27th, and it looks like the upward trend in cases really started happening on March 9th. It takes about 5 days on average (although it can be up to two weeks) before someone infected with Covid-19 shows symptoms, and then an average of 10 days (according to the WHO via Lancet) before someone with symptoms ends up in the ICU. The average time between symptom onset and death is between 2 and 8 weeks.

    So in other words, you’d expect there to be a multi-week lag between infection and hospitalization, and even longer between infection and death. Iceland’s hospitalization and death rate actually seems on trend with the expectations.

  15. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    29. March 2020 at 12:08

    PS. I don’t give a damn about scapegoats. I now accept the 200k guess by Fauci as very plausible unless the curve starts bending sharply soon. How do we even discuss this with your ignoring China? Or, just say you could care less about their numbers because no one in the world believes them, including you by your own words. It has nothing to do with scapegoating. It has to do with them being a lone wolf. It sucks

  16. Gravatar of msgkings msgkings
    29. March 2020 at 12:17


    You keep referring to the millions of Chinese phone calls. It’s possible that many of those calls are reporting that Chinese data is faked, and that’s why it’s being talked about so much.

    No one is perfect, and it feels like you have motivated reasoning on this. What would you need to see to change your mind?

  17. Gravatar of John Arthur John Arthur
    29. March 2020 at 12:20

    Of course the numbers in China are understated by alot. That’s is not an indictment of the Chinese government, since a complete lockdown makes it difficult to categorize all the deaths that occur. I really doubt that the high deaths rates in Italy or France are due to a new viral strand, and both countries have a much better healthcare system than China. Therefore, there are many deaths uncounted in China.

    Anyways, if you watched the news, you would realize that a massive chunk, some estimated at 60-80% of the tests that China gave Europe gave incorrect results or didn’t work. Considering that those are the same tests they used in China, how do you think that China’s numbers are remotely accurate?

    You are 100% right that the blaming China is annoying and counterproductive. Doesn’t matter where a virus originates, since they can quickly become global.

    The easiest way to solve this debate would be to find the % of tests done by a country that are positive. The higher the %, then the higher the total cases. China hasn’t published this data because it most likely reveals that China has a high % of positives to testing.

  18. Gravatar of John Arthur John Arthur
    29. March 2020 at 12:29

    Great point. Scott bizarrely states there is deluge of Anti Chinese racism on this website as part of the unfair blaming of the Chinese(Really, who?) He really is no different than those self hating Whites on Social Media that talk about the (many times imagined) victimization of other groups and gets happy when non-Whites do good, especially when Whites do bad.
    One point that would solve this is the % of tests that came back positive. If that number was high, then China understated the cases dramatically. If it was low, then the cases were recorded correctly. China has refused to make that data available. Remember, the average % of tests that come back positive is 20% in the collapsing European countries. China isn’t revealing what they got, presumably because it is actually worse than the 20% in hard hit Europe.
    Today, China re shut down cinemas and other stores across the country. Does that sound like a country that has handled the crisis sufficiently?
    Still, I think that China is unfairly blamed for the crisis, since they are a middle income country, and such countries will have bad data collection in a crisis. It was America’s response that was lacking, faked Chinese data or not.

  19. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    29. March 2020 at 12:34

    Ewan and foosion, Good comments.

    Bob, OK, start by documenting this claim:

    “Now with COVID19, China knew it was a new SARS type virus in November at the very latest”

    When you come back with a credible source, we can talk.

    And how about this:

    “They could have shut it all down in Wuhan, eliminating all other global cases.”

    Eliminating? Really? Is that what scientists say?

    Very little was known about coronavirus in January, even in China. In contrast, we in America knew a lot in February and still didn’t “shut down” Mardi Gras. Who are we to throw stones? (And that’s not to defend the Wuhan government, which truly was evil.)

    DF, You said:

    “It’s telling that you don’t even call out Ray Lopez’s post claiming COVID19 is a US man made virus,”

    It’s telling that you keep making misleading claims. I’ve called out Ray numerous times on this point. I don’t make a practice of repeating myself over and over in response to his idiocy.

    And see my reply to Bob. Sorry, but I’ll take the WaPo article I linked to over your hysterical account.

    And please read this earlier post and tell me how it fits in with your theory of my pro-China bias:


    Michael, You missed the point, I didn’t estimate 300,000 because I thought they were lying, I guessed that number because not everyone with the disease gets tested. I also think the total in the US is also far above 130,000, maybe 500,000, but not because of lies. Many have mild cases that quickly recover. They don’t get tested.

    Brett, Good point.

  20. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    29. March 2020 at 12:40

    Michael, You said:

    “What would you need to see to change your mind?”

    Howe about intelligent arguments from people I disagree with. Take a look at the Chris Balding post that Tyler links to today. I’d be really interested in what you think.

    And I don’t want to see mortality estimates based on how many urns get ordered by some morgue in Wuhan, that’s just stupid.

    As far as info out of China, how many people on WeChat are saying things like “My mom just died yesterday of coronavirus”?

  21. Gravatar of foosion foosion
    29. March 2020 at 12:40

    Trump focuses on his priorities today:

    “President Trump is a ratings hit. Since reviving the daily White House briefing Mr. Trump and his coronavirus updates have attracted an average audience of 8.5 million on cable news, roughly the viewership of the season finale of ‘The Bachelor.’ Numbers are continuing to rise…


  22. Gravatar of Brett Brett
    29. March 2020 at 12:43

    Bah, I think Lancet did some shenanigans with the link – it’s not working anymore. Here’s the NCBI reference with the full paper title and co-authors – I’ll see if it’s free anywhere else.

  23. Gravatar of Student Student
    29. March 2020 at 12:47

    Good post. I agree with much of it.

    That said, a bit more about scape goats. Specifically, recall 14th century Europe (the great famine and the Black Plague), the radhanites, the Italian city states and hansel and gretel.

    The radhanites (largely Jewish traders relying on their global networks and early banking to move goods around the world) basically filled the gap previously occupied by Roman traders. These folks were not subject to the usury controversy (ban on interest on loans) and could move between Christendom and the Muslim world in ways neither could. As well the diaspora spread them all over the world and so they could communicate well in places with vastly different languages. One might argue that the Templar’s basically copied their modus operandi.

    This obviously made the Italian traders (Venice and Genoa) and Templar’s their rivals. People also resented the interest charges.

    Combine this with the inability of European governments and the Church to deal with the famine (aside from using their food stores for themselves) lead them to find a scape goat. Now comes the plague which was likely spread (as today) by traders, and there it is. The well poisoners. Those greedy conniving interest charging money grabbers. The scape goats. It worked… think Hansel and Gretel (which likely has origins in the 14th century) with the old witch (or Jewish woman trying to eat children?)…

    The same thing is happening now in less severe sense (this is bad but it’s no 14th century, thanks God!). The China virus… the scape goats identified to brush off the blame due to a government that was unwilling and/or unable to address the crisis.

    Once again, there is a grain of truth there. The virus did start in China. They tried to cover it up… but just as with the Jewish persecution that increased post 14th century… its bull and harmful. Don’t fall for this racist crap people.

  24. Gravatar of MJ MJ
    29. March 2020 at 13:00

    I disagree that Trump is avoiding obvious lies. I think he basically follows the same nationalist and authoritarian playbook as other such leaders. The point of lying is mainly to demonstrate power and troll your opponents; the liar is not beholden to reality and the brazenness just muddies the water and makes debate and criticism more frustrating. Over time, the lies get amplified by media coverage, even if presented as untrue, and actually become more believable to supporters even if not believed initially.

  25. Gravatar of John Arthur John Arthur
    29. March 2020 at 13:03

    Here are three main reasons why I think the number of coronavirus cases in China is much, much higher than people are stating.
    1. China has yet to reveal what % of tests they did that came back positive. A high % would have revealed an dramatic undercount of cases. A low % would have revealed that they were right about the number of cases that they said. Considering that they did not reveal that number, doesn’t that imply that they are trying to hide something? They wouldn’t even have to reveal the number of tests that they did, if they were so inclined, just the %
    2. China sent many tests over to Europe, of which some 60-80% were defective. They used those same tests for their own citizens. How do you square that?
    3. China shut down all cinemas and many stores today across the whole country. If community transmission was solved, then why did they do that. After all, they are forcing travelers to quarantine.

  26. Gravatar of Student Student
    29. March 2020 at 13:13

    For a dose of optimism. 4 out of the last 6 days had GFs < 1.2. The 15 day rolling GF average is 1.30 while an 8 day rolling average is 1.20.

    This is huge. Under the day rolling avg GF the U.S. hits 500,000 known cases by April 5 where as under the 15 day its 1 million.

    I would love to know how much testing is going on. Are we doing less than before or more or the same. If it is the same or more, then the exponential is slowing even faster than we think. If it’s less, then we are just lying to ourselves. I would venture to guess it’s more or the same. The social distancing is working even though, unlike Scott I would put the number of actual cases at 10 times the known.

  27. Gravatar of DF DF
    29. March 2020 at 13:59

    Professor Sumner,

    I read the WP article, it makes the same claims I made: the Chinese lied, threatened whistleblowers and covered-up the crucial, early infection data they had. Of course my comment isn’t WP material, but in all fairness, neither is your post calling white people “no more advanced that the medieval peasants who blamed diseases on Jews and witches.” If you want to be published, maybe Jacobin is interested…

    To get to Wuhan level infections in mid-January, the virus had to have started at least as early as mid-November. That is indisputable science. When did doctors and officials recognize that it was distinct from flu and RSV, common winter viruses?

    Here is the reputable FT claiming Taiwan knew by late December: https://ft.com/content/2a70a02a-644a-11ea-a6cd-df28cc3c6a68

    China must have known even earlier, and in fact they did know some time in December (no precise date because, well it’s China): https://medicalxpress.com/news/2019-12-china-probes-pneumonia-outbreak-sars.html And before anyone claims, they didn’t know it was a new virus, it was something that could be compared to SARS! So they knew.

    Here is the WHO propagating Chinese denials of the person-to-person spread 2 weeks after Taiwan warned them in late December: https://twitter.com/WHO/status/1217043229427761152

    On January 20 the first case in the US, in Everett, WA, a traveler from Wuhan, tests positive. This patient is also likely patient zero for the Puget Sound area: https://bedford.io/blog/ncov-cryptic-transmission/ (BTW the Puget Sound did everything right in terms of isolation and contact tracing, the virus still spread for weeks without any hospitalizations.)

    January 23, Hubei goes under lockdown. Millions left before the lockdown to escape hell: https://www.scmp.com/news/china/society/article/3047720/chinese-premier-li-keqiang-head-coronavirus-crisis-team-outbreak

    The Australia and the US ban travelers from China Feb. 1, China’s lapdog calls racism: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-02-05/who-coronavirus-update-china-travel/11930752

    Here is China itself appealing to civil rights: https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/coronavirus-us-travel-restrictions-monday/index.html

    Here is China comparing travel bans against Chinese to the Holocaust: https://www.haaretz.com/world-news/asia-and-australia/.premium-chinese-embassy-in-israel-we-opened-door-to-jews-in-holocaust-don-t-shut-it-on-us-1.8478837

    Here is the venerable Singapore doing the same Jan. 31: https://www.hongkongfp.com/2020/01/31/singapore-bans-arrivals-mainland-china-coronavirus-fears/

    And at this point in early February, it had spread far and wide. Yes the US and many other countries mangled the response. The CDC, hoping to learn more about the virus while it raged in China, were denied: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/07/health/cdc-coronavirus-china.html

    The timeline is very important. We should not forget how this played out in real time. And we should not forget how unhelpful and deceitful China was during the early spread. Calling it bad is not enough. The early cases matter most, and the only reason COVID19 has spread across the globe is because of the incompetence and reckless CCP. We know time is of the essence for monetary policy, so perhaps be a bit more careful not to disingenuously claim that China’s f***-up in December and January were no worse than others in February and March. TIME LINE MATTERS IN EPIDEMICS.

    Meanwhile China, critical of others banning Chinese, started restricting travel for foreigners to China around this time.

    Professor Sumner, I too can phone friends! I have one in Beijing who, just because he is American, was forced to self-quarantine for 14 days (he hasn’t traveled anywhere during this time), and afterwards he is still banned from coming to his office. All because he is foreign.

    So take it for what it is worth. All cited, dispute the sources if you wish, but there are others. And yes, people have been talking, like my colleague from Wuhan, who in February told me his aunt and uncle died after a few weeks of symptoms in their apartment after it had been locked down with a confirmed case on the floor above. Their official cause of death was listed as renal failure and cardiovascular disease. He also adds: “Never trust the Chinese government, they can lie about the death of millions by saying it was a few hundred. And no one will have the data or the courage to dispute it.”

  28. Gravatar of Robert OBrien Robert OBrien
    29. March 2020 at 14:03

    “Bob, OK, start by documenting this claim:
    “Now with COVID19, China knew it was a new SARS type virus in November at the very latest”

    “They could have shut it all down in Wuhan, eliminating all other global cases.” Eliminating? Really? Is that what scientists say? ”

    Scott, Good Points. Thanks.

    Do you believe that China could have greatly reduced the spread of the virus if they have not tried to hide the reports from the eye doctor who later died and other medical folks in China?

  29. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    29. March 2020 at 14:31

    A global epidemic? Bull****, it’s a white man’s disease.

    That’s like saying influenza and smallpox is a Native American disease. No, they are not. And Covid-19 is obviously a Chinese disease. The Chinese propaganda machine can claim whatever it wants, but that doesn’t make it more true.

    First of all, there should always be a rigorous analysis, which takes no prisoners and doesn’t care about political correctness. Then, in a second step after the analysis, one can consider how to avoid anti-liberalism and xenophobia. But this step must be strictly separated from the analysis, otherwise important information will be lost.

    We’re no more advanced that the medieval peasants who blamed diseases on Jews and witches.

    That’s an interesting thought. The farmers in the Middle Ages were extremely attached to one place, they practically never moved. So how did the plague spread back then? I haven’t looked at current studies, but my first guess would be that it must have been people who travelled a lot, most likely traders.

    This is the analysis part. In the second part, you can now consider how to protect the Jews and how to protect everyone from the plague. But first the analysis part has to take place.

  30. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    29. March 2020 at 16:05

    I would not be too dismissive of the herd immunity strategy, which in effect is being followed anyway, just on a suppressed basis.

    A common refrain now in Thailand: “We are not going to die of COVID-19. We are going to die of hunger.”

    This is because Thailand has been put on lockdown, and millions upon millions of workers who live paycheck-to-paycheck have been dismissed.

    Elites and academics in sinecures have advocated for lockdowns. For public health agencies, this is their hour.

    The media specializes in hysterics and innumeracy. The latest meme is a child who has died from COVID-19. Actually, the death rate for people under 30 years of age from COVID-19 is infintesimal. South Korea has logged zero deaths among people under 30. Of 1100 crew members on the Diamond Princess, that is a range of middling non-elderly adults, not a single one died.

    Some are dismissing the herd immunity strategy. But they don’t have another strategy in mind. And what is the exit strategy from a lockdown? Hong Kong cannot leave a lockdown, it has tried twice. Of course, a population that is not immunized is vulnerable to COVID-19, now or in two weeks from now.

    So your football team is losing the game. You can change your strategy or you can pull your team off the field (the lockdown approach).

    If we wanted to suppress peak admissions to hospitals, would it not make more sense to isolate elderly smokers but let the economy function?

  31. Gravatar of Student Student
    29. March 2020 at 16:33

    So go ahead Ben. Go volunteer at a local hospital and don’t wear a mask. Put your money where your mouth is.

  32. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    29. March 2020 at 16:52

    “Texas Gov. Abbott expands mandatory coronavirus quarantines to include travelers from Louisiana, other hard-hit areas”

    This is one of just dozens of multiplying, insane restrictions.

    Really, this hysteria is better than, say, sequesrering elderly smokers?

    Student: I am probably already exposed. Don’t worry, my comments here will have zero effect on anybody anywhere. You have your lockdowns.

    I could ask you how you plan to recompense tens of millions of employees and hundreds of millions of Americans who have lost income due to lockdowns? I could accuse you of being very brave…with other people’s wallets.

    And what is the exit strategy from a lockdown? Hong Kong has discovered they cannot leave a lockdown. The population still has no immunity to COVID-19. Oh, that.

  33. Gravatar of Student Student
    29. March 2020 at 16:59


    Fair points. It’s a pretty crappy spot we find ourselves in. I prefer social distancing; extreme now, while we learn more about what we are up against to slow down the rapid spread that would kill millions when the healthcare system get swamped. You don’t. What we seem to have is a Mexican standoff. Ugh.

  34. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    29. March 2020 at 17:04

    Ben, you’re so stubborn, it’s incredible.

    We have to do the lockdowns because our health care systems are becoming completely overrun. What part of that do you not understand?

    And there are countries in Southeast Asia that were well prepared, most likely because of SARS. The economy there hasn’t been affected so much. What don’t you understand about that? How dense can one possibly be?

  35. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    29. March 2020 at 17:07

    Time for a baseball analogy since we need some sort of relief from this dreary topic.

    You will read that “COVID-19 caused X deaths.”

    In fact, the majority of deaths associated with COVID-19 involve co-morbidities and are often elderly smokers.

    This is akin to saying that, “The home run in the bottom of the ninth inning won the baseball game.”

    Of course, in any ball game, there may have been sparkling defensive plays which kept the score close, or superb performance by a relief pitcher. In the third inning, perhaps a pitcher did not hold a runner on first base as well as possible, allowing a steal, which led to a run. A runner on third may not have tried to run home on a shallow ball, due to the known strong arm of the right fielder. Something that did not happen affected the outcome of the game.

    The simpleton says the home run in the bottom of the ninth inning won the ball game, and COVID-19 caused X deaths.

  36. Gravatar of P Burgos P Burgos
    29. March 2020 at 17:12

    I would not claim to be confident as to what is going on in China right now. China essentially closed their borders last week. The CCP barred foreigners from entering the country and reduced the number of international flights to such an extent that only the wealthiest Chinese citizens currently abroad can return, and they have to do a 14 day quarantine.

    Those actions don’t seem consistent with a country that has stopped community transmission, and they don’t seem consistent with a country confident that they have the testing and surveillance capacity to manage the virus like Taiwan or Singapore.

    Something about China’s actions and China’s claims about a current lack of community transmission don’t add up. And that also raises my suspicion that their data may have been manipulated. Perhaps it is as simple as the Central Party not trusting the provincial and local parties. Though again, that would point to Central Party not believing the reports of the provincial parties.

  37. Gravatar of P Burgos P Burgos
    29. March 2020 at 17:20

    @B Cole

    Mass panic about the new coronavirus would lead to a similar sort of shut down to what we are seeing now, even in the absence of government action. The hospitalization rates for 20 year olds is still pretty high, and the fatality rate for 20 year olds will be pretty high once we run out of ventilators. So if you just let the virus run rampant, it won’t take long before even the young and healthy are freaked out because they know someone young and healthy who has died.

    Which means that government forced shutdown solves a coordination problem. Either you shut down now, and by doing so early you radically reduce the total number of cases. Or you don’t, and everyone still has to close their businesses due to lack of customers because everyone is too scared to go out. But by that time the virus is so prevalent that you cannot keep it from continually circulate and so you cannot get people to go back to restaurants or stores.

  38. Gravatar of Matthias Görgens Matthias Görgens
    29. March 2020 at 17:20

    Scott, excellent post! The link to the new park in Wuhan doesn’t seem to work for me.

    Do you have a write up of all your strategies for what news and numbers are more or less prone to manipulation than others? I especially liked your comments about the traffic jam data.

    I mostly ask for the write-up, so I can link people to it. Thanks!

  39. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    29. March 2020 at 18:32

    P Burgos—

    Well, there is hysteria and panic, that I will grant you.

    Sweden is said to be carrying on. We will see.

    If elderly seniors were sequestered, sure some young people would be hospitalized, but perhaps not enough to overwhelm hospitals. Perhaps the public story-line would be, “Please be advised there is a novel cold virus in circulation that places the elderly at risk.”

    Thank you for your reasonable response. Of course, like any same person, I am dismayed by any untimely death, we all are. I am suggesting some of the least-bad options out there. To zero effect.

    As they say in Thailand, “We are not going to die of COVID-19. We are going to die of hunger.”

  40. Gravatar of msgkings msgkings
    29. March 2020 at 20:05

    Good numbers in the US today. And the curve does look like it’s moderating some.


  41. Gravatar of Jay Jay
    29. March 2020 at 20:07

    P Burgos — exactly! This is the dynamic that will cause this crisis to unfold over a much longer period of time than many realize. The fastest way to slow the spread of the virus is to “go back to work”. And wait two to four weeks for fear to change behavior. I don’t recommend this approach.

    Unfortunately, there is still too much skepticism of this virus, even now. Until hospitals in more regions are clearly overwhelmed, and until more people “know someone who knows someone who died,” the messaging from a certain side of the US media will remain influential. The skepticism around the virus is fading, but even today, it remains endemic.

    The question I have is “how much area under the curve” will the economy lose, prospectively.

    Last week, the stock markets seemed to be looking through this crisis. But, for the reason you pointed out, there is no quick fix here. The economy will be in a funk, at best, through the end of the year.

    Over the last 40 years the unemployment rate has never fallen more than~2 points per annum in a recovery period. I understand the denominator problem as people re enter the workforce. But the broader point is that recoveries take time. This one will be a bit different, as we “re open” businesses that were shut by government decree. But after that initial bolus, where will we be? 6% unemployment? 10%? 18%?

    The speed of the recovery will depend heavily on policy response, but I fear this is going to end up being a much larger “area under the curve” loss than currently appreciated by most, and by the markets.


  42. Gravatar of Mark Mark
    29. March 2020 at 20:13

    DF, I think it’s pretty implausible that Chinese officials knew how bad this would be in December and still did nothing–a decision that ultimately caused severe damage to China’s own economy. It’s far more plausible that Chinese officials probably thought this was no big deal and would blow over. That’s because no past disease has been this contagious (certainly not the original SARS), and also because most governments did not take action early because they thought this was no big deal and would blow over. You say timeline matters, but if anything that makes China’s negligence more excusable–there was far less evidence in December and January of how contagious this disease would be, than there was in February and March.

    By analogy, if an individual came down with flu-like symptoms in December before anyone knew what this was and thought “this is just the flu, no big deal, I’ll get over it, I’m not going to see the doctor but instead I’ll just go to work like normal,” that would be far more excusable than the same individual doing the same thing in March, even though the individual in December potentially would have caused more spread by going to work because no one else was taking precautions. Do you agree, and if so, why doesn’t the same logic apply to countries?

    The person-to-person transmission point is also not that persuasive. The link you shared says that there was no “clear evidence” of person-to-person transmission in January. I do not remember ever reading anything in January that said human-to-human transmission is impossible, only that it hadn’t been proven yet. That’s entirely plausible–there are still many aspects of how this disease is transmitted that are hotly debated, such as how infectious people are in the asymptomatic stage and whether transmission on surfaces is a major cause of infection. There was that one dog in Hong Kong that tested positive too, but I still think it would be fair to say there is no clear evidence that pets are a transmission vector. If Chinese officials actually knew that this disease was as transmissible human-to-human as it actually was, it’s hard to see what motive they could possibly have for hiding it, as hiding it massively damaged their own economy.

    Regarding the travel bans, what do you mean that China is banning travel based on skin color? I’ve read that China just banned incoming travel last week, and banned it for everyone, not targeting specific nationalities or skin colors. Before that, China allowed foreign travel with a quarantine period for far longer than most other countries did. It’s far less discriminatory (and more effective) to quarantine all inbound travelers like China was doing until last week than to ban only travelers from certain countries like the US started doing in January. China and the WHO were right to call out those discriminatory travel bans, as they were totally ineffective and quite possibly counterproductive by encouraging behavioral compensation (like Trump telling everyone we didn’t have to worry about this in February because he shut it down coming from China, when we should have been social distancing right away then).

  43. Gravatar of John Arthur John Arthur
    29. March 2020 at 20:25

    Well we have some new data that changes things,
    I have been arguing that our low % positive rate from our tests mean that our actual number of cases will not be as severe as some would make it seem.
    Well, today we have only 255 deaths, which is more than 50% drop from yesterday’s deaths. Deaths are a lagging predictor, and if the number of cases were exponentially growing, then deaths should have been growing exponentially. Instead they have fallen more in % based terms than any other country.

  44. Gravatar of msgkings msgkings
    29. March 2020 at 20:28

    By the way that note above, I’m not implying we are anywhere near done here. But seeing the curve start to turn is exactly WHY we are doing all this.

    Let’s root for more.

  45. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    29. March 2020 at 20:35

    Today you will read that “COVID-19 Will Cause 200,000 Deaths in the US.”

    A more truthful headline would be “COVID-19 Will Play a Role in 200,000 Deaths in US.”

    Every death is sad. Nevertheless, we are talking primarily about the elderly with comorbidities, often due to smoking, or living in a region with bad air quality.

  46. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    29. March 2020 at 20:45

    A coward dies 1000 deaths, and every American does a half-dozen times. No, I am not accusing American of cowardice.

    But consider this:

    An older man dies.

    1. The pandemic types will say he died of COVID-19.
    2. The American Cancer Society will say cancer claimed him.
    3. The anti-smoking crowd will say cigarettes did him in.
    4. The American Diabetes Association will say diabetes was the Grim Reaper.
    5. His wife will say he drank himself to death.
    6. His doctor will say he was too fat.

    The man who died? He said, “I was old and fat and smoked my whole life, drank like a fish. To hell with all of you.”

  47. Gravatar of James Alexander James Alexander
    29. March 2020 at 22:38


    Grim humour but true. In the decades to come these will be the arguments. I think also at least a 7th or 8th death.
    Capitalism has been too successful, leading us to live longer, but more vulnerably.
    Globalisation. The Black Death and Plague are often blamed by anti-neoliberals on the growth of world trade. Fleas on rats on ships.

    Keep well and well fed!

  48. Gravatar of James Alexander James Alexander
    29. March 2020 at 22:44

    And some of you guys here might like this other blog, that definitely doesn’t underplay the crisis but does suggest separating covid sufferers from other ill patients like in the days of old with specialist fever hospitals and the like. This might help.

  49. Gravatar of Jens Jens
    30. March 2020 at 00:16

    Globally, there are 33,500 deaths and 700,000 cases. Most evidence points to a mortality rate of roughly 1%, suggesting there are actually at least 3.3 million cases. And even that’s a low estimate, as lots of people currently infected will eventually die.

    I would put it a bit differently. Those who have died so far are 1% (or perhaps rather 1.5%, South Korea) of those infected about 3 weeks ago (that is how long it takes, on average, from infection to exitus).

  50. Gravatar of Peter Peter
    30. March 2020 at 00:23

    @Ben: Enjoyed the humor but yeah def a well known problem. My step father died some months ago from “stage 4 prostate cancer as a result from agent orange”. My mother nor anybody else believed that and is pretty sure he died at 85 from good old sudden cardiac arrest. At time of death he had a dozen or so comorbidities but it was advantageous to all to claim agent orange cancer regardless of truth.

    Italy has already said in this pandemic they code anybody who died for any reason who tested positive as dying from the flu even if hit by a truck. Whereas here in Hawaii because tourism zero deaths including deaths that were reclassified to non-flu because “testing errors”, ie we are following China’s lead and lying.

  51. Gravatar of Ray Lopez Ray Lopez
    30. March 2020 at 00:46

    @DF – did you read and understand my post? It’s factual, no need even for my science background; so why do you think we’re not on the same team? It’s not 100% true, I did say 90% true, but pretty strong evidence of a bioweapon. FYI I saved your post in my notes for future reference.

    @mark – so you’re Sumner’s lapdog? Do you realize SARS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2 are closely related? DF is right. China (and Asia) have a history of covering up, it’s called “saving face”. Western style criticism is completely foreign to their culture. My girl is Asian (we get along fine BTW).

    @James Alexander – spamming for viewers for your cartoonish blog, no thanks, unless you agree not to moderate me and if so I’ll join and rip you to shreds. At least Sumner can take it, I doubt you can. FYI the CHN data is clear: if you catch Covid-19, you have an 80% chance of no symptoms or mild symptoms, a 20% chance of the opposite, and a 5% chance of severe symptoms that can lead to death. Surviving Covid-19 means you have 1-2 years immunity, by which time hopefully a vaccine is invented. You want to be a Herder? Take a (magic) bullet and voluntarily infect yourself with Covid-19, or publicly announce you are willing to, on behalf of Team Herd Immunity. Go on.

  52. Gravatar of dtoh dtoh
    30. March 2020 at 01:36

    I’ve been watching the numbers pretty closely. Here’s what I think…

    1. The transmission rate depends on a lot of factors (hygiene, climate, type of social greeting, average size of households in urban area, etc.)

    2. Those combined factors led to a lower natural transmission rate in Japan and some other Asian countries.
    2.1 The testing rate is not a very big factor influencing transmissions.
    2.2 South Korea had some initial bad luck.

    3. People can alter their behavior to lower the natural transmission rate.

    4. People are extremely rationale and alter their behavior when the risk from the disease gets high enough.

    5. Democratic governments don’t do very much to get people to change behavior. They mostly just wave their hands and hold press conferences at the point in time when people naturally begin to change their behavior.

    6. All human endeavor is accomplished through trial and error. Governments at all levels make a lot of errors. Most government planning and action is like a blind chimp throwing darts…. very easy to judge or scapegoat after the fact.

  53. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    30. March 2020 at 04:11

    Hello to James Alexander.

    Scott Sumner says to not call COVID-19 the “China virus. ” Maybe so .Some wags are calling it the “CCP virus.”

    This is from The Times of London:

    “Chinese laboratories identified a mystery virus as a highly infectious new pathogen by late December last year, but they were ordered to stop tests, destroy samples and suppress the news, a Chinese media outlet has revealed.

    A regional health official in Wuhan, centre of the outbreak, demanded the destruction of the lab samples that established the cause of unexplained viral pneumonia on January 1. China did not acknowledge there was human-to-human transmission until more than three weeks later.

    The detailed revelations by Caixin Global, a respected independent publication, provide the clearest evidence yet of the scale of the cover-up in the crucial early weeks when the opportunity was lost to control the outbreak.

    Censors have been rapidly deleting the report from the Chinese internet.”


    The “CCP virus,” then?

  54. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    30. March 2020 at 05:02

    Dr Ray Lopez:

    You have very high figures for bad outcomes from exposure to COVID-19.

    “According to Icelandic data available from the government, they recently listed 963 confirmed cases for a positive rate of 6.6%. Sounds bad right? Actually, because of the testing criteria, most people did not even know they had corona because they did not feel any worse. Out of the 963 cases only 19 needed hospitalization and only 6 needed ICU care. In other words, while there have been some tragic outcomes, corona is already much more wide spread and it has no or only mild impact on most people who tested positive.”


    That is a 0.6% rate needing ICU after testing positive. He doesn;t say how many died.

    Tis reminds me of the 1,100 crew of the Diamond Princess, who lived and ate in common quarters for weeks in a floating prison, and not one died. The infection rate (as measured by antibodies in the bloodstream) must have been 100%.

    Ray Lopez is the world’s most interesting man, by his own accounts, but perhaps his math is fuzzy.


  55. Gravatar of AriDao AriDao
    30. March 2020 at 05:28

    Brilliant! I would not use your wording but I’ve been reading news, science paper and statistics about this epidemics since my visit of Thailand in mid-January and I’ve come to the same conclusions. (I’m from Central Europe). Thanks a lot.

  56. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    30. March 2020 at 06:08

    RE China and Baldwin

    If one wants to make the case that we have a many multiple of cases in the world than official numbers I am fine with that. I have said from day 1—yes day 1–that only randomized testing could determine that. Maybe randomized testing is logistically impossible—who knows?—-but it does not look like it is going to happen. I am also willing to believe that deaths may be overstated——because we have vast conflation opportunities due to multiple diseases in the inflicted. I am willing to believe this whole thing was a grave error in reaction——but over crowded hospitals in certain areas makes one pause—-although Italy is the one place that has been most impacted in this way. I am even willing to believe that our collective view at this time is the best “guess of the expected outcome”—lets call it the Fauci view.

    What I can also believe is if a test in US or maybe everywhere, China included, says you have Covid 19, you have Covid 19.

    What I am not willing to accept, is the routine accepting of the numbers we see put out by China. Scott’s reaction is basically everyone has wrong numbers (true) so what is the difference? That could be true—-I.e., “at this point what difference does it make”? As if there lack of participation in the world “counting project” is a waste of time because everything about this is a waste of time

    But if we are going to believe, as Scott says in the opening paragraph, that there are not vast numbers of underreported asymptomatic cases and these are overstated (could be true—-and could be false) wouldn’t he be mildly curious how so few there are of any REPORTED cases are in China?

    Let’s assume he thinks it does not matter—-or that it does matter. China says neither, they say only there are only the stated cases that are reported.

    I am trying to capture every way Scott may be thinking—-including it does not matter what the hell China says. But to even comment on the virus while not caring that China is not testing or not lying is bizarre.

    Scott, who admits their government is corrupt (you don’t get credit for believing what is true) he somehow seems like a guy who will refuse to see the obvious about China—-or if he does, explain why it does not matter. It’s absurd Scott——to reference any Covid 19 data and not admit what China is doing is going it’s own way. THAT TOO is okay——but then say so—-and not pretend there is nothing to see there.

  57. Gravatar of Brian Donohue Brian Donohue
    30. March 2020 at 06:39

    Regarding Chinese deaths, the pattern is a bit curious. The number of deaths increased rapidly compared to other countries (other than Spain) for the first two weeks, but there was no sense of exponential increase.

    China’s deaths peaked around mid-February, with a “last hurrah” of 150 deaths on February 23rd, before falling off a cliff.

    The trajectory is similar to Italy’s numbers, which appear to have peaked a couple days ago.

    I don’t expect the Italian downslope to match China, because nobody welds people into apartments like totalitarians can. The Italian experience over the next couple weeks is likely to produce a more accurate picture of how other Western countries will fare.

    Free countries do a lot of things well, but pandemics probably aren’t at the top of the list. Still, Norway and Germany provide two good examples of Western companies handling the situation well.

    Canada seems to be doing well too. US experience outside New York looks a lot more like Canada than It looks like New York.

  58. Gravatar of Patrick R. Sullivan Patrick R. Sullivan
    30. March 2020 at 06:39

    “For a stat head like me, it’s becoming increasing painful to follow the media. There’s an absolute orgy of misinformation, innumeracy and wild conspiracy theories, pouring forth in increasing volume.”

    Why would things be any different with COVID-19? The above is simply a description of journalism-business-as-usual. But scientists, now they’re a different breed, right? Let’s see how the Mogridge Institute for Research at U Wisconsin-Madison treated Corona viruses back in 2012:


    “The most publicized type of coronavirus is the virus that causes Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome or SARS. The virus that causes SARS is known as SARS-CoV. This virus first appeared in Southern China in November of 2002 and was recognized as a global threat in March of 2003. During that time, SARS spread worldwide infecting at least 8,098 people and killing 774 people, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). By late July 2003, no new cases had been reported and WHO declared the global outbreak to be over. Presently it is unclear whether and, if so, under what conditions a SARS-CoV outbreak might re-occur in the future. An important lesson of SARS is that future emerging viruses might arise from any virus group, for example prior to SARS, coronaviruses had not been associated with any serious human disease.”

    So, what do they have to say now? Almost nothing. They do provide some links:

    “Leading sources of information on the SARS-CoV-2 / COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic

    “Morgridge has compiled the most authoritative and frequently updated sources of updates on the novel coronavirus pandemic, which is a rapidly evolving global health pandemic.”

    Which will take you to CDC, WHO and other sites where you will learn that the latest pandemic originated in Wuhan, China. But, you won’t see a word about that from Mogridge, unless you browse among UW-Madison’s: ‘Message on course grading policy for Spring 2020,’ ‘Tenure clock extensions for faculty’ and ‘Update on parking payroll deductions’, where you can find:


    To the Asian and Asian American faculty and staff members of UW–Madison and allies:

    I am writing to reaffirm our commitment to a welcoming and inclusive community and express solidarity with our Asian and Asian American members of UW–Madison. We pledge to help ensure you feel safe and supported in this difficult time.

    We are aware of instances of slurs, stereotyping, profiling, and discrimination against people of Asian descent. You may have seen some of these incidents making the rounds on social media. Chancellor Rebecca Blank, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Lori Reesor and I shared our outrage and condemnation of such actions earlier this week.

    I want to reiterate that racism and xenophobia have no place at UW–Madison. As a UW–Madison employee, if you experience harassment or discrimination, you are encouraged to file a complaint with the Office of Compliance. You can also file a bias incident report if such incident involves students.

    Virtual town hall for faculty & staff
    I would like to invite you to participate in a virtual town hall with university leaders this Friday, March 27, at noon. The town hall is designed to support our Asian and Asian American faculty and staff community members, with all members of the UW staff and faculty invited to lend support.

    During this town hall, you will have the opportunity to hear university community members, voice any concerns about our campus climate, ask questions and share your experiences.

    Which, as it happens, is also the attitude of most of the journalists who throw questions out at Donald Trump press conferences.

  59. Gravatar of Christian Listerian Christian Listerian
    30. March 2020 at 07:09

    even reported death rates in China are currently lower than the world average.

    You could hide the true number of casualties. How would one find that out in a totalitarian state like China?

    According to official figures, 3,300 people have died so far. In Wuhan the hospitals were totally overcrowded, one can hide a few thousand casualties right there.

    In such a catastrophe, where only the official authorities have all the data available, a wide range of figures can be published: 3,300 or 8,300 or 12,300 or 43,300. How would you find out? And how would you prove your suspicions?

    I would rather bet on 10,000 victims, that would fit more to the numbers in Lombardy. In Wuhan, there are citizens who estimate 30,000 to 40,000 dead.

    And Scapegoating per se is not as bad as you make it out to be. It’s not wrong to look for who might be responsible.

  60. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    30. March 2020 at 07:33

    RE: China stats

    You assume by ignoring the obvious you are helping—helping morons not jump to conclusions. But China is now opening business up in greater numbers—why? despite that they do not test. That could be good—or not—but by ignoring the issue all together you add no value—-when, you are a person who could help with analysis which incorporates all facts—or lack of knowledge of facts (itself a fact)

  61. Gravatar of Brian Donohue Brian Donohue
    30. March 2020 at 07:51

    China has reclosed movie theatres. Maybe conquering the first wave is the easy part. We shall see. Keep an eye on Japan too.

  62. Gravatar of LC LC
    30. March 2020 at 07:58


    When I first saw the Guardian headline, I had a chuckle. I thought it portrayed the UK government as rather juvenile. (How did they arrive at the 40 times infected number in China? Did they have some testing data we don’t? Did they test the entire province of Hubei for anti-bodies? What do they intend to do for this “reckoning”?). After reading that story and several others, I changed my mind and thought this reflected a rather worrying trend. Let me just list out a few things that bothered me:

    1. This sort of evidence free accusation is not only from the West. The Chinese have been publishing stories about the actual number of cases in US being far higher. There is no evidence to support any of these claims, only conjectures. As far as I can tell, no nation other than Luxembourg is even mentioning testing large percentage of their population to understand true infection rate and mortality rate. In absence of this data gathering, this level of accusation is just juvenile.
    2. Our collective governments, instead of being focused on tackling the diseased its aftermath, seem to be driven by propaganda and the need to settle a score. It’s easier to be chauvinistic against an alien population than actually solving the problem at hand. (Here again, the Chinese are equally to blame. Reports indicate the number of unemployed could actually be as high as 200 Million people. The indication is there really is an economic problem in China.)
    3. The Anglo-Saxon governments seem to have forgotten the lessons of 20th century, and either through arrogance or stupidity, have lost touch with reality. This idea of reckoning from UK is just one example. (I received a Republican fund raiser video yesterday where Jon Voight pitched Donald Trump as the greatest American president since Abraham Lincoln). After fiascos of Brexit and America First, the international institutions the West has devoted so much energy to build to resolve issues peacefully (EU, UN, NATO, WTO, TPP, WHO) are failing and actively being torn down. In this vacuum, we are left with arrogant and loose tongued nationalists who could be pushed dangerously close to confrontation by militaristic hawks that really have been itching to settle the score via hot wars.

    It’s ironic that 100 years after the Great War we again have the same volatile mixture of arrogant, militaristic, loose tongued, acquiescent, xenophobic leadership in the world. This has already led to many lives lost unnecessarily through incompetence. Let’s hope there aren’t more lives at stake.

  63. Gravatar of Carl Carl
    30. March 2020 at 08:21

    I like your use of proxies and sanity checks: Diamond Princess, Beijing traffic, phone calls to Chinese expats…Very helpful. Thanks.
    Paul Romer’s simulation of virus spread varying test accuracy, https://paulromer.net/covid-sim-part3/, may square the circle for me on why China’s tests seem to be so error-prone yet China seems to have the virus under control.

  64. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    30. March 2020 at 08:29

    I haven’t thought about it until now, but the more I think about it the more skeptical I get about the Chinese numbers:

    1. If Scott’s chart can be read as “white man’s disease”, then influenza and smallpox are the “Native American Disease”, it’s cynical and it’s wrong. But you can also read the table completely different, for example as an almost 1:1 copy of the worldwide transparency index.

    2. The CCP has spoken of war multiple times. The CCP has never given its correct casualty figures in any of its wars. Why should this time be any different???

    3. It was a political decision of the CCP that the epidemic is over. The virus might not be gone, nevertheless there cannot be too many negative reports as of now, because because that would contradict the statements of the CCP. What we are witnessing now is in parts a political approach. All unpleasant information is being squeezed out, and the propaganda apparatus is ultimately formulating the most important narrative itself: that the epidemic has been defeated thanks to the CCP superiority.

    4. The figures we know from relatively small regions such as Madrid and Lombardy speak for higher casualty figures in Chinese regions such as Hubei. The virus was able to spread almost unhindered in Hubei from November to early January, the lockdown of all cities in Hubei did not happen until January 29. The periods in Madrid and Lombardy were shorter, the hospitals there are not worse, the people there are not sicker, yet there are so many more deaths. Why?

    If my short theory is correct, which I hope it isn’t, then the West might have to prepare itself for even more deaths than we already expect.

  65. Gravatar of Michael McCarthy Michael McCarthy
    30. March 2020 at 09:22

    It’s all about the weather. Korea, Japan, and Germany had fewer deaths because they were colder. Now they are right in the temp range for high transmission rates and high initial viral loads.

    Wuhan’s cases fell off as the temperature warmed up. Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore all were too warm and humid for sustained community spread.

    Italy, Spain, Iran were all in the right temperature zone in late February. New York was a couple weeks later.

    Now the hot zone will be Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing, Moscow, Minneapolis, Winnipeg. And these cities will be the first hit when temps cool down in the fall.

    Southern states, Mexico, India, Vietnam should all reopen immediately to minimize the economic hit and in the fall we should adopt a rolling shutdown.

  66. Gravatar of Dillard swope Dillard swope
    30. March 2020 at 09:32

    It is Fox, but they are reporting on social media and citizens comments.

  67. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    30. March 2020 at 12:41

    Too many comments to answer. But here’s a few responses:

    Here’s my view of the Chinese cover-up, published weeks ago:


    And here’s a NYT story that seems to confirm I was right:


    Here’s evidence that testing is the key:



    China is closing off inbound traffic for the same reason as other East Asian countries. They are are finding that inbound traffic is now the biggest problem. Stop focusing on China!!

    The Chinese government lies in certain ways and not in other ways, much like the US government lies in certain ways, and not others.

    Caseload data from almost all countries is much lower than reality. Data on deaths is also too low, but less far from reality.

    Even though the Chinese data is inaccurate, it’s not THAT inaccurate. The epidemic there really has slowed, as in East Asia in general.

    As dtoh says, the public will do a lot of social distancing when correctly informed, even w/o government mandates. Indeed in America the public began social distancing before the government (recall the NBA suspension, and private school closures).

    This is from one of the NYT stories:

    “The first time Dr. Robert Redfield heard about the severity of the virus from his Chinese counterparts was around New Year’s Day, when he was on vacation with his family. He spent so much time on the phone that they barely saw him. And what he heard rattled him; in one grim conversation about the virus days later, George F. Gao, the director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, burst into tears.

    Dr. Redfield, a longtime AIDS researcher, had never run a government agency before his appointment to lead the C.D.C. in 2018. Until then, his biggest priorities had been fighting the opioid epidemic and the spread of H.I.V. Suddenly, a man who preferred treating patients in Haiti or Africa to being in the public glare was facing a new pandemic threat.”

    Basically, we all knew in January, and then sat on our ass for 2 months. That’s all that matters. If we weren’t going to address it until it was out of control, it would have got here eventually.

    Mark’s the commenter who best understands the reality of what happened. It wasn’t a grand conspiracy, it was grand incompetence.

  68. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    30. March 2020 at 15:18


    I agree with most in your last comment except the casualties in Hubei. When such a catastrophe happens, it must be relatively easy not to count a few thousand deaths. How would we ever find out? That’s not easy to find out, especially not in China.

    Germany pretty much tried what was described in the NYT article: many early tests and contact tracing. It did not work. It might have worked if combined with entry restrictions: everyone who wants to enter the country has to be in quarantine for 14 days. That might have been effective. Then you can trace the individual cases that slip through.

  69. Gravatar of Ray Lopez Ray Lopez
    30. March 2020 at 16:19

    @Benjamin Cole – lol, you are rapidly losing status. I quote my figures from the China WHO report that included over 50k case studies to show Covid-19 disease rates (namely, 80% no or mild symptoms, 20% severe symptoms, and 5% acute symptoms that can lead to death, btw, in the USA the hospital admission rates for Covid-19 sufferers seems to be about 20% of those infected, so the above is correct), while you quote from a handful of cases in Iceland! Stats are not your forte.

    @ Christian List – since when are you on a first name basis with Sumner, calling him “Scott”? Or are you trying to be “California Cool”? You, who have never lived in California unlike I have (and Sumner too) nor even visited, but seen it only on German TV? You, the most uptight person from the most uptight country in the world? Like your mad emperor, Wilhelm II (I bet they teach Germ-man schoolchildren that he was a good man and misunderstood)?

  70. Gravatar of Laura Laura
    30. March 2020 at 20:11



    US is looking to peak in about two weeks. 80K dead. In Wuhan, 40K died. In a population of 60M or 1/5 the US. China did very badly. Their measures didn’t help and probably went in after most of Wuhan was infected.

    South Korean, Taiwan, and Singapore did well. They caught on to PROC duplicity early on and took action. Many in the West, still haven’t internalized that the PROC is a preening actor on its best days, malfeasant on its worst — Yourself included. I am reminded of 1980s Soviet Apologists when reading your posts lately.


  71. Gravatar of JDF JDF
    31. March 2020 at 04:39

    It gives the game away that your anger is directed at Trump, despite the fact that he was largely in step with the public health “experts.” The only time he acted against them was to be more aggressive, not less.

  72. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    31. March 2020 at 13:34

    Christian, I believe China undercounted deaths, perhaps by a “few thousand”. Weeks ago in this blog I pointed out that some of the Chinese deaths were put in categories such as “pneumonia”. But I stick with my claim that the trends over time are broadly correct.

    Laura, Where’d you get the 40k number? Urns?

    JDF, He appointed hacks to top medical positions. His staff blocked access to the White House from experts who tried to warn Trump. Are you nuts?

    I’ve never claimed Trump caused the problem, but he certainly didn’t help to solve it.

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