### How useful is "cases" as a statistic?

WEDNESDAY, JULY 8, 2020

Consider what Redlener said:
How strange a statistic is "cases?" Consider what Dr. Irwin Redlener said to Brian Williams last night.

(We can't give you a link. As we type on Wednesday afternoon, the slacker channel has produced transcripts only through last Thursday's night's TV shows.)

Redlener strikes us as one of the best of the many capable medical specialists currently being glimpsed on cable TV. Here's part of what he said in reply to Donald Trump's recent crazy claims concerning our triumph over the virus:
REDLENER (7/7/20): Anthony Fauci said, just two weeks ago, that we can expect to see 100,000 new, confirmed, tested cases every day, which means that's about a tenth of what the real number is because not everybody gets tested. So we could be seeing a million new cases a day within the next few weeks.
Redlener joined Dr. Fauci's recent prediction—100,000 new confirmed cases per day—with Dr. Redfield's earlier statement that the actual number of cases to date may be as much as ten times the current recorded amount.

On that basis, Redlener says we may soon be experiencing one million new infections per day, with 100,000 of those new infections/new cases being confirmed through testing.

Will that actually happen? Will a million additional people be getting infected each day?

We have no idea. But again, just consider how strange a statistic "cases" is! Think of it like this:

Why do we use this statistic at all if the number we're recording and reporting may be off by as much as a factor of ten? Can we make valid comparisons over time if we're missing this many actual cases? Can we make valid comparisons from one state to another? From one part of some state to another part of that state?

If the number of cases we record depends so heavily on 1) the volume of testing being conducted, and 2) the public's interest in being tested, then what are we really recording and reporting?

Deaths are easy, "cases" are hard! If the number we're recording each day may be off by a factor of ten, how valuable is "cases" as a statistic?

We don't know the answer to that question. Also, no one is going to ask!

(Redlener shared time with two non-medical guests as Brian hopscotched around. This is the way "discussion" works in our current version of Short Attention Span Theater.)

1. Trump has been right about coronavirus all along. Like when he said ""Whatever happens, we're totally prepared" in February.

1. Who wouldn't want a prescient genius like that to lead their country?

2. Case in point:

The United States just reached 3 million reported COVID-19 cases.

Here's how fast each million has come:

0 to 1 million cases: 98 days
1 to 2 million cases: 43 days
2 to 3 million cases: 28 days.

3. Trump is right. We will be fully open by Easter.

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2. "If the number we're recording each day may be off by a factor of ten, how valuable is "cases" as a statistic?"

If the amount that it is "off" by stays the same, all you need to do is adjust the actual count to have a relatively accurate measure. If the reasons why the actual count is inaccurate stay the same, then you can compare the fluctuations in the number of cases and it will tell you important things.

One reason we care about cases is to keep track of whether we have enough hospital beds for the people who may need them. We should be using the number to decide on measures such as opening or shutting down businesses. For those who travel, it tells us the prevalence of the virus in different areas. It may be used to allocate money and other resources to areas with greater need. When reported on the news, it tells us whether the virus is waxing or waning in our own locality.

No one is asking about this because it would be a waste or time and money to do a complete census and 100% testing with so large a population. So we use the reported number as an estimate. Estimation is a procedure most people are familiar with -- so why would they need to ask about it?

"Cases" is not, strictly speaking, a statistic, the way statisticians use the term. It is a count, a value. A statistic is any quantity computed from values. So, the average number of cases would be a statistic. Cases itself is not a statistic.

Somerby would have learned that on day one in a stats class. That may be why he doesn't know the answer to his questions about data. He never thinks about what the data represent, what they mean to real people out in the world. He thinks "accuracy" or "correctness" is the only important attribute of numbers. Statisticians think about variability, change, error and bias, as meaningful aspects of groups of numbers.

No matter how good we were at counting cases, there would always be some measurement error. Statisticians don't throw out the data because of it -- they try to measure or estimate the amount of error, and they talk about confidence in their estimates. Somerby would think about numbers differently if he had ever taken a stats class.

1. For deadrat -- the statistics that deal with variability and comparison of means were invented by psychologists for dealing with human variability. They were adopted by other fields such as biology, medicine (and epidemiology), neuroscience and economics. Thank Galton.

2. A brief trip through the intertubes will reveal the contributions of Galton to biostatistics or anthropometry, only some of which field would fall under the rubric of psychology. Statistical methods however predate the work of 19th century biostatisticians. I'm thinking of astronomy and statistical mechanics.

But thanks for sharing.

3. Thanks for sharing deadrat, I read the same thing on Wikipedia.

3. Somerby has been ignoring the controversy over a letter complaining about the suppression of right wing views as a limitation on the free expression of ideas. When he gets around to it, I expect he will side with the letter signers and not with those who want to see greater responsibility in the selection of what appears in the mainstream press:

https://digbysblog.net/2020/07/the-problem-with-the-letter/

That would be consistent with his views on Cotton's op-ed and the firing of Bennett from the NY Times.

4. "REDLENER (7/7/20): Anthony Fauci said, just two weeks ago, that we can expect to see 100,000 new, confirmed, tested cases every day, which means that's about a tenth of what the real number is because not everybody gets tested. So we could be seeing a million new cases a day within the next few weeks."

That's bullshit. Daily "cases", a completely meaningless statistic, does not indicate new infections.

"Cases" reported today include people infected 3 weeks ago, as well as those infected yesterday. Multiplying it by 10 makes no sense.

1. “New case” means a person who has not previously been confirmed to have the virus. It has nothing to do with when the person was infected.

5. The estimate of cases being ten times the data is not scientific and is meaningless.

The reason why you need to have an accurate account of cases and deaths is to know the case fatality rate, and to know how to prepare for the consequences.

This corona virus has a high case fatality rate as compared to the flu estimates. The flu number is an estimate because they only collect data on children, for adults the flu number is supposition. Due to methodology, corona cases and deaths are under-reported and flu numbers are over-estimated.

The case fatality rate in the US is over 4%, up to 15% for older age groups. This is with social distancing and masks, but an unprepared health care system and no vaccine or significant treatment.

Currently, deaths are now spiking (they lag new cases), yesterday the US had the highest deaths in a month (993, a 162% increase over the previous day).

It is ghoulish how Republicans play politics with this virus.

1. Actually that 10 times estimate is based on scientific studies in various countries. By testing a random sample of people for antibodies, one can estimate what fraction of the population ever had the disease. Comparing that figure with the known cases provides the multiple.

In some studies the multiple came out around 20. This tells us that far more people have had the disease than were specifically tested as positive. It also tells us that most of these people had few, if any, symptoms. It isn't known why the disease is so devastating to some while it's completely innocuous to many others.

2. Redlener was talking about undetected cases as a function of too little testing. They may be asymptomatic now, but that doesn’t mean they won’t develop symptoms eventually. Or they may very well have symptoms, but won’t or can’t get a test.

3. UTTER NONSENSE

David those "studies" were not scientific. They were not peer reviewed, many not even published, due to their faulty methodology. One study suggested that the multiple was 50! These were ill advised non scientific surveys that were MEANINGLESS. Even if done scientifically, the best a study like that could show during an ongoing pandemic is a snapshot of one possible model. Again, meaningless.

The data shows that the case fatality rate is between 4% and 15%. Even considering the supposition that the infection rate is ten times the data, that still has this corona virus at 4 to 15 times as deadly as the flu. It gets worse though, as deaths year over year indicate that Covid 19 deaths are under reported.

I agree, it is repulsive how Republicans have tried to politicize Covid 19 mitigation. There have been studies that show that Republicans lack the ability to empathize, due to various causes - genetics, child abuse, brain damage, let's recognize their faults without being too punitive.

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