The Coronapocalypse Part 24: The Dangers of Prediction

One of the many curious (to use the politest word possible) features of the corona event has been how seemingly all the institutions of society failed at the same time. Governments failed to use their power to counteract the hysteria leading to a panic response that has made everything far worse than it needed to be. Opposition parties failed to critique the government’s failure. The media has resembled a rabid mob egging on a fight in a high school playground. With a few exceptions, the courts have done nothing to protect civil liberties. And the public has also done nothing to stop the worst excesses of the government response, although last weekend’s huge march in London may signify a change there.

As somebody who works in a field where we build systems, I can say from experience that what you really don’t want to do is to change too many things at once. Too much change creates uncertainty and uncertainty itself creates its own problems in what becomes a positive feedback loop. Uncertainty is where we are now. Politicians, who have been making it up as they go for more than a year now, are still flailing around for something to say that will alleviate the anxiety caused by uncertainty. This is leading to radically different rhetoric depending on where you are. In Texas and other US states, things are pretty much back to normal. Meanwhile, Canada has gone into an ultra-strict lockdown apparently having decided to wait for the virus to become endemic before doing so. In Australia, we continue to plumb new depths as the government made it illegal for citizens of the country who have been in India recently to return home adding to the large list of Australians waiting abroad to return to the country that is supposed to protect them. At this point, being the holder of an Australian passport probably affords you less rights than the average North Korean.

In a story that I found mildly amusing, the Mayor of Melbourne this week announced her intention to continue wearing a mask even after corona is defeated (whatever the hell that means). Her reasoning? People are not returning to the Melbourne CBD and it must be because they are still afraid of viruses. So, the Mayor will encourage continued mask wearing to get people to return. Of course, as I noted in my post on the economics of pandemic, the real reason people aren’t returning to the Melbourne CBD is because the Melbourne CBD has been an unpleasant place to go to for almost a decade. Well before corona hit, I was having discussions with co-workers about how you couldn’t get on public transport and you couldn’t even walk on the footpath anymore because there were simply too many people in the city. I’m sure that was great for business and great for the council’s revenues, but it wasn’t good for the workers. They had to keep coming though because of a peculiar quirk in Australian culture which holds that if you are not in the CBD of a capital city, you pretty much don’t exist and can’t possibly make a meaningful contribution to national life. Now that workers have an excuse not to go to the CBD, they are gleefully refusing to go. This has actually led to a boom in business for suburban cafes and restaurants who are more than happy to provide newly localised office workers with their daily food and drink. But the Mayor of Melbourne is being paid not to understand such facts. Being unable to face reality she will continue to wear her mask. Who knows what will come next? Perhaps we will have the Mayor sacrificing a chicken or doing a “people dance” to try and get the consumers to return and once again fill the cash registers of Melbourne city traders.

Of all the institutions of society that have failed us recently, I actually feel for the politicians who have an almost impossible job to do at the moment. The reason why Texas and Florida can do what they have done is because the citizenry in those places allow, if not demand, it. It’s possible the Mayor of Melbourne hates wearing a mask but that is the only thing to be done politically in the current climate.

There is one other group that I believe have found underwhelming in their response to corona and that is the public intellectuals. I exclude from this group the op-ed writers who earn their living from the mainstream media as they are part of the general failure of the media. What interests me more are the independent intellectuals and there are three I will single out here as I think their response to corona possibly reveals something interesting about making predictions. Note that this selection is a very specific set and I make no claim to its general validity, although, with a few exceptions, I have found very few public intellectuals who have done well at helping the public contextualise events. Rather, this group simply represents a few of the intellectuals that I happen to follow. The three in question are Nassim Taleb, John Michael Greer and Chris Martenson.

The latter two of these are members of the peak oil scene, that group of intellectuals who reason about the downward trajectory western civilisation is on caused by the fact that we are still wholly dependent on the finite resource of fossil fuels. Within that scene, Greer is a member of the ‘slow decline’ group while Martenson, if I remember correctly, is more of a ‘fast collapser’. The end result is the same, the difference is merely on whether you believe things will fall apart quickly or slowly. Taleb gained fame partly due to being one of the people to predict the GFC and, apparently, to profit handsomely from it by shorting the market. I outlined Taleb’s response and my main problems with it in part 3 of this series.

Let’s very briefly summarise the position of the three. Martenson responded to corona early on by starting up a daily youtube channel where he spent half an hour or so running through the latest ‘case’ numbers as they grew in various countries. This was in line with his numbers-based approach to collapse. His weekly newsletter at Peak Prosperity features a list of articles each week all showing data points as evidence to why collapse is right around the corner. He used the same format to report on corona. In doing so, he didn’t, as far as I saw, question what a ‘case’ was, how an increase in testing might affect case numbers or what it meant for the virus to be ‘new’. He simply took these as given and began counting. He was doing this well before the mainstream media took it up and as a result was at least somewhat responsible for fueling the panic early on.

Taleb also took the news that the virus was ‘new’ at face value. In his mind, it was because the virus was ‘new’ that no chance could be taken and his interpretation of the precautionary principle was that because the virus could in theory kill you, you must act as if it would kill you. Accordingly, he recommended the public to panic. He showed pictures of himself in an aircraft wearing an N95 mask and face goggles and excoriated anybody who dared suggest that we were overreacting. In so doing, he also contributed to the panic early on.

Greer’s position was more nuanced but could best be summed as silence. In one of his monthly open posts, he even forbade discussion of corona. He suggested that a couple of weeks lockdown would do people good and encourage them to reflect on their lives and maybe even lead to meaningful change for the better. He also predicted that the matter would be over quickly, a prediction with some basis in epidemiology (in fact, some epidemiologists pointed out that it would be over quickly if we didn’t lockdown and that the lockdowns would only drag things out unnecessarily. In hindsight, they were correct). All three positions were wrong but it’s not the fact that they were wrong that I think is interesting. After all, who could possibly have gotten it right? Rather, what is interesting is that they were wrong in quite specific ways relating to predictions that each man had made.

I’m not aware if Martenson made any specific predictions about a pandemic or about the year 2020. He is, however, a part of the fast(-ish) collapse school and so when things started to take off he applied that lens to what was happening. Accordingly, he predicted supply chain breakdowns and other disastrous outcomes. This was in accord with many other members of the doomer-prepper community for whom corona was finally the thing that would prove them right. The GFC didn’t quite do it. The housing bubble didn’t quite do it. But it would be a pandemic that would do it and trigger a global collapse. Taleb is on record as having predicted a global pandemic, something he was not shy about reminding us all about early last year, while Greer has made it a habit for some years of predicting the year ahead and he also does astrological readings about the fates of different countries. Unless I missed it, there was nothing in either his predictions or his astrological readings that suggested something like corona would happen early in 2020. Thus, all three men interpreted corona according to their predictions. Greer’s insistence that it would be over quickly and we would return to business as usual was in line with his predictions for 2020. Taleb’s insistence that a Spanish flu-style global pandemic was breaking out was in line with his prediction. Martenson’s insistence that supply chains were about to break and financial markets with them was in line with his broad predictions.

To be clear, my point here is not that they were wrong but how they were wrong. Taleb and Greer are the more interesting examples because their position was also out of character. Taleb could normally be relied upon as a consensus-breaker. Especially in the case where klueless government bureaucrats and other establishment ‘experts’ are running the show, Taleb for years would apply rigorous critical thinking to a subject and often find the main point of weakness where the argument would collapse. In the case of corona, that weakness is primarily the whole concept of a ‘new’ virus and the PCR test which purports to find that virus. Instead of finding those weaknesses, Taleb took it for given that the virus was ‘new’ and then went way off the deep end by promoting panic.

Greer, on the other hand, could have been forgiven for engaging in a massive exercise of I-told-you-so. Having been one of the most acute observers of the decadence of western civilisation in the last decade or so, all of a sudden all the neuroses, political corruption and propaganda came together at once. Many of the themes that Greer has talked about over the past decade were right at the fore most notably the corruption of institutionalised science, the rising fear and paranoia among the population and the grasping after solutions that benefitted large corporations at the expense of the general welfare. I initially thought Greer’s dismissive response was therefore an act of humility on his part. Rather than sink the boot in, perhaps he was choosing to remain silent and allow his past writings to speak. Another explanation, thoug, is simply that he had not predicted such a world changing event and his position was therefore to downplay the matter.

Of course, this is largely speculation. There may, of course, be all kinds of personal reasons that explain the behaviour of each man but those are not possible to know. Rather, it looks from the outside like a case of rigidity of thinking caused specifically by being a public intellectual engaged in making predictions. To be sure, this is one of the occupational hazards of that job. I have seen this play out on a small scale within my occupational field. What always seems to happen is that a public intellectual gets surrounded by a group of sycophants. This causes a number of problems. Firstly, the intellectual is given levels of adoration or respect that are almost guaranteed to cause ego problems. Secondly, the intellectual is never exposed to dissenting opinions and over time loses the ability to engage in critical thinking. Thirdly, the intellectual is drawn into having opinions about things outside their realm of understanding. Imagine being able to say anything and have a group adoring fans tell you you’re a genius every time. That is certainly a psychologically dangerous position to be in and it’s not hard to see how people might go off the rails or at least be led into error. Taleb definitely seems to have fallen into that trap.

It’s a dangerous business to make predictions and one of the reasons is that in the real world you can get state changes where all the old rules become redundant. Unless you know in advance what those rules are, any prediction you made is likely to be radically wrong. To my mind, this is what is behind the error made by Chris Martenson and others who try to predict what life will be like as peak oil bites. They tend to extrapolate forward based on the current rules. However, what is almost certain to happen is that the rules will be changed. Corona has already shown that as governments have implemented rules nobody would have though possible beforehand. What is perhaps the most surprising is how quickly many people treat the new rules as perfectly sensible and rational. One of the most ridiculous justifications I have heard to defend the current behaviour of the Australian government in leaving our citizens in the lurch overseas is that those citizens knew they were taking a risk by going overseas and now they have to wear the consequences. Really? Who on Earth could have predicted the government would arbitrarily make it illegal for certain citizens to return home or that State Premiers would close borders preventing people within Australia from returning to their own houses? Nobody could have predicted that and nobody did. To pretend otherwise is to engage in the most egregious form of post hoc rationalisation. But that is what is going on now. People are furiously making up stories for why the new rules make sense. They don’t want to admit the truth which is that the world is a chaotic place and becoming more chaotic. For that reason, it’s impossible to know what is going to happen in the next little while. All of the old rules are up for grabs and God knows what new ones will fill their place. This was, in fact, exactly Greer’s message in a post towards the end of last year. Now more than ever it’s wise not to become attached to predictions but to stay mentally lean and be ready for anything.

All posts in this series:-

The Coronapocalypse Part 0: Why you shouldn’t listen to a word I say (maybe)

The Coronapocalypse Part 1: The Madness of Crowds in the Age of the Internet

The Coronapocalypse Part 2: An Epidemic of Testing

The Coronapocalypse Part 3: The Panic Principle

The Coronapocalypse Part 4: The Denial of Death

The Coronapocalypse Part 5: Cargo Cult Science

The Coronapocalypse Part 6: The Economics of Pandemic

The Coronapocalypse Part 7: There’s Nothing Novel under the Sun

The Coronapocalypse Part 8: Germ Theory and Its Discontents

The Coronapocalypse Part 9: Heroism in the Time of Corona

The Coronapocalypse Part 10: The Story of Pandemic

The Coronapocalypse Part 11: Beyond Heroic Materialism

The Coronapocalypse Part 12: The End of the Story (or is it?)

The Coronapocalypse Part 13: The Book

The Coronapocalypse Part 14: Automation Ideology

The Coronapocalypse Part 15: The True Believers

The Coronapocalypse Part 16: Dude, where’s my economy?

The Coronapocalypse Part 17: Dropping the c-word (conspiracy)

The Coronapocalypse Part 18: Effects and Side Effects

The Coronapocalypse Part 19: Government and Mass Hysteria

The Coronapocalypse Part 20: The Neverending Story

The Coronapocalypse Part 21: Kafkaesque Much?

The Coronapocalypse Part 22: The Trauma of Bullshit Jobs

The Coronapocalypse Part 23: Acts of Nature

The Coronapocalypse Part 24: The Dangers of Prediction

The Coronapocalypse Part 25: It’s just semantics, mate

The Coronapocalypse Part 26: The Devouring Mother

The Coronapocalypse Part 27: Munchausen by Proxy

The Coronapocalypse Part 28: The Archetypal Mask

The Coronapocalypse Part 29: A Philosophical Interlude

The Coronapocalypse Part 30: The Rebellious Children

The Coronapocalypse Part 31: How Dare You!

The Coronapocalypse Part 32: Book Announcement

The Coronapocalypse Part 33: Everything free except freedom

The Coronapocalypse Part 34: Into the Twilight Zone

The Coronapocalypse Part 35: The Land of the Unfree and the Home of the Safe

The Coronapocalypse Part 36: The Devouring Mother Book Now Available

The Coronapocalypse Part 37: Finale

32 thoughts on “The Coronapocalypse Part 24: The Dangers of Prediction”

  1. Interesting post. The out of character response did strike me as odd, and I think it is interesting to also look at intellectuals who have no direct stake by having made a prediction, but did have strong opinions that a-priori one would think would make them critical of lockdown.

    A good example is the late David Graeber, whom you referenced in part 22 of this series about bullshit jobs (a term he coined in this context). He tried to promote an independent community response to covid, which aligns perfectly with his anarchist leaning, and in my opinion would have been the better way to go. I myself volunteered at a group set up in my community that was formed to make sure the elderly will have access to food and medicine without having to take the risk of being exposed to the virus.

    What did surprise me of his response is how he failed to mention the potential dangers of giving central governments so much power, as well as the amount of wealth that is being transferred to the very rich. I also thought that his unseal anthropologic way of going about looking at our society was also absent – surely someone with his training and life experience could tell there is some panic, perhaps even a moral panic, brewing in additional to the effects of the virus?

    As Graeber is an intellectual I admire greatly and I look forward to reading his last book which will be published this fall, I dedicated some thought to his behavior. I believe it could be attributed to him realizing the subject of pandemics is out of his area of knowledge, so he chose to exercise some humility by remaining silent, to avoid being labeled a “corona denier who spreads false information”, which would later limit his ability to spread his ideas and ideology, which I am pretty sure he had enough difficulty with even before, especially in the American political climate, where any critic of current economic order could cause you to be labeled a socialist, so he may have been picking his battles, which is what many other intellectuals may have done.

    In my opinion this is one of the best evidence to one of the hypocrisies of this whole affair – saying the lockdown is the rational, informed, idea of smart people, and at the same time bullying the most intelligent, insightful and knowledgeable members of our society into keeping silent and going along with the show.

  2. Bakbook – I agree that the current political climate in the US would make people very wary of drawing attention to themselves especially if they earn their living from their ideas and getting de-platformed would see them lose their livelihood. I’d be interested to hear more about the volunteer group you were working with. Was it servicing the elderly who live alone or those in nursing homes? I’m pretty sure if you tried such a thing here you’d be shut down by the authorities.

  3. There have, indeed, been some vocal anti-lockdown intellectuals, such as the Great Barrington Declaration trio (Jay Bhattacharya, Sunetra Gupta, Martin Kulldorff), but predictably enough, they’ve been demonized. Also, I’m not sure if they count as “public” intellectuals (being academics).

    I lost all respect for Taleb over this corona business, and I don’t really know who Martenson is (I’d heard the name before, but that’s about it). Greer? Oh, yeah, I used to be a regular reader before he banned me from posting for supposedly “ranting” about rice and beans. Whatever. Anyway, he initially supported the lockdowns, and then changed his mind, but to know this, you’d have to read the comments section of his blog. I found this very odd because by the time this virus was detected outside of China, we actually knew quite a bit about it, such as that it was quite dangerous for the elderly and people with certain underlying conditions, but was fairly harmless otherwise. So, why were so many people (including Greer) supporting lockdowns? It was all very odd.

    And you’re quite right about this part:

    “It’s a dangerous business to make predictions and one of the reasons is that in the real world you can get state changes where all the old rules become redundant. Unless you know in advance what those rules are, any prediction you made is likely to be radically wrong.”

    Exactly. I have no idea where this is going; all I know is that the world will be a less pleasant place for the foreseeable future. Jonathan Sumption (a former Supreme Court judge in the UK) had some interesting thoughts about this. Basically, he said that the law allowed governments to do almost anything they wanted (well, as long as they could get it through parliament, I suppose), but that there were conventions that said that they (governments) simply wouldn’t do certain things, such as lock up healthy people. But then these lockdowns broke some of those conventions, and once you break the spell, who knows what comes next, i.e. just how the (inevitable) next crisis will be handled. Anyway, I don’t know what comes next, but I’m pessimistic.

  4. Simon: “Are you taking any steps personally to prepare yourself?”

    I’m not sure there’s much I can do. I’m a foreigner on a temporary visa (tied to my job) over here in the Czech Republic. I may get permanent residence in a few years if all goes well, but for the time being, I’m well aware of my disposability. Mostly, I’m trying to keep a low profile, and I’ll be avoiding foreign travel for as long as my work permits: I’m worried about getting stuck abroad and not being able to come back. Given what happened with Aussies in India, I’m sure you can understand that. (And being a non-citizen, I’m unlikely to be so much as an afterthought if CZ decides to do something comparably drastic.) As it happens, I just became eligible for da vaccine. Yay (not). I suspect vaccination will become mandatory (de facto, if not de jure), but waiting as long as possible seems advisable. I’m thinking that the longer I wait, the more likely it is that serious problems (if there are any) will be detected and these vaccines pulled. Or maybe that won’t happen, in which case, hopefully (hopefully!) these vaccines are at least half as safe as they are claimed to be, and getting one won’t harm me. So that’s my entire “preparation”: keep a low profile, avoid foreign travel, and try to delay vaccination for as long as possible.

    About Greer: to be fair, I’m not sure he literally banned me. He did delete a couple of my comments, and posted a comment saying he’d deleted a number of rice and bean “rants.” So, I’m not sure what would happen if I tried commenting again, but I don’t plan to do so, and I’m no longer reading him. He’s a smart guy, but I believe I’ve already gotten all the useful stuff I was ever going to get from him, and I think he lives in something of an echo chamber. (He predicted a landslide victory for Trump, remember?) But it’s not just intellectuals (Greer is probably better than most). With the media fragmentation, it’s quite a challenge for anyone (myself by all means included) to avoid getting stuck in an echo chamber.

  5. Irena – sounds fair enough to me. “Shelter in place” has ironically become probably the best strategy to deal with the response to the virus. Better the devil you know and all that.

    Echo chambers are kind of necessary. You need some level of shared agreement about things to have a conversation but there also needs to be disagreement within those bounds and that’s where I find ecosophia lacking. Having said that, it’s still the most interesting forum on the internet. Or do you have any other recommendations?

  6. Simon: ““Shelter in place” has ironically become probably the best strategy to deal with the response to the virus.”

    Ha! Exactly. And the pressure (at my workplace) to get da vaccine is increasing, by which I mean, a couple of guilt-tripping e-mails were sent just this morning. Mind you, I have no doubt they’re being perfectly sincere and are just doing what they think is best for everyone. I do wonder, though, why it is that otherwise highly intelligent people don’t get the concept of “the mid-to-long term side effects are unknown, and for the time being, unknowable.” It’s as if what we didn’t know simply didn’t exist. It’s very odd.

    Speaking of highly intelligent people failing to see the obvious: are you familiar with Bret Weinstein? He’s become something of a public intellectual by now, and he has a fairly popular podcast. Good info about vaccines (and a bunch of other topics). But he thinks “we” should have locked down much harder and much earlier. In fact, he said some time ago that the whole world should have entered a very strict lockdown for about six weeks, and that would have eradicated the virus. The whole world. Including the drug cartels and jihadis, I presume? And as for how exactly one was supposed to “socially distance” in an overpopulated slum with no indoor plumbing – he didn’t address that.

  7. About echo chambers: you know, John McWhorter once made a point similar to yours, namely, that fully free debate is unproductive, and that no, we should not give a fair hearing to people who would argue for such things as the reintroduction of slavery or for denying women the vote. To have a productive discussion, you really do need to keep some things off the table. But (says McWhorter) the number of things being kept off the table has grown beyond reason, with things that we never actually discussed and agreed on suddenly being declared beyond the pale. Anyway, that’s the general state of affairs in the culture (and especially media) at large.

    With blogs, the dynamic is that people who disagree tend to simply go away (i.e. stop reading and commenting). Simple enough. And then you’re left with readers who agree with more and more of what the blogger says (and are more and more reluctant to voice their opinion when they do disagree). Understandably enough, the blogger is increasingly convinced that all reasonable people think more or less as he does (after all, his readers agree with him!), and loses track of the wider world. And then within that context, ever smaller disagreements are treated as major ones, and the blogger gets to pat himself on the back for allowing such disagreements. It’s actually not obvious how this trap can be avoided, especially since it tends to happen gradually, and not suddenly.

    Well, to the extent that it can be avoided, it is precisely like this: by someone else (such as yourself) writing a blog post disagreeing with some popular blogger; and since it’s your blog, he cannot just delete your comment. But this sort of thing used to be more common than it is now, perhaps because blogging is in decline. The general trend is toward more and more tightly sealed echo chambers that don’t communicate with each other, except possibly to sling mud at each other.

  8. Irena: have heard of Weinstein but don’t know if I’ve actually read or listened to him directly. Sounds like he was part of the ‘smash the curve’ group of intellectuals who apparently thought that we now have the power to ‘defeat’ viruses. They were definitely part of what led us down this track. I suppose that’s another problem with intellectuals. Anybody can sit in their armchair and theorise about what could be done. What we needed was people who actually know how to get things done. Those people also tend to know what cannot be done.

    There is one forum I have found which doesn’t lead to echo chambers and that’s small country towns. I grew up in one myself. The thing about a small town is that you actually need other people. One day, a tree will fall or somebody will get bitten by a snake or a bushfire will break out and your life could depend on those around you. For that reason, it’s in your interests to stay on relatively good terms with your neighbours and that means you’ll have to put up with listening to all their opinions no matter how egregious you find them. That dynamic creates its own problems but an echo chamber is not one 🙂

  9. hi mate,

    I was wondering when you would get to this part of the story.
    I heard that Taleb dropped the ball, dunno about Martenson, but i never put these two guys in the same league as Greer anyway, so my disappointment there was limited.
    From Greer however I expected more. Strange to see him switch to Disney mode just when interesting things started happening. But then, 2020 was a strange year.
    I see what happened last year as a phase change. When supercooled water is disturbed it can freeze instantaneously. Greer did not manage to predict the disturbance, this would be a tall order, but the effects of it certainly confirm his body of thought. One might say he was more right than wrong, which is about as good as anyone can hope for.
    The character of his responses changed a bit too. Sometimes rather thin skinned and personal. Still, I got a lot from him over the years and I thank him for that, but I am done with it now.
    If one believes the polls, about 80% of the population seem to swallow the official narrative, so this figure would apply to the intellectuals too. Being an intellectual does not give you immunity to stupid beliefs. Since there are not too many public intellectuals worth following, losing 80% of them feels like a lot.
    On the bright side there are quite a few good ones writing and podcasting in German. After pretty much ignoring events in Germany for two decades, corona has brought me back to my roots intellectually.
    I am not aware of a forum that compares to ecosophia. Would be nice to have one. In German or English. Maybe you can get one going here…

    The Bret Weinstein story is hilarious but not surprising. I’m just reading “The Myths We Live By” by Mary Midgley and she has a few things to say about that.

  10. What do you make of people like Alan Jones and Andrew Bolt? I guess they are public intellectuals. The virus seems to affect the Left far more than the right.

  11. I never paid them any attention before. They’ve been just part of the furniture for decades. Now they sound like revolutionaries. The Conquistadors of Common Sense.

  12. Hello Simon,
    Thanks for sharing your perspective on the writings/work of these figures that I also follow.

    I agree to the strange quietude of Greer on this topic that is so well in line with his narrative. There was a post a month back or so about the return of peak-oil to the discussion, which I think was pretty good. Regarding Martenson, I think he made a very sincere attempt to bring daily fact-based news to a large audience, when WHO and other official channels were hiding lots of stuff. He provided references to scientific literature and specific sources, which made his story much more convincing than the official story: “We have this under control. Fall in line and do as we tell you.” (He got demonetized and I suspect that he has taken quite an economic hit from this, which is maybe why the dynamic duo is falling apart.)

    Regarding the virus itself, I don’t share your view connecting “face-masks” with “panic”. A few years back, we spent three years in Asia, where face-masks often were used when someone had a cold or a flu, to reduce the spread. It works quite all right, and is seen as a sign of respect for the collective. An act for the greater good. Also with this virus, I think there are many appropriate places and times for using face-masks.

    Furthermore, I have a different perspective when it comes to eradication based on isolation (which was successful with SARS-COV-1) and vaccination (which was successful with polio – globally!). This can be a quite rational response.

    Back to the original topic – predictions and rules-of-engagement. The best analysis I found was by David Graeber, talking about money: Power is expressed through money. Money means whatever the people in power want it to mean.
    Therefore, there are no natural laws governing this, and money supply can be manipulated at will by the people in the driving seat. (within bounds, of course it is playing with fire, to put the printing presses in full gear..) I think that this is the area where both Martenson and Greer and Taleb have been most in the mist when it comes to short/medium-term predictions.
    On the longer run, I think that they will unfortunately be proven right… Especially the slow, bumpy road to a simpler society, with less Marketing Managers and more farmers.

    As for Taleb – in his home country Lebanon, they already experience hyperinflation, starting in 2020, but it has not yet erupted in the more powerful parts of the world. Unfortunately, I think that 2023 will look alot like Germany in 1923.

    What do you think? How bumpy will your road be?


  13. Goran – isolation ‘worked’ for SARS-1 but not in the way you might think. Bear in mind, there were no PCR tests for SARS-1. The case definition required a person to have severe flu symptoms AND be exposed to an existing case. How did they define what ‘exposure’ meant? It varied from place to place but in Hong Kong it meant you had come with 0.9 metres of a known case. How could they know they you had done that? A public health bureaucrat had to guess. Based on the case definition, once they started isolating cases, it became impossible to generate new ones because no new people ever came within 0.9 metres of an isolated person. That’s why the whole thing disappeared so quickly. With SARS-2, the case definition is a positive test, no symptoms or contact with existing cases is required. Given the virus is endemic, there will always be ‘cases’ and everybody will have to do what Texas and Florida have done and simply declare that it’s over. Otherwise, it will go on forever.

    I’m not sure what your point is with the masks. Yes, they are common in Asia but we don’t live in Asia. I’ve also travelled in Asia and I see a lot to like in the culture there but collectivism is not one of those things. I much prefer the individualism of western culture. In any case, there is a big difference between people choosing masks for cultural reasons and governments imposing them on citizens without no scientific evidence for their efficacy and plenty of studies showing they do nothing.

    They call Australia the lucky country and I expect that to hold while I’m still alive. We have enough food to feed ourselves and enough mineral resources to ensure an income. We also know how to secure the borders (even against our own citizens!) How about you? Is Holland looking like a safe bet in the next decades?

  14. @Goran & Simon

    SARS-1 was a type of disease that reliably produced severe symptoms. That meant you were much more likely to die of it than of COVID, but it also meant that you’d quickly become incapacitated (obvious for everyone to see), which meant people knew to avoid you, which significantly reduced transmission. Ebola’s like that, too. Such illnesses are actually easier to eradicate (or bring under control) than illnesses like COVID, where most people who get it have just mild (if any) symptoms, and can spread it around without anyone realizing anything much is the matter.

    As for vaccines: sure, you can eradicate a disease with a vaccine. But you have to have a good vaccine. Does *anybody* think the current crop of COVID vaccines can come close to eradicating the thing? We don’t even know how long they are supposed to be effective, but the highest end estimates I’ve seen are something like a couple of years. It may in fact be just a few months. And that’s without taking into account the fact that the virus keeps mutating.

    About masks: in Asia, you wear a mask if you’re sick. Sounds reasonable, and it probably helps, if for no other reason, then because it signals to people that you’re sick and contagious, and that they should therefore stay away from you. Putting a mask on the entire population is an entirely different matter.

  15. Irena – I very much doubt SARS-1 was a particularly severe disease. The only way to become a case for SARS-1 was to go to hospital. Nobody was trying to count other infections as there was no way to do so. Assuming the same distribution of illness as SARS-2, for every person who went to hospital there were about another 100 who were ‘infected’ but had no symptoms or mild symptoms. Thus, you drop the case fatality rate by two orders of magnitude and end up with basically the same as SARS-2.

  16. Simon – This volunteer group was set up in my town, and we were mainly helping the elderly we are living alone. The group itself was set up by my town’s social services unit, so you could say it was an initiative supported by the town council. Another thing we did was to check up on people, since one of the negative consequences of the lockdown is that the elderly were cut off from their support networks – family not allowed or afraid to visit, no ability to go out to the store to buy something just to be out meeting people, etc. So part of what we did was call them to make sure everything’s ok and talk to them a little.

    It’s interesting you say this would not work in Australia, why? My impression from living in the US is that Anglo-Saxon countries tend to have a great tradition of civil society.

  17. Simon,

    I believe SARS-1 was quite a serious disease. If it hadn’t been, it’s rather unlikely it would have been eradicated. With less severe diseases, you can’t find all the asymptomatic and minimally symptomatic carriers (especially for airborne disease), who then go on to infect others, a small-ish number of whom then wind up in hospital or morgue. Sure, you can try (as we’ve seen), but it doesn’t mean you have any reasonable chance of succeeding. You might as well try to eradicate the common cold.

  18. Bakbook – I misunderstood your meaning. Yes, a council-sponsored initiative would work here. In fact, I have a friend who does something very similar in a volunteer capacity in relation to nursing homes.

  19. Irena – if you’d like to go down the rabbit hole on SARS-1, I recommend this

    tl;dr The case definition of SARS-1 ensured cases would dry up once they started isolating people. About six months after the WHO declared the pandemic over, some Chinese researchers started testing with PCR tests (which were still just a laboratory tool at that point) and found people who returned a positive test for SARS-1 but the WHO was no longer interested. All those potential SARS cases were no doubt included under the usual pneumonia/influenza-like-illness statistics.

  20. Simon,

    Interesting… Okay, so there are two possibilities. One is that those Chinese PCR tests (for SARS-1) were simply wrong. The other is that the disease was much less infectious than COVID, and is still with us, but is flying under the radar because it’s spreading slowly enough not to cause any spikes in mortality.

  21. Irena – null hypothesis is that SARS-1 was not a pandemic and neither is SARS-2/covid. (Note: technically there is always a pandemic as viruses are always circling the globe) All that happened was that we mapped a pandemic onto the usual background of viral respiratory illness using a dodgy case definition (SARS-1) and a dodgy test (SARS-2). Sounds crazy, right? I sketch out a basic argument for this hypothesis here – and here

  22. Simon and Irene – I agree with Simon’s hypothesis. I’d like to share a story from my time as a Physics undergraduate that I believe illustrates this if I may.

    At some point in my degree, I was measuring a laser signal in an experimental system. I could control the sample frequency (how often one measures the strength of the laser to eventually get a series of measurements that were taken every X seconds). At first, I thought I should clearly use the highest sample frequency available, in order to get more accurate data. What this did is introduce a lot of noise as well as other artifacts into my measurements.

    What I learned after very stressful 2 weeks, is that there is in fact such a thing as too much data and too much measurements – as Jorge Luis Borges writes in his famous short story “On Exactitude in Science”, at some point you will be overwhelmed by the sheer complexity and detail a 1:1 map, or in my case, an almost continuous signal, would show you, so your “perfect model” is actually useless.

    So, as soon as I realized this may be the most measured viral outbreak in human history, I realized there is no limit to the “scary”, “new” things we will “discover”, and the artifacts and noise will look like actual “science”. And as we know, if all you give the human brain is noise, it will use its power of imagination to create an image.

  23. Simon,

    The PCR tests may be dodgy, and the response to the virus has been nuts. But clearly, there’s a pandemic. Excess deaths are up fairly significantly in large parts of the world. (Forget COVID deaths: every country counts them differently. Excess deaths are a different matter, though.) Sure, part of it is due to lockdowns, especially among younger people (much has been made of the fact that the number of suicides has apparently gone down, but oopsie, we forgot to mention that drug overdoses are way up), but much if it is due to respiratory illness.

    BTW, are you familiar with Geert Vanden Bossche? He was on Bret Weinstein’s podcast recently (, and he also has his own web page ( Essentially, he made the claim that mass vaccination deployed during a pandemic could actually breed a super-bug, because the virus winds up infecting lots and lots and lots of people who were only recently vaccinated (and therefore have some, but by no means perfect immunity), which gives the virus a chance to overcome the immunity hurdle more easily, and to ultimately evolve in a way that bypasses the immune system. That makes sense. The other point he made (and this, I must admit, went way over my head, given my lack of knowledge about immunology) was that if you get vaccinated, and then subsequently encounter a mutant version, you may wind up sicker than you would have if you’d never gotten vaccinated in the first place, because (if I understood correctly) your acquired immunity will react instead of natural immunity, but that acquired immunity will be ineffective against the mutant, and your natural immunity won’t even be deployed, and there you are in the ER or morgue. Anyway, no idea if that’s correct, but that’s the argument as I understand it.

  24. Hello Simon,

    thanks for asking. I was not clear enough.

    I just wanted to say that I think eradication of SARS-cov-2 is technically possible, but only when we have a vaccine that is good enough (not yet!) and if we can get a global consensus that it is a good idea to do that. I think the problem is more political and of will rather than technical.
    I am not yet sure about the trade-off, probably it will not be worth the costs to do.
    There are other health problems that are more pressing and cheaper to address (e.g. obesity and diabetes due to junk food etc.)

    My friends who work at the hospital are clear that the covid that we have here in The Netherlands is killing and disabling far more middle-age people than any flu they have ever experienced. On the other hand, they were not around when the 1918-1919 flu hit, so it is hard to compare… We all have our own biases.

    Wish you best of health and vigour!


  25. Bakbook, Irena, Goran,

    Thanks for the replies. Things are getting interesting!

    Bakbook’s point about creating noise through measurement is excellent and we can add to that the fact that the human mind, when confronted with noise, will impose a pattern. This has been used in various psychological studies as a way to get a view into the subconscious. The pattern that was imposed in this case was pandemic or what I call The Plague Story.

    Irena, yes, excess deaths are up but they do not show a pattern that looks like a viral respiratory disease. Now you might, if you believed The Plague Story, look at that pattern and believe it shows that corona really is something ‘new’ and dangerous. Or you might take the null hypothesis and look for the reason entirely in the measures we have taken. In April 2020 alone, there were ten thousand excess deaths from dementia patients in the UK that did not test positive for corona. This is not such a surprise if you understand that the conditions in the nursing homes went to hell as many employees refused to go to work and the ones that were left were treating patients like a biohazard. It’s also not a surprise if you think that we locked the entire population into buildings with poor ventiliation thereby increasing their exposure to pathogens including sars-2 (if it is, indeed, a unique pathogen). Then, when they went to hospital they were put on heavy sedation on ventilators or given other treatments which doctors had no experience with.

    Goran, I’m sure they think they are seeing covid. However, medical diagnosis is a very tricky business. This article ( describes a situation where a group of trained medical professionals at a hospital thought they had an outbreak of whooping cough based on PCR test results but when somebody checked it turned out it wasn’t whooping cough at all. Not only that, the doctors in the article say this kind of thing happens all the time. If that can happen with an established illness like whooping cough, it can certainly happen with a ‘new’ one like corona.

  26. Quite a lively discussion here.
    To come back to the topic:
    There’s a difference between greer and everyone else. Greer simply ignores covid. I can see how someone might end up with an opinion i disagree with, but the silence is something rather strange.
    As far as I know, Greer is the only one who adopts the “nothing to see here” stance.

  27. Roland – we’ll never know the real reason why but the fact that he didn’t predict it at the start of the year and that his subsequent prediction that it would be over by April didn’t materialise gave him very good incentive not to want to talk about it.

  28. Simon,

    Whether COVID is “new” and/or “dangerous” depends entirely on what one means by those terms. A “new” type of flu appears each year, and flu is “dangerous” (it’s true: it kills people). At this point, I’m pretty convinced that COVID is, on average, more dangerous/deadly than your regular flu, though it’s clearly nowhere near as dangerous as the Spanish flu.

    What you say about dementia is true, of course. It’s not just dementia. Also, I keep hearing that there are more and more young people with serious COVID. This is very difficult to parse (given the state of the media), and there are several possibilities. One possibility is that the medical establishment is simply doing its best to maximize panic (sorry, to maximize “responsible behavior”). But then, maybe it *is* true. In which case, is it because these new strains are more dangerous, or is it because a year of lockdown reduced the entire population’s fitness, and so people who would easily have recovered a year ago and now winding up in the ER or dead? I simply have no idea.

    As for Greer: yeah, I think you’re right. He turned out to be wrong, and he finds that awkward to address. He also didn’t address why Trump lost, or more to the point, why he (Greer) was so convinced Trump would win. Well, he doesn’t like being wrong. He’s human.

  29. Irena – whether there’s a pandemic or not also depends on what you mean by the term pandemic. As you point out, there’s always a pandemic i.e. always new mutations of respiratory viruses circulating including coronaviruses. As you also point out, the results of a pandemic are at least partly reliant on the physical and mental condition of the population. What’s one thing associated with ‘covid’? Blood clots. But blood clots are also closely associated with obesity and diabetes and both obesity and diabetes, despite the best efforts of our all-knowing public health bureaucrats, have been relentlessly rising for a couple of decades now. Just a coincidence? Truth is, covid has no symptoms that distinguish it from influenza-like-illness. Therefore, we didn’t need to give it a new name. Without the PCR test, doctors would not be able to diagnose it.

  30. Roland, Simon and Irena,

    My two cents (or whatever you guys use in Australia) about Greer is that him ignoring the corona event was strategic, rather than an attemp to save face about his wrong predictions.

    I believe he was trying to provide people with alternative things to discuss and think about. He later realized the panic got too big to ignore, and this is when he wrote a post where he spells out the psychological aspects of the Corona Event ( )

    This is actually rather in-character for him, to focus on the immaterial (what he calls “The Psychic Epidemic” rather than the material (the biological corona virus).

    I myself tried a similar strategy of coming up with alternative conversation topics with my friends and family with varying degrees of succuss.

  31. @Bakbook
    Thanks for your view.
    When someone who is very smart does something that makes no sense to me, it usually means that I am missing something important.
    This could be the case here. The face saving explanation does not convince me either. Much too small minded a response. And then stubbornly keep it up for more than a year? I don’t think so.
    I like your explanation much better, although I can’t see any evidence for it in his writing. But then again, i gave up on greer months ago. There is a limit to the amount of information i needed about the history of magic in America.
    There is still the nagging feeling that i am missing something interesting here.

  32. @Bakbook, Simon

    I think you’re both partially right. Greer initially underestimated the importance of the corona event. He treated it simply as a public health crisis, and he assumed it would resolve itself the way that respiratory illness pandemics usually do. So, Bakbook’s explanation fits his initial reaction well: he (Greer) just wanted to give people something else to think/talk about, while the pandemic sorts itself out. But then the reaction to the virus got increasingly surreal, and he still wasn’t saying much. Why? Here, Simon’s explanation seems to be a better fit: he was wrong, and then he didn’t want to talk about it.

    The Sarajevo assassination was a relatively minor event (one dead crown prince), until it wasn’t.

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