Tag: I was told there would be no math

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Should Trump be sent to Elba or Saint Helena? Who am I kidding? The best place for Trump is Patmos. Now everyone knows that Trump kept the nuclear secrets he was going to give to his string puller Vladimir Putin at Mar-a-Lago. Being a responsible person, they were kept in a beautiful room with the […]

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Archimedes, Inventing Calculus, and the Value of Pi


Let’s get one thing straight upfront; I blame @SaintAugustine. If you’ll recall he wrote a post about a month ago about Leibniz, who is smarter than I. I offered up a joking reply to his question naming someone else who’s smarter than I, the Greek mathematician Archimedes. He’s probably most famous for discovering the principle of displacement one day in the bath. He announced it by shouting “Eureka!” and (depending on the account) running through the streets to announce it without so much as a towel. Aside from the bathtub thing Archimedes is the mad scientist of antiquity, having devised weapons of war (including the first known death ray) to face off Roman invaders. That part of the legend has probably grown in the telling.

A Boy and His Circles

Matter of fact, Archimedes didn’t survive the Second Punic war. Rome sacked Syracuse after a long siege (having thus far been stymied by Mad Science). Archimedes was drawing diagrams in the dirt when a Roman soldier found him. “Stop disturbing my circles!” yells Archimedes. The Roman, not about to be lectured by some weird old guy, runs him through with his sword. Probably for the best; the mind shudders at what might have resulted had that Roman, equally interested in circles, stopped his looting in order to contemplate conic sections.

Chicken, Egg: Heart disease, COVID-19


This Wednesday, Dr. Fauci gave one of his occasional snippy, generally poor answers when indirectly challenged. The set up was a leftist White House press reporter (but I repeat myself) putting the “conspiracy” label on anyone pointing out that loose counting in COVID-19 fatalities helps juice the badly sagging projected numbers. Vice President Pence failed to reject the premise and show respect to Americans daring to challenge “experts.” Dr. Fauci signaled his first instinct to avoid honest discourse by appealing back to AIDS conspiracy theories. Dr. Birx, on the other hand, added a bit of context.* Let me explain.

The most appropriate models for the question of a population’s risk of dying from a disease are competing risk models. Such models do what they sound like. Consider an example:

  • The chance of developing severe adult onset mental illness, usually between 18 and your early 20s, and committing suicide, is affected by
  • The chance of you and your friends, as high school students, getting into a fatal car accident, which is affected by
  • The chance of dying from a childhood cancer, which is affected by
  • The chance of dying from infant and early childhood diseases, now mostly controlled by immunization, which is affected by
  • The chance of dying from a birth defect, which is affected by
  • The chance of dying in the womb as your mother is killed or severely injured by some cause or another.

You can, of course, run the analysis forward as well, right to the point of actuarial life span for the demographic. For now, let us come back to the completely legitimate question that Dr. Fauci wrongly dismissed, and that Dr. Birx obliquely acknowledged.

More Fevered Calculations: Working the Coronavirus Numbers


In all the hype and happy talk around the latest coronavirus to cross over to humans, keep an eye on this number in America: 498,000. That is the number of people this novel coronavirus will have to infect to cause as many deaths as the annual, seasonal flu. I tried to make sense of the numbers around notorious coronavirus, a.k.a. COVID-19, in a post about a week ago now.

I now note that the presidential proclamation, suspending travel from certain countries, referred to COVID-19 as “SARS-CoV-2.” The CDC page explains the reason for the changing names. This prompted another look at the numbers, with this math-challenged scribbler doing a bit of stubby pencil, back-of-the-envelope figuring. Check my math as I work through the numbers; hopefully it is better than Ma and Pa Kettle’s.

SARS last time had an 9-10% mortality rate. It was nothing like influenza, including the worse known version in 1918-19, because the number of people who actually contracted SARS was so much lower than the number of people who get the flu globally every year. Think about it: if the flu regularly kills 1 in 1000 infected, and SARS killed 1 in 10, then you can see that SARS would have to infect 1/100 the number of flu victims to reach the same death count.

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There’s an old joke about two Hungarian gentleman who made a wager: who could think of the largest number? The first one thinks, and thinks, and says “Eighty-six”. The second one thinks, thinks, and then thinks some more, finally he says: “You win.” When contemplating infinity, one runs up against much the same problem as […]

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